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Sausalito Waterfront: Art and Music

By Steefenie Wicks
In his book, “Sausalito: Moments in Time,” Jack Tracy talks about how Sausalito has always being a haven for writers, artist, poets and creative souls.  He wrote that it was not until the 1950’s that a sense of creative energies seemed to be released.  After World War II, many returning service men and women took up residence in Sausalito trying to remove from their thoughts the horror of war.   A number of these individuals turned their talents to the arts; in the 1950’s Sausalito emerged as one of the best-known artist colonies in the Bay Area.  This reputation for peace plus freedom of thought and purpose eventually settled on the Sausalito waterfront, where a new type of artist/musician would evolve.
Many took up residency in old tug boats, barges, ferry boats, or ships that would never set to sea again.  These new dwellers would become the first waterfront house boaters.  One of the long-term members of this community is painter Heather Wilcoxon, who arrived here in 1969.  Musician Fiver Brown arrived in the year 2002.  Both artists came for a visit and stayed for a lifetime.
“I remember getting a call from my sister CiCi, a singer and musician, who said, “You have got to come here, see what I have found,” Heather recalls. “She was very excited, so I left art school in Los Angeles, drove to Sausalito.  Once I got here I never looked back.”
Heather was able to take up residence on an old “Potato Barge” that was 100 ft. long, docked at Gate 6.   It housed four separate apartments.  “People lived together, they shared what they had,” she continues. “The land all belonged to Donlon Arques, he let everyone live there for little or no rent, basically we lived for free.”  
Fiver was living in Los Angeles when he got a call from a friend to come to a party on a Sausalito houseboat.   At the time he was reviewing scripts for movie executives.  His stay in Hollywood had enabled him to continue with his music which he had been involved with most of his life, but he missed a sense of community.  “I worked 16 hour days, got paid for 8.  Hollywood is not the glamorous place that you might think it is, everyone seems to be involved with themselves, not with others, “ he concludes. “It’s a selfish existence.”
He remembered his first music experience on a Sausalito houseboat.  “I was blown away by the fact that a full on band was playing.  They were the ‘Sonia Dada’ band, a Chicago based rock/soul/rhythm and blues band that had the place rocking,” he continues.  “It was like being at a music festival. After they played others took to the stage, a jam session began.  I ended up joining them; one of the fellows playing with me commented that he thought I should stay, be part of the group.  I told him that I lived in LA, would have to change life plans to do that, he said why not?  So, with this feeling of a new-found music community, I went back to L.A., packed my things, came back to Sausalito, began a new life. On the waterfront.”
A new life is what Heather also envisioned; she had her first studio at the ICB building where she practiced her painting for the next 20 years. In the meantime, her life at Gate 6 had taken a most interesting turn because of the “Waterfront Wars” during the late 1970’s.
“I remember a time when every morning you would get up to the sound of an air horn being blown to let you know that the police were there,” she smiles. “It was exciting.”   She goes on to explain that in 1976, Gate 6 was a very lively place to live, a very raw scene where a lot of live theater took place.  She remembered the first time she was arrested was during one of these live theater performances: “When it happens you realize that this is real, this was really happening, you’re being arrested. Now, as a 30 year resident of the waterfront, I can honestly say; things have changed for the better.”
Fiver, whose first job on the waterfront was working on a tug boat, has seen the closing of two great music venues, the music studio the Plant and the Sweetwater, in Mill Valley.   He feels that when things around you change, the effect can be profound.  He writes most of the music he preforms with his band Dredgetown, keeping the music authentic like Sausalito.  
He feels, “It’s tough being an artist/musician in Marin.  I’m married now, have a son. With a family it’s hard to sometimes make both ends meet.  But with the support of a strong community you can still make things happen so that you can exist, perform, play music.”
Jack Tracy, Sausalito’s historian, would be the first to say to both Heather Wilcoxon and Fiver Brown, welcome to Sausalito’s art community, still a haven for creative souls.

Fiver Brown, musician and Heather Wilcoxon, artist (left to right)
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

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