Napa Silo’s announced earlier this month that after a decade in business, the Main Street venue would be suspending operations Jan. 1 while reconsidering its business plan.
Owner Harry Price said his intention is to find a way to include live music in the setting’s next incarnation, though the format is uncertain.
Members of Napa’s music community – presenters and musicians – said the closure, even for a short time, would be mourned. They shared memories of how Silo’s evolved over the years to become an intimate, first-rate venue.
Bob St. Laurent, a bass player in the surf rock band The Deadlies and for years host of “Morning Bob” on KVYN, said Silo’s is unique and essential to the local music scene.
“Silo’s is a local joint, owned by a local, for locals, and tourists alike ...” St. Laurent said. “Without Silo’s, there are very few choices left. It’s the only place left for locals to play and locals to see and hang out. The room is a room of everyone you know. You can fill that room with your friends.
“We need Silo’s, and there’s enough artists in the Valley, and artists from nearby, who love to play there,” St. Laurent said. “Closing it will undeniably affect local music culture. We’re going to miss it.”
Silo’s has been the principal venue for the Napa Valley Jazz Society since its inception in 2010. “When we decided to do this, we targeted Silo’s as a good place to go,” said Bill Hart, Society president and concert producer. “Silo’s then was not the Silo’s it is today. It was a harder space—harder surfaces, there was no riser, the lighting wasn’t very good.”
Hart described the number of improvements Silo’s has made over the years – expansion of capacity, furnishings, the riser stage, lighting, the sound system, blackout curtains. “They put the dark curtains in,” Hart said, “and in the process they decided to curtain all the walls and soften the acoustics of the place, which was a tremendous thing.
“Harry (Price) has felt that having a good music entertainment venue enhanced the value of all the properties, particularly the hotel (the adjacent Napa River Inn). Harry has really tried his best to make it work, and he still would like to find a way to make it work.”
He regards Blue Note as an obvious “turn-key” alternative once Silo’s closes. “Blue Note provides everything that Silo’s provides except perhaps a slightly different ambiance ...”
Silo’s first musicians were pianist Mike Greensill and Wesla Whitfield, his late wife and a widely admired vocalist, who had lived and performed in San Francisco for over three decades before relocating to Napa shortly before Silo’s opened in 2008.
“We were looking to find a little nest for Wesla to sing in every week,” Greensill said. “Somebody put us in touch with Harry Price and he liked us. We were sort of partners, though luckily not financially—we were either too smart or too stupid for that—but we were certainly the only music at the start.
“When it first opened, Silo’s was still an art gallery. So whenever we performed, we had to take all the art and put it in the back room and put the chairs out and bring the piano out.”
“Wesla had a good reputation,” he said, “and we figured all the Bay Area fans would come up and have a romantic weekend at the Napa River Inn and listen to her. Unfortunately, we opened right at the time of the 2008 stock market crash, and that just ruined everything.
“We also discovered that people had been out wine tasting all day, then went for a posh meal and the last thing they needed to do was stay up any longer and listen to music. They wanted to go to bed at 8:30.”
But Napa Valley’s premier jazz pianist is not going away. A few days after he heard that Silo’s was going to close, Blue Note called. “We’d like you to do jazz brunch every Sunday,” they said. Greensill starts in January.
Dave Graham is the CEO of BottleRock, which produced small-scale concerts at Silo’s. He says Silo’s is “absolutely unique, a place you can go and experience music at such an intimate level.
“At Silo’s you can go listen to some jazz on one night, on another night listen to local or touring rockers, and on another night be at a garage band contest where you know half the people who are competing because they’re from Napa.”
“Bringing in music that typically would not be played at Silo’s was something we tried to do—indie rock bands like Magic Giant, The Districts, music that fans typically wouldn’t hear on a regular basis in Napa. We felt comfortable bringing it there because the risk wasn’t all that great, given the low number of tickets that one would need to sell in order to break even.”
“We never made any money promoting bands over there,” he added. “That wasn’t the point. The point was to bring a little business to a Napa business, and as important, to give locals and visitors to Napa the ability to experience world-class music in a very unique and intimate setting.”
The Napa School of Music has staged Garage Band 101 performances at Silo’s for several years. “When I watch people onstage for the first time, they are very shy, focused on themselves, focused on the chords they are playing,” said owner Ralf Lindner.
“But later on, two or three Garage Bands later, they are behaving like real musicians onstage, enjoying the music, interacting with their band colleagues. That’s really worth a lot.”
Vocalist Jennifer Knight and rhythm guitarist Jim Anderson of N2L, voted best cover band in Napa Valley by North Bay Bohemian readers, talked about the venue.
“I feel like when we were first forming (they emerged from Garage Band 101 for Adults), it was a mark of legitimacy that we were going to play Silo’s,” Knight said.
“It was 2008, 2009,” Anderson said. “The first time I ever performed live on any stage was on the Silo’s stage. They provided a venue that was incredibly unique in this town. And people paid, I think we sold it out.”
Knight raved about Silo’s family-friendliness. “My kids can come,” she said. “My husband (lead guitarist Derek Bromley) and I were on stage and our babysitter brought the kids to the early show. They had dinner, they got to sit in the back and watch us. And our 9-year-old plays drums through the Garage Band 101 for Kids program. We’ve seen her play on stage twice at Silo’s. It’s just really a coup for those kids.”
N2L will be the last band headlining a public show at Silo’s, playing the upcoming New Year’s Eve Party. “We get the last waltz,” Anderson said.