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Best of the Bay: Culture

1970s Club Makeover

Those who knew and loved Sweetwater when the likes of Jerry Garcia, Bonnie Raitt, and Ry Cooder per - formed there might not recognize it post-facelift. Now called the Sweetwater Music Hall, it’s got a French bistro, an organic-espresso bar, chandeliers, a top-notch Meyer sound system, three times the space, and outdoor seating. But some relics from its previous life pay tribute on the walls, and an eclectic crowd, including Sammy Hagar, Jerry Harrison, and Huey Lewis, circle back to their old jam pad to catch a host of contemporary rock and jazz artists who are helping to usher the club into its new era. 19 Corte Madera ave., Mill Valley, 415-388-1100, Sweetwatermusichall.Com —J.A.S.

Creative Multitaskers

Imagine a magazine so cool that it could get the famous editor of another magazine to contribute a piece. Radio Silence seems to have hit upon a killer combo, literature and rock ’n’ roll, which the New Yorker’s david Remnick agreed to explore in a podcast about Bob dylan. In the print version, you’ll get writers like Tobias Wolff and daniel Handler (with a bit of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay thrown in), and with the release of each issue, Radio Silence will put on a live event, à la San Francisco’s wildly popular Pop-Up Magazine. and wouldn’t you know it? The folks there also care about kids: a portion of event ticket sales will go toward buying books and instruments to give to public schools. (Look out, dave Eggers—you’ve got competition.) maintainradiosilence.com —N.W.

Theater Alfresco

The We Players have been turning public spaces into impromptu playhouses for more than a decade (last year was Hamlet on alcatraz), but in May, the group presented its most audacious performance yet: a five-hour roving rendition of The Odyssey on angel Island, wherein the audience is conscripted into the story to cavort with mythical monsters against the backdrop of the San Francisco skyline. With a piece of theater that could leave you grass-stained, sunburned, and in the market for a bronze chest plate, We Players didn’t just break the fourth wall, it toppled the whole playhouseThrough July 1, weplayers.org —B.C.

Poster Boy for a Revivalist Trend

Midcentury soulful R&B had a big year with the debut album Time’s All Gone from breakout star, and former San Franciscan, Nick Waterhouse. The revival rocker’s tunes draw inspiration from oldies records like those played at local dance parties, including Teenage dance Craze at the knockout, Hard French at El Rio , Lost & Found at the Make-Out Room, and nightbeat at Edinburgh Castle. The next ’60s sing-alike to watch out for? Shannon and the Clams, founded by Hunx and His Punx backup singer Shannon Shaw, with surf-rock ditties that would sound at home in any vintage jukebox. Nickwaterhouse.com —Whitney Phaneuf

Mold-Breaking Musician

To say it was a breakout year for Merill Garbus and tune-yards would be an understatement. With the release of their sophomore album, w h o k i l l, the Oakland-based singer-musician and her band have earned praise from the New Yorker, Pitchfork, practically every Bay Area media outlet, and even Yoko Ono. One reason we love them is that they’re so hard to categorize, starting with Garbus’s loop pedal, which she uses to record her own vocals and percussion while playing a wonderfully haunting ukulele (“it has the ability to be creepy,” she says). Her vocal dexterity is remarkable—from guttural grunts to wispy croons—and she incorporates everything from jazz and hip-hop to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. She’s on tour through August and plans to work on another album after that. Definitely one to watch. tune-yards.com —A.T.

Local Theater with Big-League Ambition

Over the past year or so, Berkeley Rep has quietly launched a series of projects that are transforming it from a regional powerhouse into a dramaturgical incubator with global reach. This month, for instance, the Rep inaugurates the four-week ground Floor Summer Residency Lab: up to 100 playwrights, directors, composers, and other promising talents from around the world creating and confabbing at the company’s dazzling new West Berkeley campus. Meanwhile, across town, the company has started renting space to two small local theater ensembles (Ragged Wing and Bay area Children’s Theater), betting that the thriving downtown arts district will provide the support they need to take flight. Here’s hoping for a quick takeoff. berkeleyrep.org —Nina Martin

Welcome Wakeup Call

Imagine an edgier, tattooed sister of TEdTalks, add some caffeine, and you get CreativeMornings, the brainchild of Swiss designer Tina Roth Eisenberg, who started the free, nationwide monthly lecture series to encourage “nonelitist” sharing. apparently, the San Francisco early-bird market is huge: In its first year here, CreativeMornings had full turnouts, and more, at 10 of its 12 events. Then again, topics like “Sex in the Woods,” about sleeping bags designed for couples, and “F*ck you, Pay Me,” about how not to settle for less than you’re worth, make getting out of bed early seem fun. dates and venues change, so keep an eye on the website for info on the next lecture. Creativemornings.com —Caitlin Olson

 

Reason to Check Your (Snail) Mail

He’s got seven books and a wildly popular literary journal to his name, but Stephen Elliott’s most endearing project may be his tribute to the lost art of letter writing. anyone who signs up with Letters in the Mail ($60 a year or $5 a month) receives a photocopy of an actual letter (often handwritten) three to four times a month from writers such as dave Eggers, Rick Moody, aimee Bender, and Jonathan ames. We’re not sure if this communication is any more “real” than texting or emailing, but the tactile joy of receiving a real letter sure is nice. therumpus.net/letters —W.P.

Netflix Alternative

Local startup Fandor, a subscriptionbased web showcase of independent and international films, is the most satisfying kind of online rabbit hole, with thousands of titles in its trove of video-on-demand delights ($10 a month). Whether it’s the scrappy comedy shorts of Josh and Benny Safdie, the early experimental docs of local Oscar nominee Sam green, or the Bollywood thriller Aitraaz, winner of Best actor in a Villainous Role at the 2005 Filmfare awards—all unavailable on netflix—this feels like a discovery your best film-geek buddy clued you in on. fandor.com —Jonathan Kiefer

Catnip for Bookworms

Like atavist before it, San Francisco–based digital publishing boutique Byliner specializes in long-form narratives, purchased à la carte. It also acts as a real-time guide for the ardently literate. Love Mary Roach? Follow her on Byliner, and you’ll be the first to know when her new work is coming out. a Margaret atwood fan? Snag one of her Byliner Originals—e-reader-ready narratives running somewhere between magazine and book length. “It’s called Byliner for a reason,” says founder John Tayman. “It’s entirely organized around the author’s brand.” byliner.com; Narratives available through Amazon’s Kindle Singles, Quick Reads at the Apple iBookstore, and Nook snaps at nn.com —B.C.

Best in Theory

E-books for amateurs To Kevin Gao, founder of e-publisher Hyperink, each of the myriad voices that blog, tweet, and post each day represents a potential author—and that’s both good and bad. Good because it gives any amateur writer a chance to score a contract for a snappy e-book. But Hyperink’s synopses of canonical classics, popular hits, and whole seasons of prime-time TV (called Quicklets) are another thing entirely. Do we really need a reading companion for How I Met Your Mother? hyperlink.com —B.C.

READERS' POLL: THE CLASSICS

Street Fair - Fillmore Street Jazz Festival
Music Venue - The Fillmore
Neighborhood Blog - Mission Mission
Culture Blog - SFist
Local News Site - SFGate
Museum - De Young
Charity - Meals on Wheels