You Have to Be There 

Our critics tell you what not to miss this summer

Trying to make a list of the top summertime arts and entertainment events in the East Bay is like trying to pick your favorite wildflower -- so many to choose from, and they're all unique. This roster represents the cream of the crop of fun things to see, hear, and dance to this summer -- with the emphasis on the cultural pluralism that has made our side of the bay the most vibrant community in Northern California. You don't have to travel to experience an Afro-Peruvian dance party or a Scottish hammer-throw competition or raw, avant-garde skronk music -- the world is coming to the East Bay this summer, just like it always does.

Thursday, June 20

De Rompe y Raja showcases the African-derived traditions of Peru. Studying and performing songs and dances from coastal cities like Lima, where enslaved Africans worked the docks, they keep alive a heritage dating back five hundred years. Recently, at the SF Carnaval, they gave an amazing performance that was as theatrical as it was musical. A high point was when a dancer jumped on a thin wooden box and did a tap dance known as zapateo. Folkloric master Lalo Izquierdo, of Peru Negro fame, and Gabriela Shiroma will dig deeper into this heel dance with a presentation called "Zapateo Criollo." 7:30 p.m., La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. 510-324-8430. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Thursday, June 27

Simon que yes, Paul Rodriguez is a funny guy who has come far both as an actor and comedian, poking fun at life with his distinctive East LA point of view. Many still lament his short-lived late-night talk show on Spanish language TV with his sidekick Lalo Guerrero. Yes, Rodriguez can crack you up with carcajadas (belly laughs), but he also points out real-life abuses by law enforcement and immigration authorities. His role in Cheech Marin's Born in East LA, where he plays Cheech's Mexican country cousin, projects a charisma akin to the classic Mexican comedian Cantinflas. 6 and 8 p.m., Alameda County Fair, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton. 925-426-7600. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Sunday, June 30

Bobby Brown apparently is too busy basking in the royal title bestowed on him by wife Whitney Houston to be bothered with the New Edition reunion tour that stops at the Paramount Theatre, but the rest of the Boston bunch -- Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronald DeVoe, and the awesome Johnny Gill -- will be on hand to serve up "Cool It Now," "Mr. Telephone Man," "Count Me Out," "If It Isn't Love," and other soul smashes from the '80s. And reprising such hits of the early '90s as "Hold On," "Lies," "You Don't Have to Worry," and "Don't Go" is En Vogue, minus Maxine Jones and Dawn Robinson but still featuring charter members Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron. 6:30 p.m. 2025 Broadway, Oakland. 510-465-6400. -- Lee Hildebrand

Saturday, July 13 - Tuesday, August 27

Ever wonder why our national Fearless Leaders (even the Democrats) always seem a little reluctant to visit the Bay Area? Well, it's not too much of a stretch to say that it's because of people like the San Francisco Mime Troupe, who have been making pointed political fun of Washington power-mongers since the '60s and are showing no signs of quitting now, when we really, truly need them. The Mime Troupe's latest, Mr. Smith Goes to Obskuristan, written by comic Josh Kornbluth and the Troupe collective, tackles the "War on Terrorism," big oil money, and the President of the United States. Some things never change. True to form, the Mime Troupe performs free in public parks all over the East Bay this summer, including Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14, at Berkeley's Live Oak Park. Info: 415-385-1717 or www.sfmt.org -- Kelly Vance

Sunday, July 14

The second annual Transbay Skronkathon BBQ takes away all your excuses for failing to support the local avant-garde of emerging improvisers and composers. Door prices too high? This event's free. Hungry? It's bring-your-own barbecue. Don't know anything about the scene? Surely someone in this all-day cavalcade of drop-in musicians will appeal to you. Come hear what they sound like when they take their horns out of their mouths. Some skronk just as noisily when they speak, but this skronkathon is dedicated to proving that the Bay Area's nameless and faceless masses of musical talent are just folks like you and me. Details will emerge at sfsound.org/acme.html/ Tuva, 3192 Adeline St., (across from Ashby BART), Berkeley. 510-649-8744. -- Aaron Shuman

Friday, July 19 - Sunday, August 24

Unfortunately, Central Works' Mata Hari had to be pushed back for logistical reasons, so audiences looking forward to Jan Zvaifler as the world's most famous female spy have had to cool their heels. Fortunately, there's a great team involved, from writer Gary Graves to actor Louis Parnell (fresh off The Apple Cart) and dramaturge Melissa Hillman (also known as Impact Theatre's artistic director). Produced in association with Women in Time, this show asks: Was Margaretha Zelle really a spy, or just a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time? Should be worth it for what promises to be the witty dialogue alone. At the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley. Reservations and information: 510-558-1381 or www.centralworks.org -- Lisa Drostova

Tuesday, July 23

Sadly, Tin Hat Trio no longer qualifies as a Bay Area band, since guitarist Mark Orton relocated to Portland and pianist/accordionist Rob Burger moved to New York. And between touring with the avant-rock bands Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Charming Hostess, violinist Carla Kihlstedt doesn't see much of her Oakland digs either, which explains why the trio has been so scarce in recent months. With a guest appearance by Tom Waits, the group's second CD Helium (Angel) brought new attention to the band, which combines the rhythmic agility and intuitive interplay of an improvising ensemble with the finely wrought textures and melodic coherence of chamber music. They return to their favorite Bay Area venue for what may be their only gig in the region this year. Freight & Salvage, 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. 8 p.m. 510-548-1761. -- Andrew Gilbert

Thursday, July 25

Mali, the landlocked West African nation, boasts one of the continent's most vibrant music scenes, with an array of international stars such as Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure, Habib Koite, and Oumou Sangare. Lesser known in the West but long celebrated at home is the Super Rail Band, a powerful group that blends keening Islamic vocal styles with traditional kora and balafon rhythms and Afro-Cuban grooves to create a dance-inducing sound known as Manding swing. Founded in 1970 with sponsorship from Mali's Ministry of Information, the band got its name when it landed a regular gig at a train station hotel in Bamako, Mali's capital. Now under the leadership of the amazing guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, the Rail Band is one of the last surviving dance ensembles from a golden age of West African music. 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-594-1400. -- Andrew Gilbert

Saturday, July 27

Can you dig the 34th Annual Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival? When Concord Records moved to Los Angeles earlier this year, it ended an era started by local car dealer Carl Jefferson. His original jazz festival at Concord's Boulevard Park gave birth to Concord Records, a label that recorded such legends as Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Cal Tjader, and Carmen McRae. It was Tjader who talked Jefferson into starting a Latin jazz division to record Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria -- thus Concord Picante. In this Saturday night festival closer, Arturo Sandoval, Eddie Palmieri, Machito and the Rodriguez Ensemble, and John Santos and the Machete Ensemble celebrate the Afro-Caribbean musical hybrid that a little label in the East Bay suburbs helped take around the world. 6 p.m., Chronicle Pavilion, 2000 Kirker Pass Road, Concord. 925-363-5701. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Thursday, August 1

Finally the AileyCamp, an inspiration of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, has made it to Berkeley. This summer, 75 local sixth- to eighth-grade students deemed at risk of falling through the cracks -- and who reveal some interest in the arts -- are getting the chance to learn ballet, modern, jazz, West African, and folk dance in addition to taking art classes, writing and poetry workshops, and photography on the UC Berkeley campus. They will strut all their stuff on the Zellerbach Hall stage in a one-night-only performance August 1 at 7 p.m. Whether you're a sociologist or a balletomane, this is the kind of event that can make being human a thrill. For more info: 510-642-9121. -- Ann Murphy

Wednesday, August 7 - Sunday, September 1

Anton Chekhov said of The Seagull that it contained "a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, and five tons of love." Many people think of Chekhov's works as tragedies, yet he often intended them as comedies -- the kind that expose our lives in all their smallness and constriction. Artistic director Jonathan Moscone, ever curious about the unplumbed depths of the works he directs, will bring us what promises to be a moving, beautifully designed, and thoroughly realized production of Tom Stoppard's adaptation (yes, the one Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline just did in New York). Presented by Cal Shakes at the Bruns Amphitheater, Orinda. Tickets at tickets.com. Info: 510-548-3422 or www.calshakes.org -- Lisa Drostova

Thursday - Saturday, August 8 - 17

The death of beloved Oakland jazz drummer Eddie Moore gave birth to this most innovative of Bay Area jazz events, now in its thirteenth year. Run by the volunteer Jazz in Flight crew, the Eddie Moore Jazz Festival offers seven concerts of beyond-cutting-edge jazz and improvisation, each with once-only artist groupings, combining more than two dozen African-American, Asian, Native American, and other musicians in small groupings that range from free to fusion (among them Francis Wong, John-Carlos Perea, Sonny Simmons, Hamiet Bluiett, Tim Berne, even accordionist Andrea Parkins) with concerts at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (388 9th St., Oakland) and Ex'pression Center for New Media (6601 Shellmound St., Emeryville). Jazz in Flight: 510-763-4663. -- Larry Kelp

Thursday - Sunday, August 8-11

On New Year's Eve, Cuban flutist/bandleader Orlando "Maraca" Valle led an all-star band at Yoshi's that was broadcast live on NPR's Coast to Coast. Showcasing material from his latest recording Tremenda Rumba (Ahi Nama), the gig was a whirlwind of instrumental prowess and dancehall virtuosity that left the room steaming. Now, in the middle of summer, Maraca rolls back through with a band that includes some of the best young players on the island nation today -- music to make you dance and smile. 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. 510-238-9200. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Thursday and Friday, August 15-16

Of all the young pianists in jazz today, Craig Taborn is the most assured working in its acoustic and electronic idioms, perhaps because he started playing piano and got his first synthesizer at the same time. Best known as the pianist supporting James Carter's outward-bound excursions in the Carter Quartet, Taborn is at home in whatever musical context he finds himself, whether laying down the keyboard tracks for Detroit technohead Carl Craig's Innerzone Orchestra, bringing the Latin flavor to Susie Ibarra's Songbird Suite, or reconceptualizing the piano trio on last year's Taborn Trio debut, Light Made Lighter. His rare two-night appearance on this coast is a centerpiece of this year's Eddie Moore Jazz Festival. Appearing Thursday in the Marty Ehrlich Quartet, and Friday as a special guest of the Tim Berne/Michael Formanek Duo, one can only hope this leads Taborn to make more regular visits. 8 and 10 pm. The Ehrlich Quartet performs August 15 at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 9th St., Suite 290, Oakland. The Berne/Formanek Duo with special guest Taborn performs August 16 at Ex'pression Center for New Media, 6601 Shellmound St., Emeryville. 763-4663. -- Aaron Shuman

Saturday and Sunday, August 31-September 1

Toss that caber! Skirl that bagpipe! Fling that Highland! It's the 137th Annual Scottish Gathering and Games, a celebration of all things Caledonian, and an excuse to spend a weekend mingling with en in kilts. Don't miss the Heavy Events, the sheep dog trials, the Scots folk singers, the birds of prey, the Scots Guards pipers, the Celtic rock stage, or the meat pies. Get that burr in your voice. Gaze at redheads. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, Pleasanton. Info: 1-800-713-3160 or www.caledonian.org -- Kelly Vance

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