Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm baaaack!

Pictures by Minkin of last night's Sweetwater party may be viewed at http://www.minkindesign.com/photo/

Marin musicians play a last round at Sweetwater, which might reopen at new site
By Paul Liberatore
Article Launched: 09/25/2007 05:30:59 PM PDT

It ended just as it began 37 years ago - with music. Only this time, music shared the evening with memories.

Monday night was the historic last show at Sweetwater, a semi-private guest list affair that was the swan song for the beloved roots music club at its landmark 153 Throckmorton Ave. address.

With its familiar maroon awning and guitar logo, Sweetwater has been a point of pride in Mill Valley, part of the little town's rock 'n' roll heritage.

As a procession of prominent Marin musicians sat in with a house band, the finale felt less like a wake for what had been and more like a celebration of the past and perhaps a promise of the future.

In any case, everyone, it seemed, had a Sweetwater story.

Folk music legend Ramblin' Jack Elliott opened the show with a rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee." Afterward, with his guitar slung in a soft case over his shoulder, he came off stage and wandered into the crowd, thinking about his late wife, Jan.

"This is where I met her," he said, making himself heard above the din, and then, pointing, as if he could still see her: "She was right over there."

Mark Fishkin, founder of the Mill Valley Film Festival, now in its 30th year, recalled memorable concerts the festival


had hosted over the decades in the intimate, living-room-like club.
"This is a sad day, but it brings back a lot of good memories," he told me. "Thirty years ago, I stood beside this stage and watched a show. Tonight, I thought, gee, this is the last time I'll ever do that."

Sitting in a place of honor in the back of the club, Sweetwater's longtime general manager, John "J.B." Baracco, gazed contentedly over the crush of dancing, heat-generating bodies, clearly enjoying a set by the blues guitarist Mike Schermer.

"This is why I've been here for the last 30 years," he said, grinning. "There's nothing like live music in a small club."

Downstairs, in Sweetwater's rickety, low-ceiling basement, its walls papered with peeling concert posters and yellowed newspaper reviews of long past shows, famous and not-so-famous musicians hung out together, waiting their turn on stage, tuning guitars, picking out songs on a battered old upright piano, reminiscing about a place they could scarcely believe would be gone when the night was over.

"When we first moved to Marin in 1970, this is the first place we ever played," remembered Chris Rowan of the Rowan Brothers, sinking into a comfortably worn couch with a sigh.

"I'm ashamed it came to this," his brother, Lorin, chimed in, referring to the club losing its lease in a less than amicable parting of the ways with its landlord. "In this town, this place is our connection to our history. It is our history."

Dan Hicks, who's been part of Mill Valley's history longer than Sweetwater has, hadn't quite come to terms with his feelings over losing a club where he recently sang jazz tunes on leisurely Sunday afternoons.

"I think the impact will hit home for me when I walk by this place and there's just nothing there," he said.

On stage upstairs, Sweetwater mainstay Heather Combs was singing a fitting song for the occasion, getting the audience to join in on the chorus, "Let's raise a glass and toast the good times."

With that, Sweetwater owners Becky and Thom Steere came up and thanked their staff and their many supporters, their voices breaking with emotion.

Paraphrasing the Grateful Dead, Thom said, "It's been a long, great trip. Sweetwater has been a piece of the fabric, the quilt of Mill Valley."

His remark was a reference to the iconic, circular mandala quilt that was conspicuously absent from its place on the right side of the stage, leaving its outline on a bare, barnwood wall. It had hung there seemingly forever, until one morning last week, when thieves broke in and stole it, taking a symbol of Sweetwater's homespun image.

Oddly, the evening's surprise performance came not from a musician, but from lawyer Doug Ferguson, the club's attorney. He announced from the stage that he and the Steeres were nearing approval on a lease for a building in downtown Mill Valley that will be the home of "a new, slightly less funky Sweetwater."

He wouldn't say where the new edition of the club would be, only to say that if you had a good arm, you could hit it with a baseball. He told the crowd that the Steeres must raise $250,000 in move-in costs, and he called for help from generous investors.

"I think we're going to have a great time making the new Sweetwater," he said. Thom Steere said he hoped to open Jan. 1, "but that depends on a lot of things."

In the meantime, not everyone was lamenting the loss of the existing building, which is stuffy, poorly ventilated and lacking in basic creature comforts, even working bathrooms. Performers and patrons alike had to use porta-potties on the sidewalk outside.

Mill Valley's Bob Weir, fingering an electric guitar as he waited to follow Sammy Hagar on stage, mentioned a gig he played at Sweetwater just last week with former Grateful Dead bandmate Donna Jean Godchaux.

"It was so hot I was close to having a heat stroke," he said. "I think I might like the new place better."

Contact Paul Liberatore via e-mail at liberatore@marinij.com

I guess the last time I checked in here was right before I headed over to Sweetwater for Donna Jean's show.
a great night! More in a little while- I am in the middle of all kinds of projects right now but I'll try to bring everything up to date!
I was bummed Kemmie wasnt able to sprint across the Bay to see Donna Jean with me. Scott had planned a camping trip and was leaving at 3 am and stayed home to pack up. I was solo but barely out of my car when I ran into friends. A clean bright port a potty was on the sidewalk in front. Though Donna wasnt due on stage for another 1/2 hour, the place was pretty close to being totally packed. In fact, the show was sold out. Lots of folks just hung out on the sidewalk in front.
. No rail or side stage for me but I found a friend in the back corner and stayed there most of the evening. Several sources were informed that there would be a Bobby sit in. All the signs were there that this was happening- most notably was the amount of old GD 'family' spotted around Mill Valley. By now, you can see pictures that Betty Cantor, Mountain Girl & JP Barlow were at the show. No matter how many times I see any of them around, I still feel like I'm bumping into familiar charactors from a book I read in my childhood. At some point in the night, my son called me to tell me he was coming to Sweetwater to pick up some baseball tickets from me. It was pretty weird to step outside and find my kid standing next to Mountain Girl & John Perry. I soooo wanted to tell him that that guy across from him wrote the lyrics to Cassidy .
Jase and I were in role reversal mode.

Me; Honey, do you want to come inside and see the show ???(I had an extra)
My 20 something year old kid: No Mom, NO- I have to get to bed- I don't want to be tired at work.
Me: Are you sure?
Jase: Goodnight Mom!!!- Don't stay out too late, please!!!

Then he gave me a kiss and off he ran. I said "Hi" to another friend and headed back inside. Just in time to squeeze back into my corner. Standing on my barstool (a little scary for a person of my age and width) there was Donna rasiant and Bobby so handsome! They played a few songs - which were beautifully played and sung and the good energy was everywhere! It was over for me after Bobby left...I wouldve enjoyed staying but I too had to work the next morning . It was lovely while it lasted, I'll miss Sweetwater on Throckmorton - seen some great shows and been to some wonderful events there too.