Stern Groovin' with Dionne Warwick



Fog in the avenues and free music in the meadow? It’s now officially summer in San Francisco -- heralded last night as pashmina-wrapped guests arrived at the Stern Grove Festival Gala.

The free summer concerts at this magical musical spot are an EssEff summer tradition. And gala guests of all ages were a-twitter (the old-school version) over the featured performer at this elegant dinner-dance: beloved songbird Dionne Warwick.

As he was leaving the office for the event, Stern Grove Board member Boe Hayward wanted to prep for the singer’s performance and asked office volunteer Nima Eslamieh  to print out a list of the Top 10 songs by Dionne.

To which this 18-year-old asked, “Dionne who?”

“Dionne Warwick,” replied Hayward, slightly amazed at the question. “You know, ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose’?”

“Yes,” answered Eslamieh, relieved he had the answer. “You take 101.”

But for those knowing the score, Gala chairwoman Lisa Goldman created a magical evening in the meadow echoing the legacy of the leading ladies in her family.

The grove was first gifted to the city in 1931 by Rosalie Meyer Stern in honor her husband, Sigmund Stern. The concert series commenced in 1938 and its stewardship was passed to their daughter, Elise Stern Haas, who then passed the baton to her daughter (the mother of Lisa’s husband, Stern Grove Festival Chairman Doug Goldman), Rhoda Haas Goldman, for whom the concert meadow is named.

Stern Grove Gala chairwoman Lisa Goldman and her husband, Stern Grove Board Chairman Doug Goldman

And that meadow, re-imagined in 2005 by renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, is in fine fettle.

“We really don’t have to do that much to maintain the meadow,” explained Festival Director Steven Haines. “Rec & Park takes great care of it --  every fall and spring, there is seeding and aeration. In fact, since I began this job in 2006, I’ve learned a great deal about gardening!”

But the most important factor for Haines (formerly President of the Philadelphia POPS Orchestra)? The music.

“The 72-year-old mission of the Stern Grove Festival is what sold me on the job,” said Haines. “There is no similar arts organization in the United States that provides the kind of experience that can be had every summer here in the meadow.”

The gala moved like clockwork -- from cocktails in the (fairly temperate) meadow to the McCall Associates’ dinner set in clear Hunt Littlefield-designed tent. The gala program listed the start time of Warwick’s concert at 8:15 p.m.

And like the pro that she is, by 8:16 p.m. this elegant multi-Grammy Award winner was already signing the chorus section of Walk On By.

Warwick expertly swung through many of the favorites from her storied repertoire with composer Burt Bacharach -- from Anyone Who Had a Heart, I Say a Little Prayer to This Girl’s in Love With You. And, of course, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Seated at a spirited all-GalPal table (organized by Lisa Goldman) Randi Fisher and her sister, Sally Palmer, couldn’t wait for the show to begin.

Later the sisters were spotted on the crowded dance floor near the stage, singing along to these Warwick classics.

“You’ll have to forgive me if I get a little teary-eyed,” said Randi, in anticipation. “But I just love Dionne Warwick!”

Stay tuned: Roberta Flack kicks-off the Festival’s 10-concert season June 21.

Check out the photos below

Nicholas Chastain and his partner, Stern Grove Festival Director Steven Haines

Richard Goldman and Helen Hilton Raiser

Sophie Middlebrook and her fiance, Stern Grove Board member Boe Hayward

Lee Munson and Walter Newman with (from left) Merla Zellerbach, Diana Dalton and Ellen Newman

Sally Palmer and her sister, Randi Fisher

Maria Muzio and her husband, Stern Grove Board member Guy Muzio

Eleanor Meyers, Howard and Mary Zlot, Jennifer Raiser

Sako Fisher and Lisa Goldman

Maryann and Jack Opperman

Suzanne Valdez and Theo Schwabacher

Tom Hsieh, Jr. and his wife, Nicole Hsieh

Marcello and Maryanne Iacomini

Jane Mudge and Jim Marver

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