Although home to Stanford University and tech giants, the region south of San Francisco had been curiously lacking a first-rate music club for many years. That void has been recently filled, with the opening of Menlo Park’s intimate and elegant Guild Theatre, now attracting a wide array of artists with support from innovative AV technologies that include a powerful Meyer Sound (opens in new tab) system.
The original Guild Theatre had served as a neighborhood movie theater for more than 90 years before closing in 2019. Purchased by the non-profit Peninsula Arts Guild, the structure was totally gutted and transformed into a modernized venue offering extraordinary technical flexibility for hosting music concerts, film showings, and other special events. The principal focus is on national touring artists, with shows spanning musical genres from acapella Black gospel and neo-bluegrass to punk and EDM.
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The Guild Theatre is on the small side for hosting high-caliber acts—around 200 seated and 500 standing—but intimacy is part of what makes the experience extraordinary. “Rooms of this size just don’t have stages this big, lighting with this level of sophistication, and sound systems this good,” said Drew Dunlevie, president of the Peninsula Arts Guild and the driving force behind creating the venue. “We put together an A-team for this project, with theatrical design by Shalleck Collaborative, acoustic design from Salter, and integration by Legend Theatrical, all working hand-in-glove with the amazing PA from Meyer Sound.”
Dunlevie emphasized that the core mission of the Peninsula Arts Guild is to offer the public an extraordinary experience of the arts, primarily music and film, and not to turn a profit. “We decided to go for the ultimate,” he said, “and build one of the best small listening rooms anywhere on the planet. We knew that there were many generous and philanthropically oriented donors in Silicon Valley who also wanted world-class music coming to their doorstep, and they stepped forward to make this happen.”
The sound reinforcement system would be the keystone element of the production technologies, and on this point, Dunlevie relied on both his own experience and advice from others operating similar venues in the Bay Area.
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“We knew that the Sweetwater Music Hall in the North Bay had a Meyer Sound system, and I’m good friends with David Mayeri who manages the UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall in Berkeley. That’s a bigger room but it’s also a non-profit with a similar focus, and David also pointed us toward Meyer Sound. Finally, Bobby Weir [a co-founder of the Grateful Dead] was behind us from the early days, and he concurred with the choice. So, Meyer Sound was on board before construction began.”
The design went through several iterations, but as installed the system now comprises main L/R arrays of nine LINA very compact linear line array loudspeakers, with each array flown underneath a 750-LFC very compact low-frequency control element. Visceral low end is buttressed by a center cardioid array of three 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements plus two more 750-LFC elements under the stage. Loudspeakers for front, VIP, and bar fills are, respectively, four ULTRA-X20, two ULTRA-X42, and eight Ashby-8C. The surround system, which supports both 7.1 film showings and Meyer Sound’s Spacemap Go spatial sound design and mixing tool, comprises six HMS-10 loudspeakers on the main level and four HMS-5 for the balcony. For artist foldback, the Guild offers eight MJF-210 low-profile high-power stage monitors and a 750-LFC element as a drum sub.
Guild Theatre manager Tom Bailey came on board after the sound system decision, but he was pleased with the direction based on prior experience with Meyer Sound during his years with the Bill Graham organization. “Meyer Sound was an obvious choice, in part because we had so little space to work with inside the fixed walls of the building. So, it only made sense to have a self-powered system,” he said.
The system’s size and sophistication draw frequent comments, added Bailey. “People come into this little room and assume it’s just another nightclub. Then they see the PA and say, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?!’”
The sound it produces is even more compelling, he says, and that was the result of holistic design. “The whole building was designed—the wall materials, all the angles—to make the sound as good as possible. It worked. It’s been a slam-dunk success.”
A small sampling of artists already hosted or scheduled, in addition to Bobby Weir (five nights in April with the Wolf Brothers), includes Molly Tuttle, Three Dog Night, Son Volt, Berlin, Macy Gray, Blind Boys of Alabama, Social Distortion, and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
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“Everybody raves about the sound in here, artists and audiences alike,” said Dunlevie. “For example, I remember walking around during the Social Distortion show, which is a great mix of rockabilly and punk, but the lyrics are also important. The sound had a visceral impact, but you could still hear every word clearly. That’s amazing. Everybody goes out of their way to say how much they like the sound.”
Though music represents the lion’s share of programming, the Guild Theatre has presented a number of film showings as well, including hosting the West Coast screenings of the Chicago-based Doc5 film festival and a premiere of Oliver Stone’s 2022 documentary, Nuclear.