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Best of the Bay 2013: Culture

Comedy caves, nature communes, and lit-geek gatherings.

 A mural by Zio Ziegler, whose work went on display at the new Ian Ross Gallery last year.

Best Literary Haven: With its terra-cotta facade and grass-coiffed roof, the Bayview’s new branch of the San Francisco Public Library is an inspired improvement on the brutalist book bunker that it replaced, thanks to more than $100 million of public funding. And the new solar-powered digs are more than just aesthetically pleasing: The library houses a new community meeting room, two enclosed study rooms, an expanded children’s area, and an inner courtyard, with arresting works by local photographer Ron Saunders sprinkled throughout. --Ben Christopher

Best Mental Escape: Since last fall, local travel-writing luminaries Don George, Kimberley Lovato, and Lavinia Spalding have been curing the Monday blues of wayfarers with their reading series, Weekday Wanderlust. Every third Monday of the month, globetrotting literati liquor up at the Hotel Rex Library Bar before settling into the back room, decked with portraits of famous writers and old maps, for a packed hour of inspiring, heartfelt, and jarring tales from travel-lit all-stars such as Chris Colin, Faith Adiele, and Amir Tamim Ansary. “Travel is the nexus, but it’s really about a quintessentially San Francisco community for great writers and eager listeners,” says George. By night’s end, you’ll swear that you’ve added a few stamps to your passport. --Jenna A. Scatena

Best Comedy Cave: Brokenhearted Purple Onion devotees, rejoice! You can still get your underground stand-up fix at Lost Weekend Video’s Cynic Cave. Back in late 2011, when the owners of the Mission rental shop campaigned to convert their store’s “windowless firetrap” of a basement into an amateur movie theater, it was just to keep the veteran movie rental business alive. But when local comedians George Chen and Kevin O’Shea organized a one-off stand-up night last July, fate took a much funnier turn. Now, every Saturday night, Cynic Cave showcases local talent that you don’t know about (but should), like Kate Willett and Johan Miranda. It has even hosted stars like W. Kamau Bell and Bobcat Goldthwait. --BC

Best Place to Commune With Nature: Walk past the street lamp adorned with simulacrum seagull poop or the taxidermic roadkill exhibit, and you’ll discover that the Oakland Museum of California’s natural science gallery is more than just display cases and hokey tableaux. The newly opened wing re-creates five ecological niches from across California (with two more to open next winter), presenting nature not as an abstract concept, but as something that’s with us every day, from mountain lions in the Oakland Hills to plastic trash floating around Point Reyes. You’ll never look at roadkill the same way again. --BC

Best Breakout Band: If you don’t think of the iPad as a musical instrument, Midi Matilda might make you change your mind. Both halves of this East Bay electro-pop duo—Skyler Kilborn and Logan Grimé—have a background in sound engineering. That experience finds expression in their playful synths, highenergy percussions, and innovative use of the kitara—a strummable screen, shaped like a classic electric guitar, that controls guitar frets as well as synths. Kilborn and Grimé recently signed with the New York label Five Seven Music (alongside Blondie and Shiny Toy Guns), and they have already toured 20,000 miles this year. See them make their big-league debut in August at Outside Lands, where their music (“We want our shows to be like Daft Punk meets the White Stripes,” they told the Huffington Post) is sure to cut through the fog. --Annie Tittiger

Best Music Hall Explosion: The Bay Area has never lacked for symphony halls, jazz joints, and concert venues, but this year, six new sites have been built or refurbished to fill in a few remaining cultural gaps. There’s Weill Hall in Sonoma, which brings the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Josh Groban to wine country, and Stanford’s new state-of-the-art Bing Concert Hall, the perfect practicing grounds for the school’s Grammy-nominated St. Lawrence String Quartet. The Chapel music hall on Valencia Street gives the Mission a boost of bluegrass, alt-country, and psychedelia. And let’s not forget SFJazz Center in Hayes Valley, Feinstein’s at the Nikko—for torch singers and the people who love them—or the ongoing remodel of the Ruth Finley Person Theater in Santa Rosa, a major addition to the area’s classical scene. Consider your cultural intake higher than the national average. --AT

Best YouTube Auteur: Music videos may be a dying breed, but never underestimate their power. Just as Tune-Yards was gaining popularity last year, it released the video for “Bizness,” which featured an avant-garde blend of faint paint, modern dance, child actors, and crazed expression. Three million YouTube views later, Tune-Yards has director Mimi Cave to thank. “I wanted to give her a little nudge,” Cave says of lead singer Merrill Garbus. “I just knew she needed a video to help spread her music.” Now Cave has become the go-to director for local musicians, with a video incorporating bison heads for the single “A New Life,” by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and another featuring kaleidoscopic lip-synching for “Holy Roller,” by San Francisco indie darlings Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. Bottom line? If Spotify is killing the video star, then Cave is fighting valiantly to preserve it. --AT

Best Lit-Geek Gathering: We’ve been hearing the lamentations about the death of print for some time, but now San Francisco’s Litquake is taking on the “print versus e-books, bookstores versus Amazon” quandary with serious gusto. Digi.lit is a new conference (debuting June 29) that brings together players from all sides of the publishing equation—agents, authors, readers, publishers, bookstore owners, and digital pioneers—in a series of panels to hash out questions both mammoth (what is the future of publishing?) and micro (if it’s digital, can it be literature?). “The truth is that no one really knows what this future looks like, so we want to ask the provocative questions to get to the answer,” says Litquake cofounder Jack Boulware. So maybe it’s not a market battle after all, but an entirely new frontier where tech and print actually coexist. --JAS

Best Bansky-esquer Gallery: The improvisational live-painting pioneer Ian Ross made his name (and fortune) spreading his energetic, graffiti-like murals across the company walls of tech giants Facebook and Google. In December, he put those tech earnings to work by opening the Ian Ross Gallery, a much-needed showcase (and marketing space) for local street artists. Now, Mission-worthy murals aren’t limited to tricked-out corporate headquarters or gritty city streets: You can buy a scaled-down version to admire from the comfort of your own couch. --April Kilcrease

 

Read more Best of the Bay
Best of the Bay 2013: Bayview Fix-ups
Best of the Bay 2013: Brunch Without Borders
Best of the Bay 2013: Game-Changer Bars
Best of the Bay 2013: New Subspecies
Best of the Bay 2013: Upgraded Napa Agenda
Best of the Bay 2013: Culture
Best of the Bay 2013: Food
Best of the Bay 2013: Recreation 
Best of the Bay 2013: Socializing
Best of the Bay 2013: Style
 

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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