The Sweetwater Music Hall – Mill Valley’s venerable live music institution and one of the most exciting live music venues in Bay Area history – has been serving up sonic brilliance that can go toe-to-toe with big name cities like San Francisco and Oakland for decades.
Five decades, in fact.
The legendary venue has spanned multiple physical venues across nearly 50 years and is set to toast its 50th anniversary in November and beyond. That celebration will, not surprisingly, center around some of the biggest names in music in the coming weeks – along with a number of surprise guests. If you have any intention of hitting the blizzard of live music performances that coincide with this anniversary, you better act fast.
Bob Weir, the legendary Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist/singer, Wolf Bros. frontman, solo artist, Sweetwater co-owner and a musical icon most likely to pop on stage at any moment, made news recently by announcing that he’ll once again take the Sweetwater stage as part of the venue’s 50th anniversary gala on Thursday, November 17, all part of a multi-night benefit for the venue’s recently created nonprofit Sweetwater Music Hall Arts Fund.
“Sweetwater has been a little playpen for San Francisco and Marin musicians for 50 years now,” Weir, whose Nov.17th show marks the exact date of Sweetwater’s debut, told Billboard last month. The venue will be honoring its 50th anniversary throughout the month of November with performances from the likes of Garage A Trois (November 18–20), Big Brother & the Holding Company (November 4), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (November 30) and Jason Crosby & Friends (November 26) among others.
Organizers says they intend to have the celebration extend throughout November, with 50th anniversary posters going up in businesses all over the 94941 and beyond. In addition to the loaded lineup of stalwart musicians, the 300-capacity venue will also provide exposure for Rock & Rye and its Sweetwater Music Hall Arts Fund, which has earmarked some of the money for scholarships and tuition for underserved kids in the Enriching Lives through Music (ELM) program in San Rafael’s mostly Latino Canal neighborhood.nonprofit education fund.
“In all its locations and eras, Sweetwater has always existed out of love from the community for the institution,” says Michael Klein, chair of the Sweetwater board, told the Marin Independent Journal. “The community has always been behind it, and it can only exist with that support and love. That’s why it’s important that we find the next generation because it won’t exist otherwise.”
In 1972, the space at 153 Throckmorton Ave. became the Sweetwater, drawing music lovers to see a who’s who of stars like John Lee Hooker, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bonnie Raitt, Sammy Hagar and Carlos Santana, among others. Fred Martin headed the Sweetwater’s first ownership group, later passing the baton to Jeannie Patterson, who transformed the venue into one of the country’s most respected showcases for American roots music.
She turned it over to Becky and Tom Steere in 1999. They closed it in 2007. A group of investors revived it in 2012, converting part of the Masonic Lodge near City Hall into one of the Bay Area’s best live venues.
“My one goal is to have Mill Valley be all Sweetwater all month long,” Sweetwater GM Maria Hoppe told the IJ, noting that the Mill Valley Public Library is preparing an exhibit of vintage photographs, concert posters, video and audio recordings of live shows and other Sweetwater memorabilia that will run through November in the gallery outside the Lucretia Little History Room. It’s informed by a donation via the estate of the late Jeanie Patterson. a beloved figure who is revered as Sweetwater’s spiritual heart and soul.