By Charlie Swanson
Founded by longtime North Bay musician and promoter Ken Frankel in 2012, San Rafael’s Studio 55 Marin is known to its small, though dedicated, fan base as an intimate and acoustically-perfect space to see and hear masterful songwriters.
Yet, at age 74 and with little financial success to support the venue, Frankel has made the difficult decision to end Studio 55’s run. On Friday, April 8, Studio 55 welcomes innovative Pacific Northwest songwriters Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer to perform the venue’s final show.
“There just wasn’t enough people coming through, and I kind of ran out of energy to keep it going,” Frankel says of the decision.
Frankel has a long history not only as a musician in the North Bay, but also as a venue owner and booker. He has played in rock ’n’ roll, folk and classical groups since the early 1960s, jamming with the likes of Jerry Garcia and David Nelson, and he continues to perform today with his band Sound of Sirens.
In 1981, Frankel opened the Cotati Cabaret, which enjoyed immense success as the North Bay’s premier destination for local and nationally touring bands. He also booked talent for the San Francisco Bluegrass & Old-Time Festival and curated concerts—under the name Dr. K’s Home Grown Roots Revue—at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage.
With Studio 55, Frankel intended to offer audiences and performers a space dedicated to the music. “This was a try to have a nice music hall in San Rafael,” he says, adding that musicians especially love the space.
“But, it’s not a bar, it’s not a restaurant and it’s not in a walkable downtown location,” Frankel explains. “And with all those things against it, it was really hard.”
McGraw and Fer, working together since 2010, have found international acclaim for their harmonies and their musicianship. Their recent album, Maritime, spent two months at the top spot on the EuroAmericana charts and their troubadour aesthetic matches perfectly with Studio 55’s cozy atmosphere.
Frankel’s retirement plan includes focusing on his own music. With this final show, he hopes to enjoy the space one last time with the supportive community that’s been so important to him these last four years.
Studio 55 Marin says goodbye on Friday, April 8; 1455 East Francisco Blvd., San Rafael; 8pm; $17-$20; studio55marin.com.