Mimes, Magicians And More: Best Street Performers In San Francisco
San Francisco is the best place to fall in love with original, live entertainment and some of the best street performers in the country. From acrobats to the whimsically endearing Sardine Family Circus at Fisherman’s Wharf or Pier 39 to the musicians at Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco was designed to make everyone smile. Street performers range from diverse solo musicians, who often accompany themselves with music via iPod, to Latin American flutes to guitarists playing Spanish, classical, Latin fusion and blues. Travis Cattron and crowd-pleasing spray vision painters accented by characters such as the skeleton man and Felix the Cat dance and sing here daily.
The Sardine Family Circus
The Sardine Family Circus will have your spirits flying high, as a family acrobatic and comedy trio bursting with playful personality and physical prowess. Orion Griffiths, a 24-year-old Brit in impeccable condition and with a ridiculous laugh you will hear in your head long after, toys with the audience constantly, all the while performing professional feats in tandem with his gymnast and contortionist sister Meisje, 21, and colleague Kevin Armour, a 21-year-old gymnast. These three have chemistry, charisma and star quality but also have been taught kindness by father John. Orion gives his martial arts shoes to the homeless — he goes through a pair every three weeks. Meanwhile, the young audience, particularly women, at Pier 39 on a chilly evening, seemed thrilled to pose for pictures on stage with the shirtless Orion and Kevin after the uproarious performance. Orion graduates from circus school in a year or two and will charge someday. He said he wants to start his own circus in a tent with seating for 2,000.
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Fisherman’s Wharf Performers
1:00 to 4:00; 4:00 to 7:00; 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.
The Sardine Family Circus also performs along the wharf. The wharf itself also makes a stage for musicians in their sunglasses and with portable instruments like guitars. Most have CDs for sale at ten or fifteen dollars. The Port of San Francisco posts a schedule in a glass box at Jefferson and Taylor, under the huge Fisherman’s Wharf sign in the shape of a ship’s wheel. Shifts run three hours each from one to ten p.m. Note Pier 39 hosts musicians at the entrance and performers on the Crystal Geiser stage, with musicians performing in 45-minute sets starting at noon.
Dave Earl plays blues harmonica and guitar, accompanied by his iPod and a generator-powered amplifier. He sang “Let’s Work Together” and later, “Bring It On Home” from the 1960s on a sunny Saturday afternoon outside the Marine Terminal. A young couple danced spontaneously and fellow street performer Andres Rojo grooved in his original Skeleton Man costume like something from a Day of the Dead celebration. Dave records CDs and plays “Super Fine,” dressed just like he did on the cover of “Sidewalk Boogie” on any given day.
John H. Clarke
John plays at the entrance to Pier 39, which schedules musicians all day in 45-minute sets starting at noon. He said he is from San Jose and took some music theory in college, although he’s mostly self-taught. He plays his acoustic guitar with agility and rhythm for a flamenco song, using the wood for percussion with bongo-like beats.
Ghirardelli Square at Larkin
If you have ever been to Ghirardelli Square, you have seen and heard Norbert Yancey, with his guitar and his silly rhymes that call out to pedestrians of all walks of life. He claims to intuitively know where passersby are from. His picture board is full of newspaper clippings from around the world: Hamburg, Sweden, Tokyo, Switzerland, etc. His pictures show him with Gorbachev and with Lech Walesa in Poland; Tony Bennett, Karl Malden and Michael Douglas, Carlos Santana, Joe Montana, Gavin Newsom, Jay Leno, Pavarotti, Placido Domingo. Yancey, originally from Pennsylvania, practices martial arts as well and said, “You’ve got to have soul, faith and courage.”
Tom Duarte just started at the wharf in December although he plays his Spanish guitar at wineries. He did a nice version of Nelly Furtado’s “Say It Right,” with the tone of a restless, gypsy heart. Duarte comes from the Bay Area and was playing at the Fisherman’s Wharf sign at Jefferson and Tayler while playful visitors sat on benches, enjoying their bread-bowl clam chowders. This is the corner with all the outdoor seafood carts, The Crab Station, Tarantino’s, Guardino’s and Alioto’s. This is the performer’s bread bowl.
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Hubert Emerson, Sahar Miller and the GroWiser Band also played this corner at Jefferson and Tayler, Emerson on keyboards with Sahar on saxophone and Ralph Eutsey on drums. Emerson helped organize the performers at the wharf a few years ago, and said playing as a street performer changed his life. His wife Johanna said the resulting management by the San Francisco port increases the professional quality of the performers. The program is meant to foster originality. Visitors to San Francisco have a chance to take home music from this part of the world as the musicians sell their CDs directly.
Kevin Kooyumjian or Kevin K
Kooyumjian, one of the organizers at the wharf, played his keyboard powered by generator in front of the Cannery, Spot 12. Dressed in a black leather vest, black pants, neatly cropped black hair, gleaming white teeth, a tan and shades, he seemed amiable, if not self-effacing. He says, on his website, his dad played French horn for Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. He played an original bosa nova, and told a listener the best compliment he ever received came from a heart surgeon who said Kooyumjian’s music would be good during surgery. He said he likes playing during the day because his music is light and relaxes the older people about the area. He said the night is different; it brings a harder vibe — it’s younger.
Carlos Rene Crespo
Latin American Music
Since 1993, Carlos Rene Crespo has played beautiful, ethereal and sometimes haunting flutes at the wharf. Crespo first came to the U.S. when hired by the band Sukay when it toured every state, including Hawaii as well as Canada in the 1980s. He’s originally from Bolivia and will return to see his family and to record this summer. He said he learned music from his grandparents. He accompanies himself with iPod of instruments from mandolin to maraca.
Sunshine the Clown
P.O. Box 31274
San Francisco, CA 94131
Sunshine, 4’8″ tall, told the tiny tots sitting on their tiny plastic chairs watching her twist balloon characters, that she just finished her 19th year as an elf on Union Square. She would be off to Mardi Gras soon. She rhymed whimsically using the children’s names continually, holding the attention of every little brother and sister as she made a doll with a backpack and Spiderman, outside of the Chocolate Factory.
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Cindy Warner is a freelance writer and a San Francisco Bay Area native. Cindy has covered SF theater and opera for Examiner.com via her bicycle since January 2009. Check out her work on Examiner.com.