San Francisco

San Francisco Musician Launches Week-Long Festival of Death

Brad Wolfe seems in good health. He’s young, the head of two non-profit companies. He plays guitar, sings and pens nice songs. In other words, he seems unlikely to be someone sitting around thinking about death. But alas…

“I grew-up hearing stories about death and life from a very early age,” Wolfe said. “My grandparents were Auschwitz survivors.”

Wolfe is at the helm of group that is about to stage one of the most unusual events San Francisco has ever seen — a week-long series of more than 160 events throughout the city exploring the end of life.

“Everyone is pulling together to spend a week thinking about big questions about life and death,” said Wolfe, founder of the non-profit group Reimagine End of Life.

The festival of the same name, which runs from April 16th to the 22nd, includes art shows, concerts, house gatherings and an opening night concert and talk at SF Jazz. During the week newly minted Oscar winner Frances McDormand will perform in a play about death. There’s even a remembrance ceremony for animal species that have been lost during the year.

“This venue is going to be filled to the brim with people who want to talk about the end of life,” Wolfe said standing on the stage of SF Jazz where he will perform an original song during opening night festivities.

Although Wolfe was aware of death from a young age, it was the death of a close friend from a rare cancer two decades ago that plunged him into thinking about the end of life.

Although Wolfe had an awareness of death from a young age, it was the death of a close friend two years from cancer that plunged him into the topic. He thought about medical care, preparations for funeral arrangements, even the last sounds people hear at the end of their days.

“If you think about that sound,” Wolfe said, “right now it’s often the sound of alarms in the hospital.”

Following the death of that friend Sara LaBoskey, Wolfe wrote a song about her and founded a group called the Sunbeam Foundation aimed at seeking cures for childhood cancers. As he stared down thoughts about the end of life, it didn’t seem as taboo anymore. He thought about funerals, where the newly departed are feted by friends and family.

“Those experiences while so tragic there’s also something beautiful about them,” Wolfe said. “And it made me think ‘why are we waiting until the end of our lives to celebrate the people we care about.?’”

Wolfe envisions the week-long Reimagine End of Life event yielding conversations about death though art, music and interaction. He hopes the event will inspire people to embrace the subject rather than push it away. The conversation about death — Wolfe figures — is ultimately a conversation about life.

“Hopefully at the end of this,” Wolfe said, “people enter in an experience at one of these events and justfeel inspired to live their lives more fully.”

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