SF Venue Profile: The Marsh

in Music News by

Valencia Street’s The Marsh theater is a characteristically SF venue – creative, co-operative, buccaneering – with a history that is as upbeat and unconventional as its name. While you might know it as one of the city’s best small theater spaces, its experimental performance history means that it’s a home for some great musical performances that put music and theater together (without ending up Broadway).

The Marsh story goes back to 1989, when founder and artistic director Stephanie Weisman spent several months living on the edge of a marsh in Delaware Bay. She spent that time writing, pursuing her artistic goals, and observing the vibrant chemistry between the various elements in that natural landscape. So,  when she decided to open a space in San Francisco dedicated for music, theater, and art in its varied forms, Weisman saw that The Marsh would be the perfect metaphor for what she wanted the space to do.

Today, The Marsh lies on Valencia Street, but back then The Marsh kicked off with a series of Monday night performances at the celebrated Hotel Utah, once a popular hangout spot for Beat poets and gold miners, before shifting base to Morty’s in North Beach, and becoming a home for boundary-pushing artists including standup comedian Lenny Bruce and jazz star Sarah Vaughan.

Eventually, The Marsh moved to its current home, where it has since dedicatedly contributed to developing the musical and cultural scene in the Golden City, first renting the space before buying it and gradually converting into a community arts center that now boasts two theater spaces, a comedy club, and a youth theater. In these past years, the space has hosted performances by notable artists like Will Durst, Robin Williams, The Residents, Penny Arcade, and Josh Kornbluth, among others.

The Marsh also hosts the famous Marsh Madness Competition, a fantastic musical showdown with up to 32 teams of one to five artists, performing 40-minute unplugged musical sets over a long weekend, with audiences gorging on great music before the top four teams went forward to be judged by a panel of VIPs and celebrities. The New Dolores by Mary Conors-Carson emerged as the winner, followed by July 14th – A Peek Into a 21st Century Love Affair by Anna Lisa Rhona in the second place, and Harsh Sadness by James Sundquist, Edna Mira Raia, and Jeremy Krupp, and I Should Have Listened by Carrie Kartman, tied in the third place.

Until the 29th of this month, The Marsh has a residency from Clyde Always, billing himself as The Bard of the Lower Haight, with support from Nashville folk duo More Hazards More Heroes – but beyond that, with so many of the faces of art, from music to theater and comedy, there’s never a dull day at The Marsh.

If you’re looking for a place to find new, offbeat, thought-provoking work – or you’re craving for some soulful music, authentic theater productions, or simple plain old comedy that leaves you laughing from your belly, you should drop by at The Marsh sometime.

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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