In a move the Sweetwater Music Hall's manager called "heartbreaking," Grateful Dead legend and Mill Valley resident Bob Weir walked off the stage at the venue Monday night in the face of unrelenting crowd chatter.
Weir, who was playing a solo acoustic set prior to a performance by his new Ratdog Quartet, walked off angrily in the middle of a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” The walk-off was preceded by a number of indications that Weir was growing irritated with the chatter, and he asked those engaged in extended conversation if he was interrupting them.
After a few more seconds, Weir said, "OK I give up. I'll be back up later with an electric band and we'll be loud enough and that will be that."
Venue manager Aaron Kayce said a disruptively talkative crowd is one of the one of the most difficult aspects to navigate for a music hall, especially considering that everyone in the audience – "some to listen, eyes closed, immersed in the music, others to blow off steam and catch up with friends" – bought tickets to the show.
"Though we can encourage people to be quiet, and in retrospect I wish we had taken more steps to ensure a quieter room, there is unfortunately no law or rule against talking at a bar," Kayce said. "We hope that folks who have spent their hard earned money to come see an artist will be quiet when said artist is performing, but we also know that's not always the case and people go to shows for different reasons."
Kayce said the incident has caused venue management to implement some new protocols and reinstitute some old ones for acoustic shows. Those include making solo acoustic shows by big-name artists seated affairs, which they've done in the past for Weir as well as Justin Townes Earle.
"When we know it's a more delicate show, we will also make an announcement before the set reminding folks to be aware of their volume levels and ask that if they really need to chat to please head into the cafe," Kayce said, adding that they'll be posting signs to that effect for similar shows.
"And we'll have security guards going through the room asking folks to please keep it down, though we did this to an extent but it simply got away from us," Kayce said.
Weir later returned to the stage with his new RatDog Quartet, telling the crowd, “It’s okay, we’re not going to try to do anything particularly delicate now,” before kicking off the set with “Friend of the Devil” and “Deep Elem Blues,” according to Jambands.com.
Weir was evidently still frustrated with those in the crowd who would not stay quiet, as he shouted “Shut the f**k up,” (see videos above) in the middle of the encore rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.”
The incident sparked a backlash on social media Tuesday, particularly on the Sweetwater's Facebook page, with Johnny Dempster writing, "In 34 years of me going to see Bob Weir either with the GD ..Solo ..or Ratdog, I have never seen him get upset with the audience ...respect the artist and show some class ... Everyone should have gotten the message when he first told the audience 'shhh' ..the band deserves an apology from those in the audience who made him have to say, 'shut the f**k up ...Twice!"
Michele Earl Waldman posted, "Great show! Hope that fact doesn't get lost in all the drama."