Musicians transform store lines into mini-concerts during the pandemic

The performances are a collaboration between Commotion West Berkeley and several local artists.

woman in pink mask stands in front of band performance
Anaís Azul got a grant from Commotion West Berkeley to do a series of “Songs While You Wait” performances this summer. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

A group of West Berkeley artists and musicians are looking to liven up the long lines and waits outside stores during the COVID-19 pandemic with a new pop-up series called “Songs While You Wait.”

The series of four performances – with the last two planned at Tokyo Fish Market and Mi Tierra Foods on Aug. 22 and 29 – are the product of a grant from Commotion West Berkeley and a resourceful idea from Anaís Azul, who grew up in Berkeley and attended its public schools.

Mi Tierra Foods is a regular spot from Azul’s childhood, and they said one of the best parts of organizing the performances has been watching business owners get excited about the bands, even before they had finalized the artists.

Last Friday evening, outside Berkeley Patients Group dispensary, Taifa Nia and his bandmate in Same Girls set up their instruments and performed a mellow set to a small line while cars zipped by on San Pablo Avenue.

Azul met Nia during their time at Berkeley High, and the other artists in the series – Yiann, Jordan Jo and Yaadi Erica – are friends and connections from a QTBIPOC artist group in Bay Area. The second performance, by Yiann, was Friday morning at Acme Bread on San Pablo Avenue.

“We are here to support each other, and when there’s an opportunity to lift each other up – this was an opportunity that I kind of created for queer people of color,” Azul said. “Specifically, as a queer person myself, I wanted it to celebrate queer people of color too.”

Commotion West Berkeley celebrates the industry, art and innovation in the neighborhood.

Lawrence Grown, founder of the nonprofit and owner of Metro Lighting on San Pablo Avenue, was enjoying the band on Friday.

“Everyone’s just starved for live performances right now, and having this happen while people are waiting in line, social distanced during COVID, it just seemed so of the moment,” Grown said.

Commotion West Berkeley is also funding some soon-to-come murals this summer, one on the side of Metro Lighting and another at SHOH Gallery on Gilman and Third streets that says “Welcome to West Berkeley.”

Though the performances in the series will be fleeting, the goal is to record and release them as a live compilation album on streaming platforms in the fall as “Songs While You Wait.”

“The idea of this, and the idea of all of my community projects is thinking, ‘What is the longevity of this?” I love an ephemeral moment, but how does it stay as,’This is an imprint of West Berkeley,” Azul said.