Erma Murphy lets out a loud laugh when I suggest that she might want to watch for Mickey Hart lurking in the shadows at her shows this weekend.
"I know!" chuckles the Marin promoter. "He's the only one who hasn't got a club yet!"
The laughter is well-deserved. Murphy, with partner Daniel Patrick, has promoted concerts in Marin County for the past nine years. The last venue the two booked on a regular basis was the Palm Ballroom at the Seafood Peddler restaurant—which attracted the attention of Phil Lesh, who famously reopened it as Terrapin Crossroads.
Before that, Murphy had stumbled upon and began regularly booking an unused, virtually forgotten room at the Mill Valley Masonic Hall—which proved such a natural place for music that it eventually reopened as the Sweetwater Music Hall, owned in part by Bob Weir.
If any other members of the Grateful Dead out there want to open a club, they'd be smart to follow Murphy's keen eye. Not that Murphy, a Marin native since the age of three, wants to relinquish another site. "I've been feeling so lost for a year," she says. "It's nice to be back in."
"Back in" refers to Murphy's two shows this weekend: David Lindley at the Kanbar Center on Feb. 16, and the David Nelson Band at the Mill Valley Community Center on Feb. 15 and 16. The Kanbar has its own in-house programming, but the MVCC has asked Murphy to help expand its offerings—and Murphy Productions is rolling again.
Murphy's love of music goes back to childhood, listening to the Beatles and Stones, reaching an obsessive zenith in college. REM, Talking Heads and others were standbys on her radio show on KDVS-FM at UC Davis, but she called the show Schizophrenic Pitch for a reason: her tastes were all over the map. "In college," she says, "everyone was so snobby, you had to be really avant-garde. But I played Stevie Ray Vaughan."
Not a musician herself ("I took piano lessons for 10 years and I cried the entire time," she jokes), Murphy nonetheless liked bringing musicians together, especially if it meant she could dance. Hence, for five years, she hosted house parties with up to 125 people—inside, outside—at her Mill Valley home, with extended jam sessions by amateur musicians and professionals such as the Rowan Brothers alike.
Soon after, Murphy and Patrick started booking the Larkspur Cafe Theater, a "listening room" environment, and in the years since, with the help of comrade Larry the Hat, have brought in the likes of Jackie Greene, ALO, Dan Hicks and many other local favorites.
"People are just so nice," Murphy says, grateful for the community fostered around her shows. "And they love to dance. It feels like family."