Most of the destinations on the back of the official Boygenius 2023 concert tour T-shirt represent the biggest music markets in the country. Los Angeles. Dallas. Chicago. New York. But one of the cities listed is not like the others: Sonoma’s own Healdsburg, population 12,000.
So when the soon-to-be Grammy Award-winning rock trio played an intimate acoustic show at Little Saint restaurant last June, it was no wonder the line snaked four blocks to City Hall.
Yes, you read that right—the concert was upstairs at Little Saint. A vegan restaurant. In Wine Country.
As the restaurant continues to garner accolades for its plant-based cuisine, the second floor gathering space and part-time prix fixe restaurant has emerged as an unexpected music hotspot as well. Boygenius—singer/songwriters Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker—is just one of the big-name acts to play Little Saint last year. Others on the list have included Rufus Wainwright, Dawes, and Jenny Lewis. Buck Meek (of Big Thief) and Trousdale have already committed for 2024.
The music program is the brainchild of Little Saint co-owner Laurie Ubben and Jonny Fritz, who books and promotes acts under the moniker of Dad Country. Ubben co-founded the Bird School of Music in San Francisco and supports musicians like Bridgers and The Avett Brothers. (Boygenius wrote all the songs from their 2023 album “The Record” in a barn on Ubben’s property on Westside Road.)
Fritz, a guitarist who has recorded four studio albums, prides himself on being able to discuss bookings with just about anyone. “We aren’t really concerned about the numbers,” says Fritz. “We just want to create a really great experience.”
The venue holds about 175 people, and every spot is within 50 feet of the stage. Laurie and her husband Jeff Ubben have invested in a state-of-the-art sound system, so the acoustics are top-notch. A curtain sewn from old tour T-shirts hangs behind the tiny stage.
The vibe is so intimate that many artists ask fans to sit on the floor; this is how the June Boygenius show unfolded, and in May, indie pop band Lucius did three encores from the center of the room while fans sat around them. At the end of many shows, artists mingle with fans at the merch table in back. And Thursday nights are for free live music, no tickets required.
If these small-town touches aren’t appealing enough, Fritz said he aims to make the venue stand out for artists with meals and compensation even when the show is free. Basically, every show is like a house concert. And this vibe has generated quite a buzz in the industry—Fritz said it’s taken one year to book acts he thought would take three years to nab.
“We’re becoming a place that everyone wants to book when they come through San Francisco,” said Fritz, who lives in Los Angeles. “Like the [now closed] Bottletree in Birmingham, or the 9:30 Club in [Washington], D.C. If you got booked at those places, you looked forward to it all tour.”
For Ubben, the goal is simple: to continue to celebrate creativity in all forms. “I like the idea of discovering new music and great food at the same time,” she said.
“If we can normalize this way of nourishing our minds and our souls, I think it can be a wonderful way to get people to think differently about art.”