Bread & Roses Celebrates 50 Years of Uplifting Performances

All photographs by Peter Merts, courtesy of Bread & Roses

The poet James Oppenheim once wrote, “Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.” Perhaps no one understands this sentiment better than the folks at Bread & Roses Presents, a Marin-based nonprofit that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Founded by the late folk singer Mimi Fariña in 1974, Bread & Roses was started with the purpose of bringing live music to teens, adults and elders across the Bay Area. What sets these performances apart is that they’re done exclusively for audiences who are disadvantaged, marginalized or otherwise isolated in an array of institutional settings. And while Bread & Roses is preparing some special anniversary events this year, it’s also business as usual for the uplifting organization, with a steady stream of shows still being performed regularly.

“Our high-water mark was about 650 shows in one year,” recalls Dave Perron, executive director for Bread & Roses. Perron is also celebrating a milestone this year, with 2024 marking his 10th year there in that role. But he’s been with the organization since its early days, serving on the board in the mid-1980s. Fast-forward to today, and he seems in awe at the amount of people who have been reached since then. In 2023 alone, Bread & Roses partnered with 67 different social service facilities in the Bay Area for 509 free performances with audiences totaling more than 54,000 people. Indoor, outdoor and virtual shows took place, and it’s all thanks to nearly 300 volunteers who shared their artistic talents (storytellers, jugglers, magicians and others, in addition to musicians) to bring joy to disadvantaged audiences.

Perron stresses that the group’s success is also driven by the organizations it partners with, who allow performers to come in, set up and play — it’s not always convenient, but he promises it’s always worth it. You may recognize many of the names: the Cedars of Marin, San Quentin, the Veterans Home of California in Yountville and many, many more. And speaking of names you may recognize, if you look at the lengthy list of performers for Bread & Roses’ past benefit concerts, you might think you were looking at the lineups for major music festivals. Some of the acts have included Leonard Cohen, Jerry Garcia and Pete Seeger, and in recent years, the annual San Francisco–based fundraisers have drawn in performers like boygenius, Hozier and Nathaniel Rateliff.

This year’s benefit shows promise to be no less impressive, with the Golden Jam kicking off the first of three major events on May 23. Held at Sweetwater Music Hall, the fundraising celebration will be co-hosted by folk music icon Joan Baez (Fariña’s sister) and legendary music journalist Ben Fong-Torres. It will, naturally, be a music-filled event, with Ron Artis II, Tony Saunders, Dirty Cello and Jeffrey Halford taking the stage. There will also be a house band, food and drinks, a silent auction and more special guests showing their support. But the celebrations won’t stop there; there will be a fundraiser concert at HopMonk in Novato on September 7 and the annual fall benefit in San Francisco on November 23.

Bread & Roses’ mission is simple: to bring hope and healing through live performing arts shows. And Perron has witnessed it in action many times, from seeing a woman brought to tears after hearing her wedding song being played to seeing how performances at the San Francisco–Marin Food Bank transformed the energy at distributions. “Imagine going from 200 shows a year when we started to this,” says Perron.


a trio of Bread & Roses singers