Sweets for the Sweetwater
The faithful and the fashionable celebrate and mourn the legendary venue's last night at its old digs
All photographs by Elizabeth Seward
This could be the year that Mill Valley stops being too good to be true, with the town seeing the recent closures of local institutions Village Music and the Sweetwater Saloon. One wonders if the southern Marin nook so famous for retaining a tinge of local bohemia will soon comprise nothing but upscale chain boutiques. (On a high note, Sweetwater owners Thom and Becky Steere have just announced plans to reopen the club at 32 Miller Ave.)
At the Sept. 22 farewell gig, Sweetwater’s last night open to the public with local favorites the Mother Hips headlining, regulars bid adieu to their favorite downtown bar with one last awkward stroll next to the stage to reach the restroom and a final tiptoe lift to see the performers from the back of the room. “This is my chair,” says Mill Valley resident Sandra Meadows, decked out in all black. “I don’t what we’re going to do for music. It makes me really sad.”
With over 30 years of surprise performers, from Jerry Garcia and Elvis Costello to Sammy Hagar, we expected fashion to be just as eclectic. We were not disappointed.
Chris Joseph, 30, San Francisco
When I first see him, I think Superbad‘s Jonah Hill has stopped by to steal some alcohol. It turns out to be Chris Joseph, A&R man for Reapandsow, a digital distribution company that’s working with all three bands that helped to close the Sweetwater down. While the Chicago native laments the shuttering of a venue beneficial to so many of his clients, he won’t miss how cramped it could get. “The bathroom’s in the corner and it’s really hard to get to that,” Joseph says of the place he’s visited for a decade. “I’m not a proud smoker, but I’m confident, so I have to hustle through the crowd to get outside.”
Joseph definitely wears his heart on both sleeves, with his outfit signifying his commitment to work, especially his striped Cricketeer jacket, which he received as a gift from musician Charles Gonzales, the first act on the bill. “He told me I saved his life by helping him get an apartment in San Francisco,” he recalls. “It required him to walk a lot, so he lost a ton of weight and gave it to me because it fits me.”
More interesting than his Armani glasses, brown Bacco Bucci shoes or Lucky jeans is Chris’ T-shirt adorned with the Reapandsow logo, a colorful evolutionary music-media chart that begins with a reel-to-reel and ends with the digital age.
Matthew Weeder, 32, Mill Valley
Weeder lives and breathes the ease and comfort of Mill Valley. He lives there, works at Mt. Tam Bikes in town and of course has frequented the Sweetwater since before he really should have. “I’ve been coming here since I was 18,” he says with a laugh. “You do the math.”
With autumn still young, Weeder’s red ski cap immediately strikes us as seasonal preparedness. We’re wrong. “I wear it during the summer too,” he says of his purchase from “a thrift store down the street. The old ladies occasionally knit hats, and they sell them up there. The best part is that it costs a dollar.”
The rest of Weeder’s outfit is similarly informed by his locale, with his work pants from Goodman’s and his boots from nearby Shoe Envy. The layered look that naturally comes from living in Marin is exhibited in his fleece, purchased purely for the sporadic need for warmth.
Michael van Wolt, 55, Sausalito
It’s no wonder that van Wolt lives in Sausalito’s houseboat community, because his attire immediately evokes the luxury of a yacht and the worldliness of a jet setter. Originally from the Netherlands, he travels frequently for his job as a mediator. Yet places like the Sweetwater have made van Wolt feel at home since he moved to Marin in 2000. “I think the closing is awful,” he says. “It’s a tradition, and it’s just really a shame that it’s going.”
Van Wolt’s noticeably European look is largely owed to his brown Rosetti suede coat, which he purchased in Italy while on business. His khaki pants and shoes were bought in the Netherlands, but he regards fashion with a carelessness that suits his transient lifestyle. “I like Italian clothes, but for the rest of my style, I don’t really know,” he says.
Craig Weil, 40, & Erin Powell, 33, Chico
Weil and Powell hail from Chico, the birthplace of the Mother Hips. The close friends traveled here to see their favorite band at the venue that’s hosted them countless times over the years. “It’s an interesting place,” says Weil, an information-services manager at a nonprofit. “For as small as it is, it’s got a great sound and the crowd stays pretty mellow.” Since the Hips don’t play Chico much anymore, the duo often leave town for them. “Great band,” Weil says. “Worth traveling for.”
Powell’s leopard-print top jumped out at us immediately. “Our friend in Novato just started working at the Goodwill, so I found this shirt there,” she says. The night before, at a country music&–themed Hips show, she had sported a Western shirt, but she felt that tonight’s performance needed a “rock ‘n’ roll” look. Much of Powell’s outfit comes from Chico, her amber earrings from a local farmers market and her Santana waterproof boots from the Birkenstock store in town. Besides her necklace, which she received as part of the Temple of Hope crew at Burning Man, Powell is proudest of her most recent acquisition. “Since the Sweetwater is closing, I wanted to get some of their clothing, so I purchased one of their red hoodies tonight.”
Though Weil looks perfectly fitted out in his T-shirt, jeans and glasses, he says he rarely shops. “Anything I’m wearing right now was pretty much given to me—the rings I wear, the Seiko watch,” he says. When he does buy clothes, it’s mostly at stores in downtown Chico. Despite his dressed-down look this night, Weil’s fashion palette runs the gamut, a necessary evil of his profession. “Sometimes, I have to wear a suit and tie, but sometimes I have to climb under desks inside of attics,” he says. “At a nonprofit, you have to do a lot of things yourself.”