AFTER A SCREENING at the Sequoia theater on Throckmorton Avenue at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival, there’s a good chance that when you step outside you’ll hear the faint sound of rockin’ live music and a whole lot of people having a really good time just down the street at the legendary Sweetwater Music Hall, which hosts MVFF’s music program every year. If you do happen to hear that sweet, sweet sound, do yourself a favor: walk down the street and join the fun.
The original Sweetwater opened in Mill Valley in 1972 and served as a clubhouse of sorts for the likes of Bob Weir, Aaron Neville, Elvis Costello, Townes Van Zandt, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, John Hiatt and Etta James, whom would often take the stage for intimate, rare performances.
This tradition continues at the venue’s current incarnation at 19 Corte Madera Avenue, which opened in 2012 and still carries the aura of all of those once-in-a-lifetime jam sessions that happened just two blocks away at the original location for over 30 years. With its velvet couches, elegant drapery and mood lighting, the venue feels of another time, in a delightful, nostalgic way, and there is nothing like watching a live band let loose on its stage.
Bob Weir acts as both investor and “spiritual leader” for the current establishment, says current Sweetwater general manager Aaron Kayce: “He hand-picked a million-dollar Meyer Sound system and laid the foundation for what just might be the nicest 300-person venue in the nation.” The venue’s audio presentation is indeed pristine, which is only fitting considering some of the talents it has drawn: Joe Satriani, members of Metallica, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Huey Lewis have all been featured as a part of MVFF’s concert programs here.
“There has always been a huge amount of synergy between film and music,” Kayce notes of Sweetwater’s festival connection. “The goal is to provide concerts that complement films and films that complement music. Sometimes there is a documentary about a musician and then we have that musician perform, or perhaps we do a tribute to that musician.”
While the music schedule for this year’s MVFF isn’t set just yet, Kayce says filmgoers will have plenty to appreciate if they break up their binge-watching with a live show or two. “We are excited to have Michael Franti on the lineup this year. We also have Jarvis Cocker, leader of the band Pulp, who has done voice work and musical scores for director Wes Anderson. And we are working on several other exciting shows that we just aren’t ready to announce,” he adds. “Regardless of the specifics, it’s always about creating a unique, heightened experience for the patron where film and music blend, creating a once-in-a-lifetime evening.”
Bernard Boo is an AAPI arts and entertainment critic, Bay Area native and proud member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. Find more of his work at PopMatters, Den of Geek and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to him on the Your Asian Best Friends podcast.