Downtown Mill Valley is abuzz this week in anticipation of the , the new music venue and cafe that its owners hope will revitalize the local music scene and infuse downtown Mill Valley with an energy many say has been missing since the old Sweetwater closed in 2007.
At a tour of the new Sweetwater Tuesday evening, several of its owners said they were thrilled to finally realize to bring a music venue back to downtown. Investors include a slew of well-known local residents, from former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and Small Shed Flatbread owner Ged Robertson to Modulus Guitars owner Michael Klein and Paul Winston.
Though the new venue boasts a sleek decor, with red velvet-backed seating, a chic bar and a cutting-edge Meyer Sound system, it was clear that the owners hope to reconnect with the tradition of the old Sweetwater.
That hope was evident in the arrival of a pair of much-loved mermaid paintings from the old venue that will be on display at the new Sweetwater. Longtime Mill Valley resident Fred Martin, one of the original co-owners of the old Sweetwater, owns the paintings, having commissioned them from artist Pamela Helvie 40 years ago.
Jimmy Dillon and Lorin Rowan, longtime musical partners and regulars at the old Sweetwater, performed a few songs for the guests at the pre-opening night event Tuesday. Dillon said the sound system was "incredible" and that he looked forward to playing gigs in the space.
"It's gorgeous in here," he said.
The old Sweetwater garnered legendary status in the Bay Area as the living room jam session destination of choice for world famous musicians like John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt, who would rub elbows on stage with whomever was on the bill that night.
Owners were busy Wednesday putting up black "Welcome Back Sweetwater" banners on downtown light poles marking the return of the Sweetwater name to downtown. The banners were posted under the city's light pole banner program, which the City Council approved in April 2011. Because the program is only open to nonprofit organizations and the city itself, Sweetwater wouldn't normally be eligible to take advantage of it.
But when Sweetwater officials applied to post the banners, they were approved by city staff by mistake, according to City Manager Jim McCann. By the time city officials realized the mistake, Sweetwater's owners had paid to have the signs fabricated, and city officials agreed to allow the banners to go up anyway.
"This was a mistake on the city's part but everybody is happy to welcome them back and the signs are short-term, so the error isn't out there forever," McCann said.
The program calls for the city to charge $320 per banner on 10 light poles. The banners can stay up for four weeks.
While there was plenty going on outside of Sweetwater and throughout downtown this week, the venue was home to a slew of activity inside. On Tuesday evening, chef Gordon Drysdale and his staff did a few test runs in the kitchen, bartenders and staffers stocked the shelves and designer Stacy Stone and lead architect Marcy Jones helped workers put the finishing touches on the space on the ground floor of the 107-year-old Masonic Hall.
All the while, Sweetwater manager KR Holt, a concert industry veteran, ran around the venue seemingly juggling dozens of tasks at a time with aplomb.
Tampa, Fla.-based Southern rock band the Outlaws are coming to town for opening night on Friday. They’ll be followed by a pair of dates from longtime Bay Area stalwart Steve Kimock, who will be joined by a number of special guests. Shows by Grateful Dead extended family member Mark Karan, the New Orleans funk of Rhythmtown-Jive with guest Bonnie Hayes, singer-songwriter Dan Bern, Bay Area Latin funk band Vinyl and the annual Youth Rock the Rebuild benefit show from a host of local young musicians.
In a nod to what the owners hope will be a major facet of the new venue, Kimock will teach a “master class” in guitar playing on Sunday, Jan. 29. Veteran Mill Valley keyboard player and band leader Austin de Lone is set to host a weekly Monday Open Mic night, as he did when the Woods Music Hall, the short-lived previous iteration of the venue, opened for a spell in 2010.
For more info on the Sweetwater Music Hall and to buy tickets, go to its website.