FROM WHERE I SIT, here's a look back at some of the coolest as well as controversial events in Marin music and entertainment in 2012.
The Dead help revive live music: It's safe to say that 2012 was the greatest year ever for live music in Marin, a renaissance led by two of the original members of the Grateful Dead. The revival began with the opening of the new Sweetwater Music Hall, a $4 million gem crafted in the bottom floor of the venerable Mill Valley Masonic Lodge. The successor to the original Sweetwater, the new venue was designed to look like an old mansion whose rock star owner turns his living room into a place where he and his pals can jam. Since it was financed by the Dead's Bob Weir and his investor friends, it's a design concept based more in reality than fantasy.
After a false start in Fairfax, erstwhile Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, opened Terrapin Crossroads, a merger of music and food in a former seafood restaurant on the San Rafael Canal. As his musical home away from home, the 72-year-old rocker modeled his 300-capacity Grate Room after his late friend Levon Helm's Woodstock, N.Y., music barn.
Marketing mogul Laura van Galen also threw her money into the music ring, spending $5 million on the uber-high-tech Fenix Music and Supper Club, which opened a block or so down San Rafael's Fourth Street from the recently reopened George's nightclub.
And, after successes with Hopmonks in Sebastopol and Sonoma, beer guru Dean Biersch opened a new Hopmonk Tavern in Novato's Vintage Oaks shopping center with a live music venue he's calling the Session Room.
The Long Strange Trip got longer: Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored Marin's Grateful Dead with "The Long Strange Trip," a major exhibit that opened during the hall's induction ceremonies in April and was such a hit that it's been extended through March 24.
Chips off old blocks: This was a year for the offspring of famous musicians to take their turn in the spotlight. Liv Gibson, daughter of Huey Lewis and the News drummer Bill Gibson, released her debut EP. A slew of other scions performed in Marin this year, including Ben Taylor, son of James Taylor and Carly Simon; Lukas Nelson, Willie's kid; Duane Betts, offspring of the Allman Brothers' guitar slinger Dickey Betts; A.J. Croce, son of the late Jim Croce, Justin Townes Earle, son of alternative country's Steve Earle; and Salvador Santana, son of Carlos and ex-wife Deborah Santana. Salvador's younger sister, 27-year-old Stella Santana, released her debut EP online.
Happy 70th, Jerry: Bob Weir's TRI Studios in San Rafael hosted a live music webcast celebrating what would have been Jerry Garcia's 70th birthday. "There are all these kids out there who never went to a Dead show, who never saw Jerry live, but they're still turned on to him," said Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia, the late rocker's former wife. "And those people are increasing all the time."
Classical controversy: Former Marin residents Donald and Maureen Green's long-held dream of a modest music center became a much more grandiose reality in October with the gala opening of spectacular Weill Hall, centerpiece of a $145 million music complex on the campus of little Sonoma State University. Faculty members dealing with cuts in funding protested that the $12 million to finish the world-class project was donated by Sandy Weill, the retired chairman and chief executive of Citigroup, the megabank that was bailed out with billions in taxpayer money. After the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, Time magazine named him one of the "25 people to blame for the financial crisis."
Marin gets star-struck: "Hangover" hunk Bradley Cooper had hearts fluttering on opening night of the Mill Valley Film Festival, leading a parade of stars who brightened Mill Valley for the fest's 35th anniversary, including Dustin Hoffman, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, John Hawkes, Mira Nair and rockers Dave Stewart and Stevie Nicks. The audience favorite documentary award went to "Village Music: Last of the Great Record Stores" by Gillian and Monroe Grisman. No wonder attendance was up 20 percent.
Suicide isn't painless: Controversy erupted when the Sausalito Art Festival pulled an award-winning painting of a human figure falling from the Golden Gate Bridge from its website after a complaint that it could encourage suicides from the famed span. The artist called it censorship, the festival board called it a mistake and hastily voted to put it back online.
Dunn's done: Jim Dunn, the 79-year-old father of the modern Mountain Play, directed "The Music Man" over the summer and then called it quits after helming the annual Broadway-style musical on Mt. Tam for 30 years. He went out in a big way with the largest cast he'd ever had, including a middle school band that marched in for the finale playing "76 Trombones."
Hitting high hard notes: Not only did S.F. Giants' third base coach Tim Flannery wave in the winning run during the World Series victory over Detroit, he hit the equivalent of a musical triple, singing high harmony on the National Anthem three times at Giants' games, twice with the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh and Bob Weir and once with Weir and Jackie Greene. Hitting for the cycle, Flannery and his band, the Lunatic Fringe, welcome the new year with a Jan. 25 gig at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley.
Jett propelled: On the heels of the hit biopic "The Runaways," Joan Jett rocked the third biggest crowd of this summer's county fair, behind the Temptations and Steel Pulse. Before her show, she arrived backstage in a caravan of golf carts with her tattooed, spike-haired band, the Blackhearts, and her 94-year-old uncle Al, leading him by the hand as she disappeared into her dressing tent. She emerged later to pose patiently for photos with fans.
Gone but not forgotten: Jon McIntire, 70, the Grateful Dead manager credited with sparking the band's community of Deadheads, of cancer in Stinson Beach; Rock guitar great Ronnie Montrose, 64, of prostate cancer and personal demons in Millbrae; Terry Dolan, 68, whose Terry and the Pirates band featured Rolling Stones' keyboardist Nicky Hopkins and Quicksilver guitarist John Cipollina, of natural causes in Novato; John Harrison, 59, whose Tone Tubby company in San Rafael supplied hemp speakers to Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Metallica's Kirk Hammett and other rock stars, of natural causes in Petaluma.
Contact Paul Liberatore via email at firstname.lastname@example.org