The packed Sweetwater Music Hall was a swaying sea of smiling dancers Wednesday night during the first of four Furthur shows in Mill Valley.
The band, featuring Grateful Dead founding members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, is playing a quartet of shows Jan. 16-19 at the 300-capacity venue.
Before the show started, several young deadheads had gathered in front of Mill Valley City Hall. Some were playing guitars and many had sleeping bags.
One man was standing on the sidewalk outside the Sweetwater with his finger in the air, appearing to be scalping for a ticket, but the rest of the people outside the venue seemed to be peacefully hanging out.
The last time Furthur performed in Mill Valley in 2009, the police received reports of public urination. Sweetwater Music Hall placed a Porta-Potty outside the venue to avoid any problems this week.
Many audience members on Wednesday night were locals and longtime Grateful Dead fans.
“This is homecoming for me,” said one Mill Valley resident who lived a block away from Sweetwater. He said he had lived in town since the 1970s and had been a devoted Jerry Garcia fan.
Since only a small percentage of the thousands of fans could get tickets to the Sweetwater performances, the shows will all be streamed online.
Grateful Dead Ticketing's required attendees to fill out a form and fax it in to be included in a ticket lottery. Thousands of faxed formed were submitted, according to venue officials.
Furthur, named after Ken Kesey's psychedelic bus, was co-founded in 2009 by longtime Mill Valley resident and Sweetwater co-owner Weir and Ross resident and Terrapin Crossroads owner Lesh, both original members of the legendary rock group that officially disbanded after guitarist Jerry Garcia died in 1995. They recently finished a series of shows at the 8,000-capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.
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.
Sweetwater Manager Aaron Kayce said earlier this month that 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.