Mill Valley Music Festival Keeps Growing: Talking with Festival Organizer Jim Welte

Poster featuring artistic fox, pelican and fish in orange and green. Text includes the lineup for Mill Valley Music Festival 2024
Photo courtesy of Mill Valley Music Festival.

Spring is coming, and so is the Mill Valley Music Festival. This May 11–12, Friends Field in Mill Valley will be bursting with live music and activities for the third-ever iteration of the festival. The family-friendly event will feature vendors, food and a killer lineup of bands for two full days of music. I spoke with Jim Welte, executive director of the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce and an organizer of the music festival, about what we can look forward to this year. 

Featured photo by Jon Bauer.

MM: So the festival is organized by the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce and Noise Pop Industries, the concert group who produces San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival. How did the Mill Valley Music Festival come to be? 

JW: The generation of this whole thing was a Covid moment where I and a few of our board members [on the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce] felt like we were stuck. Our focus as an organization is vitality, vibrancy and getting people out of the house and engaging with their neighbors. A lot of that got sidetracked for an extended period of time. Because of that, we at the chamber, we just started spitballing.

I am a gigantic music fan. Other members of our board are as well. There are other events in our town that are outdoor live music events, and we felt like maybe we would make a version of that that was hyper-representative of Mill Valley. We wanted it to feel like something that was specifically about lifting up our community, raising its profile within the larger nine-county area and really celebrating it. 

MM: Walk me through what Mill Valley Music Festival 2024 is going to look like. 

JW: Yeah, so one main stage, and it’s a properly sized stage for bands like our two headliners, both of which have a number of musicians. Fleet Foxes and Greensky Bluegrass are both bands that fit into the more acoustic category, but they do so in a way that is thrilling. Fleet Foxes, they’re brilliant. They write songs that make you feel like you’re around the campfire, but you could be anywhere. And Greensky Bluegrass takes a sharp approach to bluegrass. They go hard at times, and I think it’s going to be super exciting. 

One more band among the higher-ups, Thee Sacred Souls is a band that I saw a few years back in a bar in San Diego. They had this vibe to them that was spectacular. I filed it away as a band that would be fun to have, and in the interim, they have absolutely blown up. We’re thrilled to have them and grateful that they have had such a huge arc in the success of their music. 

Michael Franti faces a packed crowd at Mill Valley Music Festival
Photo by Jon Bauer.

MM: The festival definitely has a great spread in terms of genre. Do you have a favorite genre you like to book for?

JW: I love soul music. I personally listen to a lot of music from around the world, so that incorporates different kinds of soul music. We talked about Thee Sacred Souls, but I mean, Saint Paul and the Broken Bones is one of the best live shows on the planet. And then another component of soul music is someone like Rebirth Brass Band, whom I’ve seen many times over the years in all different locations. They always bring just a raucous, exciting, super fun vibe. They are one of those bands that if you’re not dancing, that’s your problem. 

MM: In a world with music festival heavyweights like Outside Lands and Coachella, what makes the Mill Valley Music Festival special to you and the attendees? 

JW: I’m a huge fan of all of those events, and I attend those events. I think ours is different. It’s a special little place just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the property that it’s on at the Mill Valley Community Center is a soccer field that kids play on just about every month of the year. It’s a central piece of our town. We take it to heart that it’s part of our job to continue curating something that has a special feel to it. If you haven’t attended before and you come to it this year, we would love to have you. It feels like a big festival without feeling you have 20 gigantic stages and you’re trying to navigate, “How do we see this band?” Ours is smaller and simplified in some ways, but also, in my opinion, very special and cool.

Concert goers dancing do-si-do at Friends Field in Mill Valley
Photo by William Wayland.

MM: Can you give any details on the locals-only stage curated by Sweetwater Music Hall? 

JW: Sweetwater Music Hall is, as I say all the time, one of the amazing historical gems of our town. It has also, in the last many years, become a modern, best-sound-system-around musical hall. Bands play there just about every night of the week. Many of them are up-and-coming bands. This is an opportunity to work with Sweetwater to curate and highlight bands that can perform on our second stage, which is the Sweetwater stage. We would love to have bands that start on the second stage or at an open mic night make their way to the Sweetwater, then make their way to the music festival and bigger and better from there.

MM: Apart from the stellar musical acts, what else can attendees expect to see at the festival?

JW: It is a very kid-centric event. The first year that we did this event, it was a one-day event. The number one thing I heard from friends of ours, families and parents was, “I didn’t see my kid all day unless they came back to get more money.” That’s central to what this thing is. It is a beautiful surroundings, and it is a very safe and secure surroundings. Kids can just be with their friends, and their parents can be with their friends at the festival. Everyone can feel like it’s a controlled, safe environment that feels like a backyard barbecue picnic. Except it’s for 10,000 people over two days.

MM: In last year’s article about MVMF, you wrote about the festival’s community involvement, like supporting the We Are One Marin campaign and scholarship tickets for students and artists. How is the festival planning on giving back this year? 

JW: We’re gonna do even more of the same. We engage all sorts of nonprofits, identify that their communities are part of who we are and that we want them to attend regardless of ticket price. So far, we’ve given away hundreds of fellowship tickets, and we will continue to do that. Essentially, for every sponsorship dollar that comes in, we turn those into free scholarship tickets to the event. Inclusiveness is critically important to who we are and what we do. 

We also identify nonprofit beneficiaries within our community that provide some huge benefit to a broad swath of the town. Two of those are the Tam High Foundation, which is the high school, and then the Mill Valley School District. Both of those are organizations that we’ve been arm-and-arm with for many years, and we make those two beneficiaries of the event. 

Durand Jones at Mill Valley Music Festival, coming in 2024
Photo by Jon Bauer.

MM: Do you have any favorite memories from the festival? 

JW: Yeah, I have a lot! I’m happy to share one. I think it was year one, the year that Ben Harper was the headliner. There was such an explosion of overwhelmingly positive energy that I actually walked away from the grounds of the event. There’s a walkway up on top of the community center — that really no one’s allowed to be up there — and I just went up there to decompress. Other than having a kid and getting married, I can’t think of another moment where I had to decompress myself. Not with feelings of negativity but the exact opposite, where I just needed to sit by myself for ten minutes and digest the gravity of what we/I made from scratch. That feeling was overwhelming and also phenomenal.

MM: How can music fans get their hands on a ticket? 

For sure, is the way through. There’s a variety of different ticket levels and types.

MM: Any thoughts about the event that we haven’t touched on yet?

This is an event that we hope stays around for a long time. With that in mind, We remain an organization — the Mill Valley Chamber and Noise Pop, our co-production partner — that is all ears and all eyes open on how we can make it better. We’re not coming at this with, “We got the whole thing figured out.” In many ways we have a lot of learnings that we’ve taken away in our first two years, but I think we’ll forever be refining this thing and making it the best version it can be.

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Mill Valley Music Festival 2024 takes place May 11–12. Two-day tickets are on sale now at, with one-day tickets to come on sale soon.