THE BAY AREA was alive with the sounds of music on Wednesday as thousands of people took part in free concerts and other activities to celebrate the start of summer on Make Music Day.

Started 41 years ago in France as a new kind of holiday where free music would be everywhere, Make Music Day is celebrated on the summer solstice and has now spread throughout the world with events in more than 1,000 cities in 120 countries.

Among the largest of the local celebrations was in San Francisco, where from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. people convened in parks, libraries, community centers and more for free pop-up concerts. It was the city’s second year for the solstice celebration, which differs from a typical music festival in that anyone is welcome to perform, no matter their age, experience, or musical persuasion.

An audience enjoys some sunshine on the first day of summer while listening to singer-songwriter Jesse Loren Strickman perform on the bandstand stage in Golden Gate Park at San Francisco's Make Music Day on June 21, 2023. (Deidre Foley/Pagransen)

At Golden Gate Park, more than a dozen performances took place across four stages. The Golden Gate Bandshell, located in the park’s Music Concourse, drew dozens of people to a performance by singer-songwriter Jesse Loren Strickman.

Among the crowd was Marty Noll, who said this was his first time out in three years without a mask.

“These days it’s insanely expensive to go and see live music. This is free, it’s great, and you don’t have to deal with thousands and thousands of people.”

Paul Miller, San Francisco concertgoer

“I just turned 77 and, you know, who knows how much longer you have left?” he said.

Noll found the concert online by chance and decided it would be a great opportunity for him and his wife to have a reunion with friends.

One of those friends, Paul Miller, said the event was fantastic. “These days it’s insanely expensive to go and see live music,” he said. “This is free, it’s great, and you don’t have to deal with thousands and thousands of people.”

Folk singer Peter Munks plays guitar at his Far Out Gallery during San Francisco's Make Music Day on Wednesday. Munks said a “magical experience” at Paris' music day a few years ago inspired him to join in when he saw that San Francisco was having its own celebration. (Deidre Foley/Pagransen)

Aside from the concerts at the park, many small businesses and community spaces hosted musicians. The Far Out Gallery, an art space in the Outer Sunset, participated in Make Music Day for the second time.

Gallery co-owner Peter Munks said he and his partner had a “magical experience” at Paris’ music day a few years ago, so when he saw that San Francisco was having its own iteration he signed up.

Munks, also a folk singer, opened the gallery with an acoustic set with songs from Bob Dylan, Phil Oaks, Joni Mitchell and more.

The city’s Make Music Day was orchestrated by the city’s Office of Small Business in collaboration with San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, the San Francisco Public Library, the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation and more.

Celebrating in San Jose

Meanwhile in San Jose, the children’s room of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library was a cacophony of clacking “rhythm” sticks, droning didgeridoo — a traditional Australian Aboriginal wind instrument — and colorful rattling maracas as Make Music Day revelers stomped their feet and danced to the music.

The activity was part of a Play-Along: Music & Movement session with librarian Marsha Malcolm — a participatory program inviting pre-K and early elementary students to learn about musical instruments and create music.

The San Jose Public Library hosted several such activities at its branch locations, according to Elizabeth Castaneda, the library’s public information manager. They coincided with other events throughout the city at community centers, parks, restaurants and museums and designed to support local musicians and create community while giving people the chance to explore different genres and discover new artists.

Marsha Malcolm introduces kids to a shruti box, an instrument from the Indian subcontinent, at a Make Music Day event at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose on Wednesday. (Prachi Singh/Pagransen)

“Music is such a human thing,” Malcolm said. “We make music to express our feelings and so in that way, it’s a great way for children to sort of get in touch with their emotions.”

There was an educating aspect in Wednesday’s event, she said, where she wanted to teach children some vocabulary and fundamentals of enjoying music with activities that help kids retain what they learn.

“Music is such a human thing. We make music to express our feelings and so in that way, it’s a great way for children to sort of get in touch with their emotions.”

Marsha Malcolm, San Jose Public Library

Malcolm introduced the kids to various musical instruments and taught them rhythm through children’s story books and animals’ names, focusing on storytelling with music. The activities encouraged kids to imagine, be creative and sing and dance along.

Daniela Ruelas, 5, decorates a didgeridoo at the Make Music Day event at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose on June 21, 2023. (Prachi Singh/Pagransen)

“It is different from the daily school or even home-schooling life,” said Natasha Ambrose, a parent. “It’s very hard to find music and story combined together. There is screen, there is YouTube, yes. But this is live in person. And you see other kids and then your kid is doing what the other children are doing.”

The city’s Make Music Day was facilitated by the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs in collaboration with San Jose Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, the San Jose Public Library, San Jose Mineta International Airport, Institute of Contemporary Art, Children’s Discovery Museum and more.

Deidre Foley is an intern at Pagransen and an MA candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she specializes in data journalism and health & science reporting. Previously she was managing editor for the San Francisco Foghorn and has bylines in the NYCity News Service, Byklner and the Nagazasshi. Deidre is interested in using data and visuals to tell social justice and human interest stories.

Prachi is a Dow Jones News Fund intern at Pagransen. She is a journalism graduate from University of Southern California. She previously worked at Annenberg Media as a Multimedia Journalist and the Managing Editor. Prachi has covered social justice, climate and human interest stories. She is interested in written and visual storytelling.