Exclusive: Chris Porter Named Talent Buyer For Bay Area’s Sweetwater Music Hall As It Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Chris Porter
Peter Dervin

Chris Porter takes the booking reins at Sweetwater Music Hall, the much-loved Mill Valley, Calif. gathering spot for musicians and locals alike.

Chris Porter, who spent 18 years booking Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival and currently books artists and more for San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass among other events, has been named talent buyer at legendary Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, Calif., just in time for the venue to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

It’s a return to the venue world for Porter, who will remain based in Seattle and continue booking HSB as well as The Town and The City Festival in Lowell, Mass., and the South Lake Union Block Party in Seattle. 

Porter earned his early chops booking legacy venues including Mama Kin and Middle East in Boston,  and continues to operate his own Porter Productions nationwide, including festival curation, booking, operations, consulting and other important functions for a variety of festivals and other events. 

Porter is also currently a member of the Board of Governors for the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy, the Board of Directors for Folk Alliance International, and President of the Jack Kerouac Foundation. 

Sweetwater Music Hall in its 50-year history has survived several existential threats over the years, including losing leases, finding new homes and pandemic. With the help of a group of angel investors and now part-owners, including ex-Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, it’s survived as a much-loved music venue, restaurant and community center. 

It’s certainly got a storied place in music history: artists who have graced its stages include Weir, Bonnie Raitt, 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. 

Sweetwater originally opened in 1972 as Sweetwater Saloon and over time began to attract not only a loyal clientele but artists – many of whom made their way from San Francisco to Marin County in th early days. including Jerry Garcia, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello and more. In its current incarnation, former Grateful Dead guitarist and Sweetwater part-owner Bob Weir is known to pop in for performances and has recently – after an 18-month COVID-forced closure, hosted artists including David Grisman, Mother Hips, The Skatalites and Maggie Rose, among others.

“I’m thrilled to work with Sweetwater Music Hall,” Porter says. “I recently met with my longtime friend and earlier colleague Maria Hoppe and really learned about the storied history of Sweetwater. I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. 

“When you find a venue with both an amazing staff and loyal audience, it’s just an honor to jump in and lend your vision to an already successful venture. Booking a venue can be very similar to programming a festival, it’s ideally an art form. We’ll continue to bring in legacy acts that have defined Sweetwater over the years, but additionally look at ways to diversify the programming to represent different genres and draw in new audiences.”

Hoppe, Sweetwater’s executive director and general manager, adds, “Chris has tremendous experience as a talent buyer, and deep relationships with agents and musicians. He carries a wealth of knowledge in arts programming and is a wonderful addition to our team. Along with his role as Talent Buyer, he is also our new Programming Director for the Sweetwater Music Hall Arts Fund, an arts education outreach program throughout Marin County and the greater Bay Area.”

Hoppe, who became Sweetwater’s executive director when the venue’s board established a non-profit organization during the pandemic, is lifelong music vet, best known as an artist manager and assistant to the late Herbie Herbert.