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Jerry Knight's River Theater: A Man On A Mission

  • July 21, 2011

Jerry Knight is a man on a mission. Last year, he purchased what was left of the old River Theater in Guerneville, realizing he would have to spend a ton of money just repairing flood damage. It has been and still is a hands-on project for Knight.

He was knee-deep in mud as he worked for months on the building’s foundation, plumbing and wiring. You can see him just about every week in front of the theater on a cherry-picker, putting up the latest information on the marquis.

The impetus behind this Herculean project was the sudden, unexpected death of his wife year before last. They had been together 33 years and had always wanted to do a theater together. Knight realized that fulfilling their dream might be the only way to avoid going off the deep end.

The building was Club Fab until the flood of 2005, then was closed until it became Knight’s baby. His collection of autographed guitars, one signed by Fleetwood Mac just after they recorded one of their most famous albums and another signed by Michael Jackson, decorate the main bar downstairs.

From 1992 to 1999, the theater was named Ziggurat (the term for the rectangular-tiered columns en vogue in the days of the Babylonians and Assyrians), and ziggurats were the main feature of the festive décor. Knight has toned it down, making it more like a Hollywood studio back lot with left-over props. Then he had painted large panels of The Muse playing musical instruments for the building’s new marquis.

How it has turned out? It was never so fabulous when it was Club Fab. With new floors and seating, when the extraordinary lights are in use (like during a recent concert by House of Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute band) and the top-of-the-line sound system is cranking, “fabulous” is too tame a word. The ceilings are soaring; a spacious dance floor in front of a stage is large enough to seat a symphony, and there are four levels of  nooks and crannies for you and your retinue to explore.

Knight’s ambitions for the theater are as lofty as the building’s crow’s nest. Not only does he intend to present big name bands there, he and his old friend Robin Williams have talked about bringing back something like vaudeville here.

These could be the empty words of any of the dreamers who have swooshed through town, but Knight has cred from the music recording and production business in Marin County “back in the day.”

For his Not-So-Grand Opening, Knight extended an open hand to the community with a concert by  Jules Broussard, no admission and free food. He was warned that the homeless, the street people, would descend upon him. They came, had something to eat, were respectful and appreciative and had a good time along with everyone else.

Since then, he has presented a mix of live music, DJs and open mic nights. For now, the River Theater is open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.