Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Busy days here!
Benefit season approaches and I'm elbow deep in making papery items for schwag bags!
Lots of work but I love the challenge and the opportunity to make an occasion more festive.
Also, I'm finishing up Bobby's birthday book. There were so many pictures & messages that there will be 4 books
(volumes 1-4)!!!! Books 1 &2 are ready to be sent to be put in a hardcover. Still touching up the other 2 books. There's almost enough stuff to create a 5th book. If you want to email a picture or birthday message- you need to do ASAP!

Speaking of Berthadaze, belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Maile!!!!

And here's a few pictures of my birthday boy saying "Hello" and sadly, "Good Bye" to Mill Valley's Sweetwater Saloon & Village Music record shop.


Paul Liberatore: Whither Sweetwater?

Article Launched: 09/06/2007 08:23:39 PM PDT

You may be wondering why Sweetwater is still open.
I got back from a two-week vacation and wondered the same thing.

Originally, the beloved Mill Valley club had reached an agreement with its landlord to leave at the end of August. That date was subsequently extended until the end of September.

Apparently, the owner of the building was so anxious to get Sweetwater out so he could begin remodeling and renovating that he neglected to get all the necessary permits from the city. So the club was allowed to stay open for another month.

As it stands now, Sweetwater is booked through Sept. 22, with Mother Hips playing the last scheduled show. Owners Thom and Becky Steere are planning a couple of semi-private farewell concerts on Sept. 23 and 24, and that will be it - no more extensions, no more month-to-month lease arrangements like in the past.

"A lot of people don't believe we're closing, but it's a done deal," Becky Steere said. "We have to be out by the 30th."

The Steeres will be allowed to take everything with them - the decades of rock memorabilia, the photos of Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt and John Lee Hooker and Jerry Garcia and all the greats who graced the Sweetwater stage over the past 30 years.

All that

stuff - even the bar and the barn wood on the walls - will go into storage until Sweetwater finds a new home.
"We're not going to go away," Becky vows.

The Steeres are determined to reopen Sweetwater somewhere in Mill Valley, and they've been looking at a number of sites, including the former Greenwood gift shop on Miller Avenue.

Village Music's John Goddard tells me that his landlord would love to see Sweetwater move into his old space on East Blithedale after he closes at the end of the month.

The Village Music building needs some work and is hampered by a low ceiling that's not ideal acoustically, but a sound engineer for the Grateful Dead checked it out and concluded that it could work well enough for live music.

There would be something sweetly synchronous in Sweetwater replacing Village Music. And it would be nice for the club to have a sympathetic landlord. But we'll see.

One prediction is that a new Sweetwater could reopen somewhere before the end of the year, but the Steeres aren't so sure it can happen that soon.

"I highly doubt it," Becky Steere said.

In any event, this interim period gives people who want to preserve Marin's rock and pop musical heritage a chance to talk about what they'd like a new performance space to look like.

A couple of weeks ago, while my partner and I were visiting Cambridge, Mass., we spent an evening listening to music at Passim, the legendary folk club on Harvard Square.

Originally called Club 47, Passim was the epicenter of the '60s folk boom. The subterranean space nurtured the early careers of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, Maria Muldaur, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne and a long list of others. As it approaches its 50th anniversary, it's still doing that for a new generation of musicians.

A nonprofit organization, Passim is a little brick-floored room below street level that seats only 125 people. Owner Bob Donlin says, "Music comes out of the walls in this place," and I could feel something sweetly spiritual in its cool underground atmosphere as we descended the stairs and found our seats before the show.

Passim has no bar and no booze, only a small vegetarian restaurant in the back. The wait staff doesn't serve while musicians are on stage, so you don't have to suffer through all the noise and distraction that is so annoying while you're trying to listen to music in a bar.

A couple of young singer/songwriters performed the night we were there. We could see them and hear every note and every lyric. I can't remember a more pleasant evening in a club.

"The music is our No. 1 priority," manager Matt Smith told me. "We're all about the listening experience."

I came away thinking that there is really no reason why Marin County, with all its wealth and sophistication, can't have its own version of a listening room like that.

I can't tell you how many people have e-mailed me, asking what they could do to keep Sweetwater alive. Perhaps something modeled after Passim is the answer.

As a nonprofit folk music and cultural center, it supports itself through individual and group memberships and donations, corporate sponsorships, fundraising campaigns and celebrity and legacy benefit concerts. Baez, who first sang there when she was 17, returns for a show next spring.

In addition to the folk club, Passim has an historic archive, a children's program and a music school offering classes in guitar, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and the like.

When I mentioned the nonprofit idea to Becky Steere, she was open, even enthusiastic, to the possibility. If nothing else, it would free Sweetwater from having to have a bar in order to afford the high rents in Mill Valley.

Lucy Mercer, who's done a brilliant job with her 142 Throckmorton Theatre across the street from the soon-to-be-former Sweetwater, told me about a new nonprofit organization she's launched called Mill Valley Live Arts, formed "to preserve the cultural integrity of the arts."

"People are coming out of the woodwork, saying, 'What can I do?,'" she said. "We have to ask ourselves, 'What are our values?' As a community, we have to say that it's important to preserve what we have."

And maybe, by turning a cultural tragedy such as the closing of Sweetwater into an artistic opportunity to create something new and better, we can not only preserve what we have, but actually improve on it.

Paul Liberatore can be reached at liberatore@marinij.com.