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Adieu, Dear Venue: Monterey’s “Best Rock Club” Closes

My 20-year-old daughter broke the news to me gently, knowing how I’d feel when I heard about the sign she’d just seen on the door:  Monterey Live has closed.  For Monterey Peninsula live music lovers, it’s a time to mourn.

When I moved from Santa Cruz to Monterey, I lamented Monterey’s lack of live music venues.  Soon, immersed in parenting, my music outings consisted of an occasional live local concert by MaryLee Sunseri, or a trip to Santa Cruz to hear Linda Arnold or Banana Slug String Band.  At home, these and other primarily children’s artists filled my ears seven days a week.  By the time I finally got back out at night for grown-up music, Monterey Live had opened, and I was one happy mama!

Mike Beck & Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at 2006 Tree House Concert (Photo courtesy of Greg Pool)

I love house concerts, like the Tree House Concerts I’ve been attending regularly.  And I also love going to public spots for good music—depending on the venue.  I don’t gravitate to bars, and after living here for decades, I’ve still never been to the downtown Monterey clubs Hippodrome or Doc Rickett’s Lab, in their various incarnations.  (And as of about January 2009, the latter stopped featuring live music, with plans only for perhaps rare guest appearances by touring musicians.)  I don’t frequent Cannery Row club Sly McFly’s either.  And while I appreciate and patronize downtown Monterey’s Golden State Theatre and Carmel’s Sunset Center, these large halls don’t provide the musical experience of our intimate venues.

Monterey Live, though, earned my support again and again.  It had a great non-bar vibe, and amazing music time after time.  It was the best thing to happen for Monterey music lovers in the years that I’ve been here.  I was thrilled when it opened several short years ago, and I considered it our version of Kuumbwa, the Santa Cruz venue.

I was certainly not alone in being an avid fan of this club.  Just two months ago, Monterey Live was voted “Best Club for Rock” by Monterey County Weekly readers. The Weekly noted in their March 19-25, 2009 “Best of Monterey County” issue that its readers were including a wide variety of music in that “rock” category when they voted in this beloved club; as they further commented, the acclaimed Monterey Live was not just a rock club but “a dictionary for live music”! That was evident when musicians like multi-genre performer Laurel Thomsen performed there on multiple occasions, with a wide range of acts. Other hot musicians featured at the club included Brandi Carlile, Lauren Shera, and Persephone’s Bees, among many others.

So why did this popular club close its doors?  The full story will likely unfold in the months ahead.  For now, let its closing serve as a reminder of the importance of patronizing live music venues.

On many occasions, I’ve traveled up to Santa Cruz, and even to Felton, to see acts that booking agent Tom Miller or others brought to my neighboring county—and Felton is a bit of a trek on a week night. Ideally, musicians could have been booked for both sides of the Monterey Bay—say, at Don Quixote’s in Felton, which Tom books, and at Monterey Live.  But Tom has been booking and promoting area gigs since 1979, and he’d be the first to tell you that it’s not always easy to fill seats for a live gig, even with great musicians playing.

Still, Monterey Live often packed the house, including on Mother’s Day 2009.   On this May 10 show, just three weeks before the club closed, they featured The Vespa Experiment—solo artists Jason Reeves, Brandon James, and Amber Rubarth.  The traveling trio, touring on Vespa scooters to highlight climate change, presented a stunning show here. [For another musician visiting MoCo with a light carbon footprint, click here.]  The camaraderie of the three artists—who shared the stage all evening, though performing solo—added to the audience’s pleasure.   The songwriting was fresh and unpredictable, the guitar work of Reeves and Rubarth was extraordinary, and James graced Live’s piano in his special way.  Each performer consistently and deservedly commanded rapt attention.  Rubarth and Reeves each had an especially enchanting storytelling ability, and the audience was charmed, asking the trio for encore after encore.

No longer having musical opportunities like The Vespa Experiment at Monterey Live is a huge loss for our community.

I bid a fond farewell to this beloved venue.  I am grateful to the proprietors—most recently, Gary Smith and Susan Miller—for contributing so generously to our local culture.

To honor the memory of Monterey Live, please support the live music venues that remain on the Monterey Peninsula, or wherever you are.

* * * * *

The post above was previously published on June 3, 2009.

For a reminder about the importance of supporting local live music, see

Mac McDonald’s June 5, 2013 story in the Monterey County Herald,

“Now that the management team is out, where does Golden State Theatre go now? What happens now?”

Mac mentions live music venues including HER Helmet Thursdays spots Jose’s Lounge Underground, Pierce Ranch Vineyards, both in Monterey, and Carmel Valley’s Plaza Linda.

For related stories and tips on this site, see the Live Music section.

This post was published on 3 June 2009. One or more changes last made to this post on 28 April 2019.

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