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Published: 2012/06/05
by Brennan Lagasse

Terrapin Crossroads and Sweetwater Music Hall: The Dead Vibe is Alive in Marin County

It’s no secret that just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, where eclectic Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart just capped a 75th anniversary celebration with music inspired by the bridge itself, has long been a home-base for all things Dead. But with the recent reopening of Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall, and San Rafael’s Terrapin Crossroads, it’s even clearer that the four winds have blown deadheads safely home to Marin County.

When the old Sweetwater closed in 2007 many Mill Valley and area residents mourned. The closing of the intimate place that had seen more than a few stars pass through over the years left a major gap to be filled in the community. Five years later with the help of several partners, including Bob Weir, the scene has been revitalized. The new Sweetwater Music Hall opened this past January. With a new location, new bar, and a new venue not much reminiscing has taken place. There hasn’t been much of a reason to look back.

Having experienced the old place and walking into the new place, it was very evident that the spirit of the Sweetwater was alive and well. The beautifully constructed courtyard, the quaint café and dining area, and the overall placement in downtown Mill Valley spoke directly to the community-gathering place locals had hoped the Sweetwater would fill again once reopened. However, the bar and venue space is where the real charm was found, showcasing a comfortable bar area, perfect dance floor, and immaculate sound emanating from the stage.

It was no coincidence that I ended up having my fist new experience at the Sweetwater framed by a show featuring Stu Allen and the Mars Hotel. Stu is an extended Dead family member who plays the music with the integrity and passion essential to unlocking the magic of the catalogue. It was a fitting way to get acquainted with a venue rich in musical history and legend in the area, especially when speaking to the legacy of the Grateful Dead.

I was able to speak with one of the investors who helped make the reopening happen, Paul Winston, during the set break of Friday’s show before walking up a block to check out a nearby artistically inspired meditation garden. Paul shared his enthusiasm for the project, for his community, and for bringing back a special place to music lovers far and wide. He spoke to the vision of the new Sweetwater being a living room for guests to have a comfortable night out, and that the sound in the venue was no fluke. It was actually “built for [Grateful Dead] style rock and roll”, and was a true labor of love by all those involved.

It’s close to 1 a.m. now and the dance floor is warm, sweaty, and smiles are adorned by all. Stu and his band have brought the Sweetwater to unison after two immaculate sets of high energy Grateful Dead music. Although the Deadheads stand out in their unwavering connection to each chord, lyrical, and jam progression offered by the band, it’s obvious that many are just here to enjoy a few drinks and see who’s playing. The cool thing about the Sweetwater is its rich history, community value, and that it holds an even brighter future looking ahead. Even though the Dead vibe is highly influential here you don’t have to be a Deadhead to enjoy all the Sweetwater has to offer. Sure, some nights will speak more to that scene than others, but this place is for music lovers, and for those that respect the sense of community music has brought to this regional area for many years. Although, if you’re really looking to tap into a more Deadcentric feeling on the regular, you don’t have to travel too far as the Terrapin Crossroads is less than eight miles away up the 101.

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