Scenes and Video from “The Great Bernal Heights Renegade Piano Recital”



UPDATE: This post has been renamed, with credit due to Artifact Productions for the brilliant title.

The piano that appeared on Bernal Hill late last week had a magical effect upon our neighborhood. Almost instantly, the piano became a venue for ad hoc performances by local pianists, so there was much sadness when the City’s Department of Public works responded with atypical alacrity and hauled off the hilltop piano on Friday afternoon.

The removal of the piano was made worse by the fact that a group of pianists had planned to stage a formal recital on Bernal Hill on Friday evening. But in the spirit of “the show must go on,” a backup piano appeared on Bernal Hill just in time for the Golden Hour recital, and by all accounts it turned out to be a magnificent evening of music, good cheer, fireworks, and beautiful urban scenery.

Tynan has published a terrific account of how the recital was saved and how the rest of the evening transpired:

Three hours before the recital is supposed to begin, it’s gotten out of control. Over 100 people have RSVP’d, and we’ve all invited other friends, too. Then the worst happens– we’re sitting in my RV working when Todd starts getting texts from every corner of the earth.

“The Piano is Gone.”

Some people might call off the event. Others might substitute a keyboard or some other lesser instrument. Not Todd. He’s on the phone with everyone on Craigslist selling a piano as well as several music shops. He finds a deal on a passable one and flies over to Oakland on his motorcycle to go rent a truck and bring it back over.

Right on time, fifteen minutes before the show is to begin, he pulls up to a dozen of us waiting, dressed in suits and tuxedos, ready to push the piano up the hill.

We offload the piano and repeat the process from two nights prior. Bernal Heights once again has a piano. As it should.

The joy of living in San Francisco is experiencing those magical moments that couldn’t happen in any other city. Tonight’s piano recital was one of those moments. When the first song was played, there were twenty people or so watching. By the end there must have been two hundred.

There were old people, young people, tech people, and people with face tattoos. Everyone sat on blankets or on the grass, listening to the pianists play. There was jazz improv and there was Rachmaninov. Jodi from tap twice tea brought a tea table out and served people oolong by candlelight. Passerbys walking with families and dogs stopped and enjoyed the music. The sun set over the city as we all sat there listening.

All of a sudden, during a rousing jazz piece, a firework exploded low over our heads. Then another and another. Someone lower down on the hill was providing a rogue fireworks display. People cheered. It was stunning, but it was also a beacon to the police.

Fifteen minutes later, the park ranger has made his way to the piano and is trying to stop the playing. It’s not working, because he’s not quite mean enough to slam the cover on the pianist’s hands. So classical music floats through the air as the finer points of symphonic law are discussed.

The piano continues. It’s hard to stop it, really. You can’t take the piano or unplug it. Finally Todd and Joe take responsibility for the piano and go to the back to get citations written and try to negotiate.

In the end, some sort of agreement is reached. The police and ranger remain for another twenty or thirty minutes of music, supervise the removal of the piano, and even enjoy a round of applause from the audience for their understanding. Everyone is happy. As we roll the piano down the hill, one last song is played by a crabwalking pianist.

This wonderful video from ronaegis gives a terrific sense of the event:

Here’s another from ArtifactProductions:

And a third by Max Cowan, after the sun went down:

Here’s a compilation video, which dubs the event “The Great Bernal Heights Renegade Piano Recital” (and thus wins a nomenclature award). Let it be known as The Great Bernal Heights Renegade Piano Recital forever on:

Stunning! Bravo, people. Bravo!

PHOTOS: Top, paranoiddroid. Below, Tynan

19 thoughts on “Scenes and Video from “The Great Bernal Heights Renegade Piano Recital”

  1. The police and city’s parks dept. has much to attend to, fix, or otherwise care for, and this is what they spend “man-hours” doing? Harassing people playing a piano? Unfriggin’ believeable.

    On a side note: look how awesome Venus is above Sutro tower in the last movie.

    • As a note, the park ranger and police didn’t show up until they noticed the fireworks, I have my doubts that they would have shown up or really cared otherwise.

  2. very cool, wish we could have been there too. We were at another epic Bernal evening. 903 and Alder Yarrow’s wine tasting…fab wines and fab food. Great Bernalese all around..

  3. Hopefully someone reminded our diligent friends of the park and rec department of our still missing slide and infant swing at the library playground. If only we had the same level of responsiveness when their attention is actually wanted.

  4. Wondering why park ranger and DPW found a piano so objectionable and a schoolbus and other obvious live in vehicles near the community garden OK to stay for weeks

    • San Francisco has a war on fun. People living in busses aren’t fun, so they’re safe.

  5. Speaking of fireworks:
    The hill is VERY dry this year. Fourth of July pyrotechnics are a thrill, but please…
    DO NOT let your friends light firecrackers or sparklers on Bernal Hill this year! Very dangerous! Do I have to call in my old friend Smokey the Bear?

  6. Dear Todd, I am and everyone I know is blown away by this event.Is there a way to continue this tradition legally? Getting a permit for a day event? This could be a new Burning Man. Everyone I told about this event wants to come and be a part of it.You are an amazing leader. Thank you for all your hard work.If you need any support or help to make this event happen again, I would be on board. All the best,Ausra ShtarkaProud Bennington St. resident 🙂

    Date: Mon, 1 Jul 2013 18:20:10 +0000 To:

  7. I was there and it was amazing. So beautiful, peaceful and a feeling of “this is why we live in SF”. Bernal is a special place. The diversity of the crowd was amazing as well. Cheers to my fellow Bernalaliens and our view from the top of the city!

  8. Todd, thank you for posting this! It made me proud to live here – I sent it to my parents and they thought it was so sweet too. Ah, San Francisco!

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