Jonathan Korty's Mill Valley roots run deep.
He grew up here and co-founded the stalwart funk band Vinyl, which headlines the Homestead Valley Music Festival Sunday in the meadow at the Homestead Valley Community Center, 16 years ago in a house on Evergreen Avenue.
But while he treasures those Mill Valley roots, Korty was more interested in exploring other parts of the tree when he was a teenager. That is, a since-removed tree across the street from the Sweetwater on Throckmorton Ave., which Korty frequently climbed to get a view into the legendary music venue through its upper window.
"Sometimes I would stay for an hour and get hell from my mom, but I'll never forget those sights and sounds," Korty said of his tree climbs, listing artists like blues master Charlie Musselwhite, New Orleans legends the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Eddie Bo among his favorite bird's eye sightings.
The Sweetwater played a crucial role in Vinyl's sound, Korty said, as did the iconic Village Music, where Korty bought many of the vinyl records that informed the musical palette from which he and his Vinyl mates have drawn.
"Sweetwater and Village Music changed my life as well as many other peoples," he said. "It is like a nightmare that they are both gone. A horrifying tragedy. The tree is gone, too, but the music lives on."
That Vinyl would go on to play at Sweetwater more than 100 times over the years, serving as its de facto house band and backing the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, Clarence Clemons and Jerry Harrison exceeded the wildest dreams of Korty and his bandmates, most of whom have lived in Mill Valley at some point and several of whom went to Tam High.
The monumental musical history that preceded the band in Mill Valley and throughout the Bay Area had a huge impact on the band, said Geoff Vaughn, Vinyl's bassist and business manager.
"It seeps into the musical atmosphere and the consciousness of the players around here, and it certainly did for us," he said. "We wouldn't have been the same animal if we had been born somewhere else."
The band's birth can be traced to 110 Evergreen Ave., where Korty rented a house with some friends after graduating from the University of Hawaii. The large garage adjacent to Korty's downstairs room was quickly converted into a studio, and jam sessions ensued, frequently drawing the ire a rubber hammer-wielding neighbor.
The band's lineup developed over time, with Korty connecting with guitarist Bill Frates because they both worked at Guaymas in Tiburon, and Vaughn coming by the house often – his brother Peter lived there – and eventually picking up bass duties.
"It had this sort of clubhouse vibe," Vaughn said.
The band, originally a six-piece, called itself Hooch, but the members changed it to Vinyl after a friend told them that Hooch brought to mind "illegal alcohol and burning Vietnamese villages," Korty said.
Since Korty's place was covered in vinyl LPs from Village Music and the old Marin City flea market, Vinyl was an obvious alternative. For its first gig, a surf party at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, the band was paid in psychedelic mushrooms.
Before long, they'd attracted attention in San Francisco and had a residency at Mick's Lounge on Van Ness Avenue. By 1997, the band was selling out the Fillmore and was touring all over the county, playing festivals and club dates with the likes of the Meters, Jimmy Cliff, Les Claypool, Los Lobos, Boz Scaggs, Michelle Shocked, Bernie Worrell and Greyboy All-Stars.
These days, the band plays about 70 shows a year, down from more than twice that from its peak years.
"We toured heavily for the better part of 10 years, so we get some longevity points for that," said Vaughn, who now lives in Corte Madera. "Life changes and you've got to change with it. You can't pretend you're 25 forever."
The Homestead Valley Music Festival was an obvious fit, he said.
"It felt particularly appropriate considering it's a half-mile from our point of origin," he said.
The Homestead Valley Music Festival traces its own lineage back 50 years, when the Homestead Valley Improvement Club presented a series of three Candlelight Concerts in Brown's Hall. Those concerts continued for 20 years. The first Mozart Festival started in Stolte Grove on the Sunday before Labor Day in 1961, and lasted for more than 40 years. It fell victim to financial losses in 2004.
Several residents sought to maintain a Labor Day weekend music event, and had to move it because no amplified music is allowed in Stolte Grove. Co-organizer Bob Westbrook said he hopes to attract as many as 1,000 people this year.
In addition to Vinyl, the free event will also feature the music of youth a cappella group 'Til Dawn, the Jazz Mavericks and The Nigerian Brothers.
For Korty, the event has made him recall fond childhood memories in Homestead Valley like summer parties in Stolte Grove and amazing Halloween celebrations.
"Mill Valley was a completely different place then," he said. "Things were more rough and tumble, not as picture perfect as they are now. People just weren't as rich. It was funkier."
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