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Sweetwater Reshuffles, Hires New Manager

Investors bring in Aaron Kayce from Mystic Theatre in an effort to broaden music offerings and boost Gordon Drysdale’s management of restaurant and café.

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.”

frances lynn August 27, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Delighted Austin de Lone's Open Mic on Monday nights has survived the reshuffle.
anonymous August 27, 2012 at 04:33 PM
I love SweetWater and have really enjoyed spending evenings as well as some Sundays with wonderful music and folks here. I am also excited to hear that there will be more of a focus on bringing in a younger crowd to the venue, as I am 41 and would like to see more people my age and music for a more rounded age variance as well. Love the music, yet looking forward to more varied styles, which would be incentive to want to visit more often and invite my friends. Reggae? Thanks SweetWater for being here!!
Rebecca Chapman August 27, 2012 at 05:22 PM
love love love your heirloom tomato soup, gordo! & whatever those thingys are called, croutons i think, rocked my world, dude. AND the hootenanny (sp.?) is the best thing goin', folks. how many chefs can pluck a guitar & croon melodies like monsieur drysdale? thank you, sweetwater gang, for welcoming me into your sphere when almost no one else in town would. i can't wait for the new music shows, and am wishing you guys all the luck & success you deserve. honestly, you're making my upcoming departure from this town so bittersweet, for which i am beyond grateful. guess maybe i won't be leavin' 'til october now...
Kimberly August 27, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I'm excited for the new opportunities that will unfold at Sweetwater and I'm a huge fan. Love the idea of reggae here. I would like to point out, though, something that seems to be missing from your article. Some of the people that opened this new venue and worked so hard to make it the great experience it is have been fired. To me some of them were the faces of Sweetwater and they will be missed greatly.
Rebecca Chapman August 27, 2012 at 09:06 PM
kudos to sweetwater's owners, investors & staff members for not acquiescing to mill valley locals' fondness for living 40 years back in time, if not further! the design of the interior is stellar, sound quality & stage set-up delightful & the big screen a really fun addition. it's so nice to see a space that lets the quality of music shine through, rather than being muffled by a bunch of motheaten kitch on the walls. and let's give these guys credit for making it through more than one rough patch, while we all assault them with our narrow ideas of the way things should be. yay, new sweetwater!!!
Bob G August 28, 2012 at 04:52 AM
If the "reshuffle" eliminates the cocktail lounge chatter and atmosphere at the back of the music room, great! If not, see ya.
Lippy August 28, 2012 at 05:21 AM
HEAR, HEAR!!!
Rhonda J. (Smith) McCormick August 28, 2012 at 08:52 AM
Yes, great news! He has played at Sweetwater for many years. Keep on rockin' Audie!!
Rebecca Chapman August 28, 2012 at 04:21 PM
whoa, dude! sorry to keep answering back, but doesn't anybody remember the absurdity of the bar meets a crooked stage meets the gong show aspect of that teeny tiny room we all grew so fond of? i loved having a reliable gathering spot back in the day, but i'll never forget when my favorite act would sing his heart out up on stage, and the drunken audience's response was usually to holler louder & louder. he used to throw his guitar on the floor, climb up on a chair & sing acapella (sp.?) with tears in his eyes at the end of his shows. and, last i heard, he was fishing in montana, and avoiding human contact all together. pretty smart guy!
Douglas Dolton August 28, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Bring on the Tommy Igoe Band!!!
Maleea August 29, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I look forward to seeing shows booked that cater to a different audience. I like to see live music, and it would be great if those opportunities were in my hometown did not involving a trek across a bridge. The X show was by far my favorite show this year and I was disappointed when it seemed that this was going to be an anomaly in the booking. I have to believe that there are other people in my demographic that gravitate towards music that is not jam-band oriented. Booking at the Mystic has been very good so this looks promising!
Uncle Fishbits August 29, 2012 at 08:50 PM
I know! My wife still hasn't had a chance to play! =)
Uncle Fishbits August 29, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I moved to Marin from SF, knowing the one single thing that would happen is my 3 nights out a week would turn into watching webcast or music docs. I used to do some stuff at Jambase with Kayceman (Hi sir, it's unclefishbits) - and this guy is perfect. Younger energy, finger on the pulse of what's right for the right venue, etc. I am so excited to know that MY music might start actually playing here. Some jam, some jazz, some blue, some reggae, whatever..... just get some names in there, and I will support you nightly!! =) Thanks, and looking forward to this! Welcome KAYCE!
Rebecca Chapman August 30, 2012 at 06:02 PM
one more quick point: the free shows have been such a nice counterbalance to the expensive shows only affordable to my wealthy friends & neighbors. i get that it's a business, took a lot of dough to make the sound system what it is & great acts deserve good money, but for those few of us remaining in town with no cash for food, drink &/or bus fare, the gospel on sunday (for example) is healing more than most around here could begin to appreciate. thanks again, sweetwater crew, for making my heart sing, & choke up with tears a little, just when i'm needing it most...
Bud Wiesser August 31, 2012 at 02:38 AM
...October 2022 i hope! Agree that Gordon's food rocks. Small plates; big tastes.

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