Music venues in Napa, Sonoma counties eye raucous 2023 rebound

From Napa’s Uptown Theatre to Sonoma County’s Green Music Center, attendance, varied audiences have picked up

Hoping to tap the popularity of “yacht rock,” Napa’s Uptown Theatre is joining a host of North Bay nightclubs like the Sweetwater Music Hall in setting the stage for the 2023 music scene.

Many music venues closed during the pandemic, chose to pivot outdoors or remodel. According to the American Nightlife Association, an estimated half its 5,000-venue national membership went out of business during the three-year period starting in 2020.

Uptown Theatre — which closed due to the pandemic from March 2020 to August 2021 — has climbed back, according to Erica Simpson, general manager of Uptown Theatre. Sometimes, the 863-seat venue on Third Street sells out.

New types of acts are planned to attract varied audiences.

“I think we’ll go back to the heyday levels and then some,” Simpson said.

In June, John Truchard of JaM Cellars, took over the downtown Napa hotspot. Simpson said he plans to expand the marketing of the event site to new audiences.

This expansion of new audiences involves outreach to younger audiences, especially those who follow the breezy, bouncy tunes of the “yacht rock” genre, Simpson pointed out. Uptown booked Los Angeles-based Yachtley Crew for St. Patrick’s Day weekend on March 18. The show follows the Beatles tribute band, the Fab Four, set to hit the stage the week before on March 10. Tribute bands such as the Fab Four are starting to lure younger audiences.

More green at Sonoma County music center

In Sonoma County, at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University — which encompasses 1,400 seats inside of Weill Hall and 4,500 total indoors and out —ticket sales for its concerts have started to almost double. They have hovered at about 80% of 2018-19 attendance, according to Green Music Center management. A year ago, the average attendance was about half that at 45%.

“We are grateful that audiences have been returning to experience live performances in 2022,” spokesman Andy Shepherd said. “We’re hopeful that audiences will continue to feel comfortable attending live events and join us this year.”

Upcoming spring concerts include the Santa Rosa Symphony scheduled Feb. 18-20; Yamato, The Drummers of Japan on Feb. 25; the Branford Marsalis Quartet on March 16; and the U.S. Navy Concert Band on March 17.

At Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, ticket sales for inside events are slowly improving — with the “family fun series” (low-cost, family-oriented theater) the hardest hit, as being down by at least 10%.

“What we are looking at is: Will this be the new normal or will we continue to see gains to reach attendance goals from pre-pandemic times.,” center spokeswoman Anita Wiglesworth said. “The bottom line is that recovery is slower than we and our peers anticipated, but we are committed presenting live entertainment.”

The outdoor events have proven more successful, with some like the Rodney Strong Winery summer concerts selling out, she noted.

“Ultimately, we know that it will take longer for our industry to fully recover before all audiences feel comfortable returning, but we remain hopeful because nothing compares to the energy of a live performance,” she said.

In the City

San Francisco’s Feinstein’s at the Nikko, a downtown nightclub, has operated at pre-pandemic attendance levels for much of 2022, according to spokesman Randy Taradash.

“We’re aware that each new day could bring hurdles or curveballs to audience attendance, and we’re grateful to see so many regulars returning as well as being introduced to those that hadn’t yet had the unique Feinstein’s experience,” he said.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, now a part of the Union Tribune in San Diego County, along with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or

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