The free chocolate was just a bonus. The main attraction in front of Dandelion Chocolates on the sunny afternoon of March 10 was the live music that beckoned people to stop, lean and listen awhile.
“It’s been going splendidly,” said John M. Francis, co-creator of Street Stage, a mobile parklet dedicated to live performance art. As a band prepared to play on the wooden platform that occupied a parking spot on Valencia Street, he held a glass full of small pieces of dark chocolate that he placed in outstretched hands with a long spoon.
Francis, a city planner and urban designer, and Street Stage collaborator Ross Hansen, a landscape architect and industrial designer, teamed up with the chocolate factory and cafe to support a local business while providing a dedicated space for musicians to play.
“This really gives them a presence, a special environment for performing,” said Francis, whose event featured the bands Tall Heights, the New Thoreaus, Conspiracy of Beards, Jimmy Kansau, and Caitlin Lacey & the Twin-Not-Twins.
Street Stage was conceived in September 2012 at San Francisco’s first Urban Prototyping Makeathon, hosted by the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. It has appeared at Off the Grid Fort Mason Holiday Market and Mission Community Market, but this was the first time the pop-up parklet had teamed up with a local business.
Francis approached Dandelion Chocolates and expressed interest in collaborating on a Sunday afternoon that he knew would draw a lot of people. Dandelion Chocolates loved the idea, and offered to do a free tasting of small-batch chocolates from Venezuela, Madagascar and the Dominican Republic.
In between performances, Dandelion Chocolates employee Alice Nystrom stepped onto the stage to announce the varieties of artisan bean-to-bar chocolate. “They’re pretty delicious,” she said. Their philosophy? “We try to get great beans and then get out of the way.”
Francis and Hansen organized the event with the help of KALW’s “VoiceBox,” a weekly public radio and podcast series dedicated to exploring the human voice. VoiceBox staff recorded sounds from the day and invited Francis and Hansen to join them on the air last week to talk about street performance.
The elevation of the stage from street level, Francis said, is enough to create a space designated for the community to enjoy live music. Street Stage becomes a space in front of which people feel comfortable standing and watching.
“I like the music,” said Martin Hauser, who was visiting from Germany. He had been walking down Valancia Street when he noticed the large crowd gathered in front of the chocolate shop. He stopped to see what was going on and enjoyed the event so much that he stayed for two performances. In between, Hauser supported the chocolate factory by purchasing chocolate to bring home to friends.
Street Stage is just as enjoyable for the performers. Caitlin Lacey, 25, said that her band, Caitlin Lacey & the Twin-Not-Twins, doesn’t perform much. Street Stage gave them the opportunity to play for 30 minutes in front of a large crowd.
“It was really fun,” she said, her banjo strapped to her after the performance. “A lot of people walking by stopped to listen.”
Lacey is production manager at Dandelion Chocolates, so her involvement with Street Stage was a sweet marriage of work and performance art. “We’d love to play again,” she said.
Francis and Hansen hope to bring Street Stage to communities across San Francisco and collaborate with other local businesses, community organizations, markets, public parks and more, to bring people together in active public spaces where they can celebrate art and music.
Francis said his street performance parklet “gives performers a real space in the city, not just in the gutter.”
To listen to the “VoiceBox” show that featured Francis and Hansen, click here, go to the “Listen Now” box and click on the “Street Stage” episode.