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River Theater resurfaces from floods after torrent of support

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High and Dry February's flooding severely damaged Guerneville's River Theater, but the celebrated venue reopens with a show June 7.
  • High and Dry February's flooding severely damaged Guerneville's River Theater, but the celebrated venue reopens with a show June 7.

On Feb. 27, 2019, Russian River flood waters inundated Jerry Knight's historic River Theater in downtown Guerneville. The water flowed over the dance floor, the stage, the sound booth and up into the lobby of the multi-floor venue.

"It's been a tough one," says Knight, who has owned and operated the 72-year-old venue since 2010. "We took a catastrophic loss. I could've swam on the dance floor, it was probably eight feet under water."

After the devastating event, Knight quickly found an outpouring of support from the musicians and community he's been connected to for more than 40 years.

Stars like Elvin Bishop, Blues Hall of Famer Charlie Musselwhite and Tony Bennett drummer Harold Jones reached out to Knight shortly after the floods and offered time and money to help get the theater back on its feet.

"I love the musicians that I am connected with," says Knight. In addition, other friends like Redwood Café owners Michael Mccullaugh and Mustapha "Moose" Jamal, and Claire Mills with 19 Broadway Nightclub in Marin County, hosted benefit concerts to aid in the theater's recovery.

"Top-shelf people, I've got to tell you," says Knight. "It's amazing how people came out, not even in the same county, to help out the theater."

With damages estimated at $125,000, it's been no easy task and it's taken more than three months of cleanup and repair before the venue could come to life, which it does this week with a concert on June 7 featuring Jerry Garcia tribute act Jerry's Middle Finger.

"The future looks real good," says Knight of the theater.

Even with new walls, fresh paint and state-of-the-art equipment, Knight also promises the theater's classic spirit is still strong. "The spirits are never lost," he says. "The spirits are encapsulated in the stone."

In addition to welcoming back live music this summer, Knight is also in the process of making space in the theater to be the new home of community radio station KGGV the Bridge, 95.1 FM, and he continues to give back to the community through practices like employing and offering internships to veterans at the theater.

"We're moving forward with a lot of support," says Knight. "Every day is a gift, and I treat it as such."

Jerry's Middle Finger plays on Friday, Jun 7, at Jerry Knight's historic River Theater, 16135 Main St., Guerneville. 8pm. $20. jerryknightsrivertheater.com.

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