Seven months after throughout downtown Mill Valley and the local arts community, the is in the midst of a transition that its owners hope will leverage its strengths and bolster its musical menu.
The investors have hired Aaron Kayce, who has been booking talent and managing the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma for the past 20 months, as general manager for music operations. They’ve also turned over the management of the restaurant/café and bar to chef Gordon Drysdale.
“His food has turned out to be one of the biggest assets of the business – it’s just fantastic,” investor Michael Klein said. “We’re now a community hang out. Gordon has an overall focus on the facility and he'll take it to the next level.”
The moves signal the departure of , who spearheaded the Sweetwater’s opening in late January. Holt could not be reached for comment, but Klein said she’s staying on through Labor Day and then plans to promote shows in the Central Coast area. He said Holt’s departure was her decision.
“We‘re totally grateful for the effort she made in launching the club,” Klein said. “She did a remarkable job. I know that it was a physically overwhelming job for her at times. We really ran her into the ground.”
Kayce, 36, is a longtime music journalist and former editor of JamBase who switched gears two years ago and started booking artists at the Mystic, helping owner Ken O’Donnell expand his live music offering to bring in a younger demographic. He hopes to do the same at the Sweetwater.
Kayce said the new Sweetwater has done a great job maintaining that “real sense of community” that was so powerful at its predecessor, where he remembers being able to see both emerging acts and established artists in an intimate venue.
He’ll continue popular community events like the Monday Open Mic Nights with Austin DeLone and Sunday Gospel Brunches. And while he doesn’t plan a stark departure from the new venue’s steady reliance on Grateful Dead-related acts, particularly since , Kayce said he wants to expand the Sweetwater’s sonic palette.
“There are definitely opportunities to broaden the base,” he said, listing young acts like Blitzen Trapper, Dawes and Jason Isbell among those who he booked at the Mystic and would be a good fit for the Sweetwater. “Roots music fits the venue very well. You need to get the community and the audience to trust your booking and get people to come out to see artists that might be new to them.”
Klein said the Sweetwater’s investors, who also include Ged Robertson, Paul Winston, Maggie O’Donnell and Dennis Fisco, among others, “couldn’t be happier” with how the venue and café has done so far.
“Our goal was to recreate the community asset that the original Sweetwater was, and we’re just really warmed by the response the whole community has given us,” he said. “But on the music side of things, we want to do better.”
In addition to expanding the sonic offering, the Sweetwater has struck a partnership with Yahoo Music similar to the one Weir’s TRI Studios has landed with the online giant. The Sweetwater will have its own channel on Yahoo Music from which people will be able to stream select live shows.
The first will be from the Outlaws, the Tampa, Fla.-based Southern rock band that on Jan. 27 and has its first new album in 18 years coming out Sept. 25. The Outlaws’ Oct. 1 show will stream live on Yahoo Music, and co-founder Henry Paul’s acclaimed country trio Blackhawk is also performing at the venue on Sept. 29.
With the Yahoo deal, the Sweetwater investors hope to tap into a relatively new business model that Weir has been exploring with his TRI Studios in San Rafael. That facility has played host to myriad acts looking to utilize state-of-the-art audio and video technology to reach massive audiences that could never fit inside a concert venue. Yahoo Music boasts 39 million viewers.
“All the technology is in place,” Klein said, pointing to the Sweetwater’s successful live stream of the Mother Hips’ set there in July.
For Kayce, a native of the Boston suburbs who moved to the Bay Area 12 years ago, his new job is simply to take what he sees as one of the best live music venues in the Bay Area to even greater heights.
“They’ve invested a lot of money into an incredible venue with an amazing sound system,” he said. “Now they just need to show it off and get the right mix of talent in there for it to really blossom.”