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Sweetwater Music Hall Looks to Seize Post-Furthur Momentum

Ex-Grateful Dead vets' sold-out shows at intimate downtown drew tens of thousands of viewers online, bolstering the year-old venue's pitch to prospective agents and managers.

The owners and staff at the Sweetwater Music Hall spent the better part of last week in what would be best described at post-Furthur bliss, deluged with emails from those who'd squeezed into the tiny, 300-capacity venue for four sold-out shows by post-Grateful Dead band Furthur, featuring Marin rockers Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.

"I just wanted to thank you for hosting Furthur for a spectacular 4-night stand at your dynamic, intimate and wonderfully special venue," wrote one emailer. "What a great night at Sweetwater, the Greatest Rock 'n' Roll venue on the planet Earth!" wrote another.

Sweetater owners and staff said they cherished the praise, along with the fact that they pulled off the unenviable task of hosting a band comprised of legendary musicians that sold out a series of shows in the 8,000-capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco at the end of 2012 without any major glitches. 

But equally valuable feedback came in the form of data. While 1,200 or so people packed into the Sweetwater over four nights for the Furthur shows, a whopping 60,000 to 105,000 more watched the shows online, according to Sweetwater manager Aaron Kayce.

The Sweetwater streamed the first two and last of the four shows on its website for free, garnering between 10,000 and 15,000 viewers a night, and Yahoo Music, via Weir's TRI Studios in San Rafael, streamed Friday night's show for free to more than 30,000 of the web giant's users, Kayce said. Those numbers were bolstered by the 2,000 to 4,000 views who watched streams on Sweetwater's website of Jackie Greene's shows earlier this month.

"It's really great for us to have that kind of exposure," Kayce said. "We've got a really special, cool intimate space here, so the fact that we can show it off in such a high-quality way to such a large audience – it really helps."

For a still-fledgling venue looking to expand its concert offerings beyond Grateful Dead-related and regional fare, the exposure – and the ability to use the streams as a showcase for both the venue and as an add-on offering for bands looking to reach a wider online audience beyond the Sweetwater's Meyer Sound-blasted confines – was vital, Kayce said.

The streams and the audience they drew have already allowed him to make some headway with band agents and managers from whom he had trouble getting calls returned in the past, he said. While the high-definition streams, which are powered by a dedicated sound board, come with an additional cost, it sets the tiny venue apart, particularly as it looks to lure bands swinging through the Bay Area to venture north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

"The streams have a really strong value we can offer," Kayce said.

Did you watch the streams? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!

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