The pianos descend on the SF Botanical Garden for five days beginning Friday, and here’s what to see, do, and bring so you can do Flower Piano like a maestro.
One of San Francisco’s most charming traditions returns this weekend, as Flower Piano brings a dozen pianos to the San Francisco Botanical Garden for five days of low-key piano and picnicking pleasures. The event started in 2015 as a two-week event in July, and last year moved to the sunnier month of September and pared the program down to five days. This year’s Flower Piano strikes a similar note starting Friday, September 16 at 10 a.m., and running all weekend during the daytime hours, plus Monday and Tuesday too.
Many of the pianos are found tucked in the trails of the Botanical Garden, there’s another in the Great Meadow, and a pair of grand pianos in the floral, natural amphitheater of the Zellerbach Garden. You’ll see well-known established local musical acts, or you can play a piano yourself, or just marvel at the talents of some 12-year-old kid who’s way better at piano than you. Whether you’re new to Flower Piano or reprising it again for another year, here are your keys to getting the most out of this year’s event.
WHO TO SEE AT FLOWER PIANO
You’re all but guaranteed a terrific performance with natural outdoor ambiance no matter which piano you visit. But if you’re determined to see some highlight, standout performances, we’ve got a few weekend recommendations
Friday, September 16
- 12 p.m. - Tom Jonesing: These are the fellows from Sunset Piano who inspired this whole crazy tradition when they rolled a piano onto the bluffs of Half Moon Bay in 2013, and their rendition of pop classics (mostly not Tom Jones music) should not be missed.
- 4 p.m. - Community Music Center: This large-scale Latin-Jazz band performance with Cuban pianist Eduardo Cordo will likely be one of the bigger ‘dance party’ performances of the weekend.
- 6 p.m. - Jill Tracy: The beautifully haunting and goth stylings of Jill Tracy bring on the night under the shadows of the Redwood Grove.
Saturday, September 17
- 1 p.m. - Mr. Lucky and the Cocktail Party: Lounge music local legend Mr. Lucky and his band take on swanky classics by Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Bill Withers and more.
- 3 p.m. - Alison Lovejoy and Kymry Esainko: There will be puppets! The puppetry of Niki Uhlela accompanies a live performance of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.
- 4 p.m. - Awesome Orchestra: It’s two hours of full orchestra with piano, as Awesome Orchestra performs Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, and Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome.
Sunday, September 18
- 2 p.m. - Kev Choice Trio: Oakland jazz pianist Kev Choice and his band explore the African-American music experience of the 20th and 21st Century, from classical compositions to hip-hop.
- 3 p.m. - Lavay Smith: Swing and blues local legend Lavay Smith delves into her deep library for a crowd-pleasing set of jazz and early R&B tunes.
- 4 p.m. Van-Anh: Vietnamese virtuoso Van-Ahn applies her “piano mash-up” stylings to everything from Chopin to Disney tunes.
There are also Monday and Tuesday performances (12 p.m. - 6 p.m.), though with fewer recognized, scheduled acts, and more open piano playing slots.
IT’S FREE FOR SF RESIDENTS, BUT YOU NEED ADVANCE TICKETS
All five days of Flower Piano are free to attend for residents of San Francisco, but even SF residents need to secure advance tickets via free registration. You just choose the day you wish to attend, and make sure you keep hitting Next all the way until you’ve entered your address and email and received ticket confirmation.
For non-SF residents, it’s $13 a day for adults, with discounts for seniors and children.. Kids under 4 get in free, but also require a registration.
IS THERE A MAP AND SCHEDULE?
Yes, and you will be handed a paper program with a map upon your arrival. But if you want to ge going on advance planning, there ia a map showing the locations of all 12 pianos, plus the schedule for each day available on the Botanical Garden website.
WHAT TO BRING TO FLOWER PIANO
You could be looking at six or seven hours of piano jams, so you’d be wise to bring a blanket, a well-stocked picnic basket, and plenty of water. While there is traditionally a coffee cart and a food truck on hand, the lines can be up to an hour or longer. So grab a coffee ahead of time, and do bring the picnic basket with a good day’s worth of refreshments. Yes, wine and beer are legal to bring and drink in the park (Hard liquor is technically not allowed, but come on, what are they going to do?)
Realize that you will likely be piano-hopping over the course of a day. So while a blanket and a picnic basket are highly encouraged, also realize that you may want to move around, so pack a mobile-friendly get-up that you won’t mind packing up and moving a few hundred yars at different times in the day.
WHAT WILL THE WEATHER BE LIKE?
People, there is a 98% chance of rain on Sunday! There’s also a slight chance of showers on both Friday and Saturday. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid- to high 60s throughout the weekend, but of course temperatures in Golden Gate Park can get chilly in the afternoons. So certainly prepare with layers, and maybe have a nice plastic or rubber layer up top for if and when showers arrive this weekend, and packing an umbrella would not be discouraged.
Flower Piano is Friday, September 16 - Tuesday, September 20 in the San Francisco Botanical Garden of Golden Gate Park. Free for SF residents (though registration is required), $13 for non-residents, tickets and registration here.
Top Image: Travis Lance via SF Botanical Garden