SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Due to flooding damage from a water main break earlier this week, the Stern Grove Festival has been forced to cancel Sunday’s scheduled concert with Tower of Power and Too $hort. More information here.

Officials have described the damage to the venue and park as “catastrophic” The Stern Grove Festival is asking for public support to help rebuild from the damage to the grounds. Fans can donate online via or by texting STERNGROVE to 56512.

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Bringing another successful season to a close despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, Stern Grove hosts two iconic music acts from Oakland for it’s annual fund-raising Big Picnic this Sunday.

A fixture of the yearly Stern Grove Festival, the Big Picnic stands as one of the festival’s primary ways of raising the money to keep the 84-year-old free concert series running with sponsors supporting the event by purchasing tables for $5,000 and $10,000.

This year’s concert presents an all Bay Area line-up of headlining East Bay funk veterans Tower of Power, Oakland hip-hop icon Too $hort and scratch wizard DJ Shortkut.

Outside of psychedelic soul and funk pioneers Sly and the Family Stone, few Bay Area bands have exerted the kind of influence on R&B music that “East Bay Grease” progenitors Tower of Power have since the principal members first come together in 1968.

Songwriter, saxophonist and sometimes lead singer Emilio Castillo was advised by his father to hire baritone sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka after an audition to join Castillo’s band the Motowns. The group started playing clubs in Berkeley and Oakland with the aim of graduating to local concert promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore West.

Within two years, the band had changed it’s name to Tower of Power and not only became a regular act at the legendary venue, it was managed by Graham and signed to his Fillmore Records label. Released in 1970, Tower of Power’s debut effort East Bay Grease found the band delivering what would become its patented mix of extended funk workouts and soulful ballads spotlighting the fiery punch of the mighty Tower of Power horn section.

The album also showcased the powerhouse line-up that had coalesced around Castillo and Kupka, including trumpet player/arranger Greg Adams and the ferocious rhythm section of drummer Dave Garibaldi and bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia.

ToP would have something of a rotating-door policy with its lead singers — Rick Stevens, who sang the early hits “Sparkling in the Sand,” “You’re Still a Young Man” and “Down to the Night Club” was gone by the band’s self-titled third album in 1973, when their biggest hitmaker Lenny Williams came aboard, along with dynamic tenor player Lenny Pickett, guitarist Bruce Conte and organ player Chester Thompson.

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Williams would prove a commanding presence on both ballads — “So Very Hard to Go,” the band’s biggest hit — and hard-hitting funk jams like “What is Hip?” and “Get Yo’ Feet Back on the Ground.” The band’s follow-up efforts Back to Oakland and Urban Renewal further cemented the potency of what would later be hailed as ToP’s best line-up. The Tower of Power horns would also become established as the go-to horn section for recording sessions and live appearances, collaborating with Bay Area artists like Santana, Journey and the Grateful Dead as well as such stars as Elton John, Rod Stewart, Little Feat and the Meters.

Williams would return to a solo career in 1975. Though Tower of Power managed a few more hits like “Drop it in the Slot,” the subsequent departure of Garabaldi and Prestia coupled with the rising popularity of disco in the latter part of the decade. Despite those challenges, ToP would continue to release records through the ’80s and ’90s and, more importantly, remained a vital live act with Castillo and Kupka at the helm. More recently, key members Garabaldi and Prestia returned to the fold, adding their considerable prowess to the still scorching band.

In 2018, the band celebrated a major historical landmark, hosting a sold-out 50th anniversary party at the Fox Theater in Oakland that was documented and finally released on DVD, CD and vinyl this year with the title 50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater.

In addition to the then current line-up, the band invited notable former members including tenor saxophonist Pickett (longtime musical director of the Saturday Night Live band), keyboard maestro Chester Thompson (who has played with Santana for decades) and classic-era guitarist Bruce Conte. The performance also captured one of the last onstage appearances by Prestia, who sadly passed away last year.

Tower of Power will be joined at Stern Grove by another Oakland legend. Too $hort (born Todd Shaw) has been hailed by many the original East Bay rapper. Starting in the mid ‘80s, the self-proclaimed Sir Too $hort started recording his frequently filthy raps over simple drum machine and keyboard beats, self-releasing cassettes and selling them on the street.

Too $hort started his own label to produce the tapes he sold from the trunk of his car, eventually moving from local legend status to sign a major label deal for his fourth album, Born to Mack in 1987. That album went gold and the follow-up — Life Is…Too $hort — went double-platinum, kicking off a string of hit albums that stretched into the next decade.

He has influenced multiple generations of MCs with the booming bass of his songs and their X-rated subject matter in addition to collaborating with such prominent rappers as fellow Bay Area great E-40, Los Angeles gangster-rap legends Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg as well as the late icons Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Too $hort has enjoyed the kind of career longevity — scoring the 2006 hit “Blow the Whistle” nearly a quarter century after recording his first songs — that few hip-hop acts can match.

Warming up the crowd before the show and between acts will be turntable maestro DJ Shortkut. Part of the Bay Area’s legendary Invisbl Skratch Piklz crew that helped elevate hip-hop DJ science to a new level in the late ’80s. Additional details on safety protocols at the Stern Grove Festival are available on the Stern Grove Festival website.

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Stern Grove Festival: The Big Picnic with Tower of Power and Too $hort
Sunday, Aug. 29, 2 p.m. free (reservations required and currently filled)
Stern Grove