Mill Valley, California
The Sweetwater opened in 1972 in a rustic, downtown Mill Valley storefront previously occupied by a local watering hole called the Office. On its opening night, the Sweetwater presented an acoustic folk‐rock group that played for a crowd that lined up halfway down the block to get in. While the Sweetwater enjoyed a most auspicious beginning, it wasn’t until a decade later that the tiny 90-seat tavern with a stage earned its rightful place in music history.
In 1980, Jeannie Patterson took over the reins at the Sweetwater. A single mother raising two boys on her own, Patterson quickly became the club’s heart and soul. Over the next decade and a half, show by show, she cemented its reputation as the little room adored by the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll and roots music.
At the Sweetwater, the once-in-a-lifetime show was a commonplace occurrence. The roster of artists that have crowded onto the club’s little stage reads like a Who’s Who of roots and rock music: Bob Weir, Aaron Neville, Big Mama Thornton, Carlos Santana, Clarence Clemons, Elvis Costello, Etta James, Gregg Allman, Huey Lewis, Jerry Garcia, John Hiatt, John Lee Hooker, Maria Muldaur, Mimi Fariña, Odetta, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Robert Cray, Sammy Hagar, Townes Van Zandt, Van Morrison and many more musical luminaries. In the ’80s, the Times of London hailed the Sweetwater as one of the best nightclubs in America.
The Sweetwater also became a clubhouse where musicians wanted to hang our after coming home from a tour; or while on the road, traveling through California. After headlining the Oakland Arena during their Money for Nothing tour, Dire Straits dropped by the Sweetwater unannounced, with two tour buses and an entourage of 70, to catch guitarist Mark Knopfler’s hero J. J. Cale, that night’s headliner. Knopfler, who had never seen Cale before, joined him onstage while the entourage huddled in the basement. In 1989, Elvis Costello teamed up with Jerry Garcia and other rock heavyweights for a night of unforgettable acoustic performances. When film star Dennis Quaid, fresh from his leading role in The Big Easy, started to moonlight as a blues singer, he picked the Sweetwater to hone his chops.
In 1992, BBC Television shot a documentary at the club featuring Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker and Ry Cooder. That same year, Hot Tuna recorded two live albums at the Sweetwater. Since then, dozens of bands have recorded their own “Live at the Sweetwater” performances.