Parkside Party There's no such thing as truly free civic theater: Just ask the S.F. Mime Troupe. Local arts organizations that present free or low-cost theater require more than good intentions to cover operating expenses, and NEA money is scarce these days. That leaves corporate and private donations, on-site hat-passing, and events like Absolut A La Carte, A La Park, the food, wine, and performance festival benefiting the S.F. Shakespeare Festival. Now in its 12th year, the fest offers a kind of discount dining spree, with dishes from 40 local restaurants and spirits from 40 local wineries and microbreweries sold below restaurant rates. Like the food, which ranges from Indian to French to Thai, the entertainment is an eclectic mix that finds bluesman Luther Allison and rocker Eddie Money performing on the same bill as the Shakespeare Festival troupe, which offers the comedy Love's Labour's Lost, in which a court of royal gents swears off women, only to be visited by a French princess and her entourage. Shakespeare Festival performances begin today in the park west of the Conservatory of Flowers and continue Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. through Sept. 29. The A La Carte festival begins at 11 a.m. (also Sunday and Monday) at Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park. Admission is free-$8; call 383-9378 (666-2221 for Shakespeare Festival info).
The Man From Milan Fashion mavens of all stripes follow one of couture's masters back to the drawing board with the exhibit "Gianfranco Ferre: Fashion Drawings," a retrospective dating back to 1976. The Italian-born Ferre studied architecture at the Milan Polytechnic Institute, but his love of fashion design eventually exceeded his love of building design. In 1974 he introduced his Baila ready-to-wear line, followed by the 1978 establishment of his company and the private lines that followed. Ferre, who also supervised Christian Dior lines for a time, has produced men's and women's fragrances and accessories, but his forte is his clothing, which is characterized by clean lines and rich color. The exhibit opens at 10 a.m. at the Academy of Art College, 410 Bush, S.F. Admission is free; call 274-2204.
Purple Reign Paisley days are here again with "Shockadelica," a party that takes "a funky trip through the '70s, '80s, and '90s with the artist formerly known as Prince," brought to you by Power Fantastic, the fan club of the Purple One. Genius of love or tyrannical recluse: However people envision the little man these days, there's no getting around the fact that he produced some of the last decade's most memorable party music (just try to sit still all the way through "Let's Go Crazy"), and brought together people with otherwise unrelated musical tastes in a love-sexy way. The party begins at 10:30 p.m. at 330 Ritch, S.F. Admission is $7; call 522-9558.
Feelin' Groovy Chances are that Cypress Hill will put its own spin on "smokin' grooves" with at least one reference to blunts, but the superconcert "House of Blues Smokin' Grooves" looks to be an incredible evening of movin' and groovin' grooves, too. Bay Area mixmaster Michael Franti (formerly of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy) kicks off the show in smooth style with his most recent outfit, Spearhead, followed up by hyper versesmith Busta Rhymes and A Tribe Called Quest. The Fugees, who inject a dance beat into Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" without losing the song's original soulfulness, pave the way for Cypress and headliners Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, who bring pop influences to the reggae tradition inherited from legendary dad Bob. The show begins at 6 p.m. at the Shoreline Amphitheater, 1 Amphitheater Pkwy., Mountain View. Admission is $19.50-28.50; call 541-0800.
Brash Not Bashed SOMAR Gallery is hosting "Road Rash Bash '96" today and tomorrow, and just about everything bike messenger imaginable will be on display: Tom Christopher's bike messenger paintings, a Montreal bike messenger/trapeze artist showing off her aerial skills, vintage bikes (lowrider and messenger-style) slung from the rafters, plus music, film, video, and a performance by the Armageddon Light Company. There's also a poster collection, dating back 14 years, commemorating bike messenger picnics, demonstrations (Critical Mass ring a bell?), and more. Doors open at 2 p.m. both days at 934 Brannan, S.F.; the music starts at 7 p.m. today, 5 p.m. Monday. Admission is $8; call 552-2131.
Blues Monday Oakland pays homage to the windy city with "A Tribute to Chicago Blues," the theme of this year's Heritage Festival. Blues singer Zoom, dubbed Chi-town's "New Queen of the Blues," presides over this West Coast gathering of established and up-and-coming Midwest talent. Guitarist/harmonica players Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones and Lurrie Bell and singer/guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson warm up for headliner Chick Willis, the singer/guitarist whose hit songs "Stoop Down Baby" and "Jack You Up" often turn up on blues jukeboxes. Despite the theme, local blues artists like Johnny Heartsman and the Blues Society's Caravan of All-Stars get some licks in, too. The Heritage Festival begins at 11 a.m. at the Dunsmuir House and Gardens, 1960 Peralta Oaks, Oakland. Admission is free-$20; call (510) 836-2227.
Labor Intensive The history and future of American labor are explored in depth in KQED's daylong holiday program lineup. The marathon begins with nine episodes from past seasons of We Do the Work, the PBS series on life in the workplace. Each half-hour segment focuses on labor-related topics like food service, children working overseas, and the struggles of farm workers. The documentary Justice in the Coalfields tracks the 1989 Virginia United Mine Workers strike, while Jobs: Not What They Used to Be looks at changing labor trends, what jobs will be available, and what skills will be in demand. Programming begins at 10 a.m. on KQED Ch. 9.