​Regular readers of this space know that while every Mill Valley business has been economically ravaged by the COVID-19 crisis, few have a longer road ahead of them than arts and entertainment venues – those that provide our community a chance to gather to experiences the arts in a group setting.

The Sweetwater Music Hall is certainly one of those businesses facing a long road ahead before it can revive its fantastic live concert calendar, and they’ve been taking steps in recent weeks to chart a path ahead. For now, that features the launch of a Summer Pop-Up Tiki Bar for food and beverage takeout on Friday, June 5. The Tiki Bar will be open Thursday-Sunday, 2-8pm, with live music Friday and Saturday – a steel drum performance kicks things off on June 5 – from 3-6pm. 

“We all need a little of that fun, vacation vibe right now,” Sweetwater General Manager ​Madison Flach says. “Expect to see fresh & delicious tropical drinks on the menu (pina colada in a whole pineapple anyone?!), some new dishes from our kitchen (cashew & coconut shrimp / mango, onion, arugula, chickpea salad & more!), a take-home Luau party pack for the whole family to enjoy, and a decorated patio for you to feel like you’ve been transported to a tropical paradise!”
Flach says Sweetwater will reopen for outdoor dining on the patio in the coming weeks.

Flach and her close-knit team of employees – an IndieGogo campaign raised more than $18,000 to support furloughed employees – have worked together for the better part of five years. They’ve held a few Zoom calls but otherwise have been longing for the days when they can get back to doing what they do best: showcase great live music in one of the best venues in the Bay Area.

While it can seem like an insurmountable predicament at times, Flach and her team have taken solace in the idea that some of the most famous music venues in the United States are in the same exact situation. 

“This is an existential crisis,” Dayna Frank, the owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis, a regular spot for Prince, the Replacements and Hüsker Dü that opened in 1970, told the New York Times last month. “Independent venues have no financial backstop. We do not have corporate parents. There are no financial resources we can turn to.”

In an effort to save irreplaceable venues like the Sweetwater, more than 1,300 venues and promoters for the likes of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the Fox Theater in Oakland9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. and World Cafe Live in Philadelphia have formed the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). The organization retained powerhouse lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to seek tax relief and more flexible loan programs. 

“I’ve been impressed at how quickly they activated and how much they’ve been doing,” Flach says of NIVA. “It’s nice to feel that there a community around the independent venues.”

The organization is leaning on the overall impact of live music as an “economic multiplier,” a powerful force whose events have positive ripple effects on surrounding businesses like restaurants, retail shops and hotels. According to a 2017 study from the National Endowment for the Arts, the value added by arts and culture to the U.S. economy is “five times greater than the value of the agricultural sector.”

The value added by arts and culture to the U.S. economy is “five times greater than the value from the agricultural sector” (2017 study by The National Endowment for the Arts)

Flach says she appreciates the longtime local support for the Sweetwater and longs for a return to some sense of normalcy.

“It’s nearly three month since we closed, and we’re still largely in the same place we were then,” she says. “We can’t wait to get back to live music here in Mill Valley.”

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