Cardinal fans, a new music venue merits your attention.
On Saturday night, I headed up to Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley to catch a concert with Furthur, the Grateful Dead spinoff band led by Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. I have been to several Furthur shows, and this was by far the best, rivaled only by Phil Lesh’s 70th birthday party a few years ago at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.
If you could combine the intimacy of the CoHo, the coolness of Frost, and the food of The Mayfield Bakery, you would have something close to the Sweetwater experience. Then add a top-notch sound system and a beautiful setting at the base of Mt. Tamalpais, and include some of the friendliest staff I have ever encountered at a Bay Area concert venue, and you have more than enough reasons to make the hour and fifteen minute trip from Palo Alto.
Sweetwater has a capacity crowd of about 300 people, so no matter where you stand or sit, you have great sight-lines of the stage. The main bar is located at the back, preventing drink-seekers from getting in everyone else’s way. There is a cafe with delicious NorCal fare off to the side, and you don’t have to worry about the hassle of a coat-check…self-serve hangers do the trick.
I appreciate any chance I get to see Furthur, but there is no question that this venue brought out the band’s best. A different kind of electricity fills the room when the performers on stage can see the faces of their fans. Throughout the concert, the audience sang the songs with the musicians, and the acoustics of the venue were so good that you could hear the voices and instruments distributed evenly; nobody was drowned out. The show was unambiguously unpretentious, with few of the special effects and spectacles that define many of today’s concerts. This was a venue for music, and the musicians loved it as much as the crowd.
Marin is admittedly not the cheapest place for college students. However, most of Sweetwater’s shows have ticket and drinks prices right in line with those of comparable SF venues like the Fillmore or Great American Music Hall…I wasn’t able to find a full cocktail menu, but you can see the beer and wine list here. Unlike in SF, you also don’t need to spend thirty minutes finding a parking place.
The venue opened in late January 2012, and I expect that many excellent artists will be swinging through for future shows. For Deadheads out there, I know that Dark Star Orchestra will be passing through on Wednesday, April 10. Otherwise, I would suggest checking out the calendar and signing up for Sweetwater’s mailing list, since shows tend to sell out fast due to the venue’s small size.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a day trip idea, consider heading up to Sweetwater for Sunday brunch and some quality live music, and then spending an afternoon in Muir Woods. You will come back to school knowing just how sweet life can be.