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Meet the Sweetwater's Skipper

While the new venue's well known partners and star performers have gotten most of the attention so far, Sweetwater manager KR Holt is at the controls.

Nearly two years before the , its investors sought the ears of some of the Bay Area music scene’s biggest power brokers.

Sweetwater investor Michael Klein, who runs Novato-based Modulus Guitars, reached out to a number of his contacts in the Bay Area music scene, including Bonnie Simmons and Dawn Holliday, the music industry vets who were hand-picked by Sweetwater investor Warren Hellman to run his renowned Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Those contacts served up some great advice, Klein says. But the Sweetwater’s saving grace – someone to run the show and lead a group of investors that “didn’t really know what we were doing,” Klein says - didn’t come until nearly six months later, when Goldenvoice/AEG Live exec David Lefkowitz called Klein.

“He said, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but I’ve got the perfect person for you,’” Klein recalls. “He told me about her experience and that she lives in Mill Valley and said, 'I can’t believe I’m going to let you have her, but she’s just absolutely perfect for this job.'”

Lefkowitz was talking about KR Holt, who was an assistant talent buyer in his office, which oversees booking for venues like the Warfield Theatre and the Grand Ballroom.

“It just seemed obvious to me,” says Lefkowitz, who notes that Holt was “definitely overqualified” for her job at Goldenvoice. “Despite having not only a great working relationship with her but also a tremendous personal relationship, it just seemed like the perfect situation.”

Holt, a native of Laguna Beach, Calif., who has lived in the Bay Area since 1997 and Mill Valley for the past 5 years, has been in the music business from a number of angles over the years. Holt got her start in 1998 with the Rosebud Agency, a renowned concert booking and management company, before moving on to Bill Graham Presents, where she was a house manager at the Fillmore. She has also been the house manager at the Warfield and Slim’s and worked for Shelley Lazar’s SLO Limited, a VIP ticketing service, before jumping to Goldenvoice in 2007.

“We’re lucky as we can be to have someone with her experience and talent,” Klein says.

Holt took the job of general manager of the Sweetwater Music Hall in July 2011, when the in which the Sweetwater resides was in the midst of an to accommodate the club, including a complete overhaul of both the interior and and the installation of a high-tech Meyer sound system.

Fast forward 7 months later and Holt is catching her breath from a whirlwind adventure that saw her do something she’d never done before: spearhead the .

“It was a little bit crazy,” Holt says of the weeks leading up to the opening in late January. “But we did it and we did it pretty damn well. I’m really proud of our team and it’s been amazing that we’ve accomplished what we have. It’s one of the proudest moments of my life.”

After an opening week of private and public shows that included Sweetwater investor Bob Weir’s Ratdog, as well as the Outlaws and Steve Kimock, the venue went dark for a few days in early February by design. The closure was to allow the staff and Holt, who was involved in the reopening of the Warfield in 2008 but had never before helmed a project without a substantial organization behind her, to get a few days of rest.

“KR has been stretched really thin,” Klein admits. “(The Sweetwater partners) are very involved and we really care about this club, but we don’t know anything about opening a music venue and she didn’t get much organizational support. We came close to running her into the ground. But she did an amazing job, and I think people is really happy with the place.”

Opening week had a number of highlights for Holt. But the one that stands out the most was a private party for all of the people directly involved with the new venue’s creation, featuring a band with the impromptu moniker “The Imposters.” It consisted of Noel Manerud and his wife Ellen from Sweetwater contractor Van Acker Construction, along with Sweetwater chef Gordon Drysdale and Holt’s assistant and operations manager June Barnard.

“I had tears of awe welling up in my eyes when our first act hit the stage,” Holt says. “They built this place! It was that ‘we really did it’ feeling of joy and pride that I can only imagine having a child must feel like. That was a big, big moment.”

Since then, Holt says she has strived to find a balance between well-known acts looking for a Bay Area show to complement a San Francisco stop and the Marin musicians who made the .

“I’m getting huge interest from lots of people,” Holt says. “But it’s really important to me to fulfill my promise to continue the Marin tradition of music here. It’s not going to be national acts all of the time.”

More than anything, Holts says she’s excited to both live and work in the town she’s fallen in love with since she moved here in 2007. She lives in a cottage with “an amazing view of Mount Tam" and spends most days in her office adjacent to the Sweetwater.

“This is just a great opportunity to finally embrace the community I’ve been living in,” Holt says. “Until I took this job, I’ve really just been sleeping here. So I’m thrilled.”

Alice Shiffman March 02, 2012 at 03:31 PM
WE think that the new Sweetwater Music Hall is the best thing to hit Mill Valley since we moved here 17 years ago. It is a comfortable, friendly for all ages to come for whatever reason. Have a cup of great coffee, a bit of delicious food for dinner, drink at the bar with local bar manager Tommmy and his bar back Splash, listen to great music, and just watch the peope who come in with radiant smiles on their faces.We have a bunch of people to thank for opening THIS Sweetwater right downtown. It is wonderful, simply wonderful. We plan on going once a week. Alice and Michael Shiffman
kate McInerny March 02, 2012 at 04:19 PM
I celebrated a friend's 60th last Friday night at Sweetwater and the dance floor was packed for Vinyl. Change can be tough and many old Marinites hold fond memories of the original Sweetwater, but the new one is a very promising "child"! For one, there's a larger dance floor and the dance factor is integral in attracting people. Good music first, naturally, but dancing brings people back! I am also a fan of Rancho Nicasio and hope that maybe the two venues can complement each other and work together in making Marin a live music hot spot! It's so special, though, to see a Marin tradition thrive! Kate McInerny
Elle March 03, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Well done KR! I couldn't think of a person who deserves this opportunity more.
kc windeler March 06, 2012 at 06:09 PM
This chick is really talented! Karen windeler
Michael c. Vogel March 17, 2012 at 06:54 AM
MCV. The sound is great, Gordon Drysdale's food is delicious and the room is very comfortable. Best thing to happen to Mill Valley in the 23 years I've lived here! Rock on KR.
Gretchen March 22, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Bravo! I was at the opening from out-of-town and can attest to the professionalism of the staff in making every guest feel like a VIP, even friends of friends were accorded the utmost courtesy. Gordon Drysdale's olives with orange "je ne sais quoi" are to die for and Stacy Stone's interior is dressed down luxe. Can't wait for my next opportunity to visit. Excellent space for great music!

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