Three years after putting a charge into downtown Mill Valley, the psychedelic circus that is the post-Grateful Dead band Furthur is set to play four shows at the Sweetwater Music Hall later this month.
The band confirmed the shows, set for Jan. 16-19, in an announcement on its website on Sunday. Tickets have yet to go on sale, causing the venue’s phones to be ringing off the hook ever since, but an announcement is expected this week, according to Sweetwater Manager Aaron Kayce.
“There is a really rich Grateful Dead legacy here in Mill Valley that is being reborn at the Sweetwater Music Hall in a lot of ways,” Kayce said. “This is the crowning jewel of that rebirth.”
Furthur, named after Ken Kesey's psychedelic bus, was co-founded in 2009 by longtime Mill Valley resident and Sweetwater co-owner Bob Weir and Ross resident and Terrapin Crossroads owner Phil Lesh, both original members of the legendary rock group that officially disbanded after guitarist Jerry Garcia died in 1995. They just finished a series of shows at the 8,000-capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.
Kayce said Sweetwater’s owners and management had been trying to get Furthur to play the 300-capacity venue since its opening in January 2012 in the same Masonic Hall space where Furthur played some of their rehearsal shows in late 2009 and early January 2010 in advance of their first national tour. Getting the schedules of the band’s seven members to align and finding creative ways to fit a band that travels with multiple tractor-trailers full of sound gear into a tiny venue were the biggest hurdles, Kayce said.
In addition to Weir and Lesh, the band includes John Kadlecik of Dead cover band the Dark Star Orchestra on lead guitar, Jeff Chimenti of RatDog on keyboards, Joe Russo of the Benevento/Russo Duo on drums and Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on vocals.
Weir, not surprisingly, was crucial in making the shows happen, according to Kayce.
“He was the linchpin, for sure,” he said. “You don’t get a stadium band to play a music hall without a little insider help.”
Squeezing the band’s stadium-sized following into a small town could also prove to be a challenge, as it was for Furthur’s last drop-in on Mill Valley. At that time, several local residents and business owners said having legions of Deadheads descend on downtown was overwhelming, particularly those who didn’t have tickets for the Masonic or 142 Throckmorton Theatre shows.
After reports of public urination and shoplifting on the nights of the first shows in late 2009, Mill Valley Police increased its patrols in the area at subsequent shows and complaints died down, according to Mill Valley Police Sgt. Paul Wrapp.
Wrapp said the department had no plans to add staff for the nights of the Furthur shows, but hoped to stay in touch with Sweetwater management and adjust if issues arise.
“Unless we get some intelligence that it’s going to be a problem, we’ll be at regular full staff,” he said.
If there are a large number of people showing up downtown without tickets to the shows, Wrapp noted that police are limited in what they can do.
“It’s not like we can just kick them out of town,” he said. “But we’ll definitely look to deter any criminal behavior.”
Kayce said the venue was bringing in outside security from San Francisco venues like the Fillmore and the Independent to handle the additional surge of people Furthur will bring.
“A major concern for us is trying to make this work for the community,” he said. “We realize that bringing a band of this size to this size of a venue puts a big stress on the community, and we want to be extra sensitive about that. We’re doing our best to make this the least disruptive as possible.”