As long as one has a ticket, the phrase “sold-out show” is music to the ears of many a concertgoer, who spent much of the past three years pining for the thrill of gathering in a crowd to see and hear a performance.
All over the U.S. and locally, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many beloved bars, restaurants and music venues to shutter permanently. Yet, right here in Healdsburg, two new spaces for live entertainment opened their doors after the world changed, bringing world-class shows to town.
Little Saint and The 222, each within a block of Healdsburg Plaza, are selling out concerts regularly in 2023. Each of these venues offers a unique environment for a show and intimate audience size. Little Saint’s concert space accommodates 225 guests, while The 222 features club-style seating with capacity for about 110 guests.
Both venues are located within mixed-use spaces. In addition to the concert space, Little Saint is a restaurant for plant-based food and beverages, a coffee bar and wine shop. The 222 operates after hours inside Paul Mahder Gallery.
The shows they book vary greatly—The 222 primarily hosts classical and jazz concerts, while Little Saint hosts indie country and folk artists. Both host a range of performers, from lesser-known up-and-comers to wildly popular well-known acts. Last August, Phoebe Bridgers performed a secret show at Little Saint. On March 12, 21-year-old prodigious classical pianist Alexander Malofeev will perform at The 222.
These concerts offer a rare opportunity to see artists who fill much bigger spaces. Bridgers is touring with Taylor Swift this year with a sold-out stop at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, which holds 68,000 guests. Shortly after his show at The 222, Malofeev will perform at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, which has more than 2,700 seats.
Shows at Little Saint are booked by Dad Country Presents, the promoter moniker of musician Jonny Fritz.
Little Saint’s first concert was Molly Lewis on Apr. 21, 2022. Of Lewis, Fritz said, “She’s a world class whistler…a rare and talented musician, and nobody is doing what Molly is doing.”
For Fritz, who was a touring artist for 15 years, this is his first time booking performers. Little Saint owner Laurie Ubben, whom Fritz said shares his musical taste, invited him to the position.
According to Fritz, there is no real aesthetic other than booking the music that inspires him and Ubben. The name Dad Country refers to the genre of music Fritz makes.
“It’s sort of my response to when the music industry tried to label me as ‘Outlaw Country.’ As a marathon runner and tea enthusiast, I recoiled at the suggestion of being mistaken for an outlaw country guy. I told them I was more like someone’s weird dad….So it has become my genre, my brand, and most recently, my business as a promoter,” Fritz said.
When asked who’s showing up to Little Saint concerts, Fritz said guests include “young kids, old folks and in-betweeners.”
Fritz said, “I’ve spoken to our audiences, asking where they’d come from and some even driving from about a 200 mile radius for shows. I didn’t see that coming, but I understand now the power of hosting a show worth seeing. People will travel for it.”
Meanwhile, The 222 also sees a mix of locals and out-of-towners traveling in for their shows. A membership-based nonprofit organization, executive director Paul Mahder said The 222 has a base of about 250 members, mostly from Healdsburg.
“That being said, about 50% of our attendees are not from Healdsburg, said Mahder. “We’re having events that draw people from Sacramento, Santa Clara, San Jose and San Francisco.”
Unlike Fritz at Little Saint, The 222, which launched in 2021, has numerous programming directors responsible for different types of shows.
“The 222 was built on the knowledge that there were people already here in Healdsburg that had programming skills in different disciplines,” said Mahder.
For instance, Jessica Felix, who programs jazz at The 222, was the founder and artistic director of Healdsburg Jazz Festival for more than 20 years.
The 222 has distinct programmers for jazz, classical, choral music, opera, theater, film and literary arts.
Many of the shows—particularly jazz and classical concerts—sell out. Mahder said that the venue is still developing their audience for some of their other programs like poetry readings. Still, he described poetry readings with around 50 attendees, which is a noteworthy turnout for a literary event.
“The mission of the organization is to build community and to build it through the sharing of cultural events,” Mahder said. “It’s not just to find the biggest draw that’s going to sell the most tickets.”
The 222 also hosts conversations with visiting performers.
“We’re interested in engagement with the audience, rather than a show just being a passive performance, so whenever possible, we’re having discussions with the people that are coming and performing,” Mahder said.
Mahder feels that guests appreciate being able to attend a concert or show in The 222 because it’s a special setting. He points to its club-style seating housed within the Paul Mahder Gallery, a large art gallery space with art from all over the world, which provides a backdrop for events.
“We’ve got great acoustics and a 9’ concert grand piano that’s one of the best in the Bay Area, so that allows us to bring in world class performers like Alexander Malofeev,” Mahder said.
Mahder and Fritz both said that performers and guests have been thrilled about their experiences in Healdsburg.
“Had I been presented with the option to eat this well on tour, I would have looked forward to playing here for the weeks leading up to it,” Fritz said of Little Saint’s cuisine.
Mahder said, “I’ve had people tell me that The 222 makes Healdsburg worth living in. The excitement about it has been quite huge.”
Popular artists headed to Little Saint include Rufus Wainwright on March 31 and Caroline Rose on May 2. To be in-the-know about upcoming shows, Fritz recommends following @littlesainthealdsburg and @dadcountry on Instagram for the most up-to-date ticket info. littlesainthealdsburg.com/happenings.
Alexander Malofeev performs at The 222 on March 12. Poet Ellen Bass and pianist Inna Faliks will perform on March 31. Tickets and information about all shows at THE 222 are available at the222.org.