Scenes from the 2023 Mill Valley Music Fest. Photos by Jon Bauer.

By Jim Welte

As we spent recent days cleaning up every speck of the remnants of the Mill Valley Chamber‘s Mill Valley Music Festival this week, we had a heckuva lot to stew on.

We gathered upwards of 10,000 people across two amazing days to ingest arts and culture and community!

We did that by bringing world-class music to our little hamlet, starting with Oakland-born legend Michael Franti and Spearhead, along with Sacramento alt-rock pioneers Cake. They were joined by bands that sell out venues all over the country and beyond, including New Orleans’ very own Grammy Award-nominated and former NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner Tank and the BangasJerry Harrison and Adrian Belew’s REMAIN IN LIGHT, a special concert series featuring former members of Talking Heads; Seattle seven-piece The Dip; retro-soul revivalist Durand Jones; southern soul singer Black Joe Lewis and his multi-talented backing band The Honeybears; and Grammy-nominated Valerie June, a folk-soul singer known for her unique blend of Appalachian music. Rounding out the 2023 lineup was Oakland’s own African psych-rock band Orchestra Gold and multi-piece Mill Valley student residents The Alive – both of whom furthered the festival’s commitment to supporting local arts and culture.

We built on that commitment with the Sweetwater Side Stage, powered by the legendary Sweetwater Music Hall, which served up seven incredible bands across two days at the southern end of Friends Field, including Marble Party, Laura Benitez & the HeartacheAlex JordanAsher BelskyMatt JaffeAnna Harrell and Yorn’s Apostles.

We also remained true to the reason exist, which is to lift up our business and nonprofit community and showcase the amazing bounty of artists, creators, galleries, venues, hotels and restaurants, including Bungalow 44FloodwaterHopmonk TavernHumphry Slocombe Ice CreamJohnny DoughnutsMamahuhuMariapilar Ice CreameryMIXT, PlayaRocco’s Pizza and Zalta.

Just as importantly was massive amount of gorgeous visual art at MVMF, along with an array of kid-centric activities, including a super-sized roller skating rink compared to 2022. The massive Manzanita Market featured home goods, clothing and jewelry from the likes of Aviator Nation, Susie Turner’s Green Door Design, Poet and/the BenchClouds + LaddersPreshFernwood and Renata Rodrigues. That included plenty of services, like Revery Salon offered festival hairdos and braiding; shirts, jumpsuits, and skirts from TYSA, and so much more including local philanthropy and community-centric organizations like Spread LoveMountain Play Association and Play Marin.

And in a nod to the ever-growing sense of community support, the Chamber is donating a portion of proceeds to a pair of local institutions including Kiddo!, which raises funds for arts education and more within the Mill Valley School District, as well as the Tam High Foundation, which has served as a inimitable backbone for high school programs across the board. We also leveraged the incredibly generous support from our sponsors by turning each Community Sponsorship into scholarship tickets for students and artists who might not otherwise be able to attend MVMF. That tally is up to more than 500 scholarship tickets!!

And we once again did everything in our power, with tremendous support from City of Mill Valley officials, Vivalon, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and the Village at Corte Madera, to significantly reduce our impact on our community’s infrastructure.

But…We Welcome Your Feedback and We Know We Can Do Better

We packed in a lot of the Mill Valley Music Festival’s overwhelming positives for our community in the section above. We are committed to the cause of making Mill Valley an exciting, engaging and equitable place to live in the coming years.

I want to acknowledge our missteps. We came away from the 2022 MV Music Fest over the moon and, frankly, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. We jumped headlong into expanding it to two days, knowing that the significant cost of infrastructure could be spread across two days and could allow us to book more bands that could impact the culture of our community in a positive way. What we didn’t grasp quickly enough is that the cost associated with doing something that was extremely successful the first time out would significantly alter our cost structure.

Frankly, just about everybody’s price went up – to an overwhelming degree in many cases. So we raised our ticket prices to simply reflect that we were offering 2x everything. We assumed, wrongly, that our neighbors would understand that they wouldn’t have to attend both days and could just buy a one-day ticket for the day with the most bands they were excited to see. We didn’t do a good enough job communicating the sequencing of ticket sales – that two-day tix would go on sale first but that there would be plenty of opportunity to pick your day to attend if you only wanted to come to one day.

By the time we recognized the need for different ticket types – for seniors, for teens and GA+ for those needing in and out privileges – we’d tested the community’s sticker shock. We also didn’t do enough to address the fees associated with our provider. We at the Chamber aren’t at all built to manage ticketing at this massive scale in house, so we outsourced it. But we should have found another way to keep fees down.

In doing so, we lost some of the inherent soul from that first year.

We did leverage the support of our amazing sponsors to allow us to give 500+ tickets to those who wouldn’t have been able to afford to attend otherwise.

Bottom line: we’re committed to fine-tuning this event and earning your support in 2024. We won’t fix everything for everyone – good luck trying to get 10,000 people to agree on their 10 favorite bands – but we’re committed to making you proud of the Mill Valley Music Fest.



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