It’s easy to find great live music, DJs and comedy on any given Santa Cruz weekend, and clubs like the Catalyst and Moe’s Alley get big touring acts every week. But Santa Cruz’s thriving nightlife doesn’t end there. If you’re looking for live music, dancing or laughs on a weeknight, here are some regular events for each day that locals know are the gems of their respective scenes. Taken as a whole, they’re a great sampling of the diversity of sound and ideas in Santa Cruz’s live music landscape.
Mix Tape Mondays: This weekly showcase of bands from Santa Cruz and around the Bay Area has busted the notion that Mondays are a no-go for live music. Mark London brings a bill of up-and-coming bands each week, with themes as divergent as “bluegrass night” and “hip-hop night” breaking up the steady diet of rock. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 429-6994.
Free Reggae Parties: Tuesday at the Crow’s Nest is reggae night, with the authentic Jamaican sound provided by locals the Reggae All Stars. And “All Stars” is not an empty boast—these are literally the best reggae rasta rockers in town. The combination of easy-going reggae roots and beach air will be enough to satisfy even the most casual reggae fans. Crow’s Nest, 2218 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, 476-4560.
Hi Ya! By Little John: Not a lot of people outside of the Bay Area know about Little John, but in Santa Cruz, he’s a local legend. He was the artistic soul of the “free party scene” here that DJ superstar Bassnectar—a regular participant—credits as the inspiration for his music today. Back then, you had to know what answering machine to call to get the location of the secret party in the woods, now you can go to Motiv every week to see Little John and associates like Nick the Neck and Mitcy Mantou spin house and soul. Motiv, 1209 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 429-8070.
Western Wednesdays: Every third Wednesday, the Crepe Place hosts Western Wednesdays. As the name implies, it’s the night you dust off your ten-gallon hat and leather boots for a night of country and honky-tonk music. There’s usually a local band and a touring act on the bill. There’s even a discount for wearing those cowboy boots. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, 429-6994.
Comedy Nights at the Blue Lagoon: Santa Cruz may not have any official comedy clubs, but the comedy scene here has been thriving for the last few years. After running for eight years, the Blue Lagoon’s comedy night is now the epicenter. Hosted by DNA every Thursday, it showcases both experienced headliners and eager newbies. Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, 423-7117.
Traditional Irish Sessions: If you’re new to Irish music, “sessions” are the Celtic way of saying “jams.” You can find them at Rosie McCann’s, where the Celtic folk instruments come out every third Thursday of the month. It’s the kind of thing where someone starts a song and everyone joins in, then another person starts a song, and so on. Rosie McCann’s, 1220 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, 426-9930.
Friday Night Bands on the Beach: This series of weekly free shows at the Boardwalk has ruled the summertime scene for years. There are two shows every Friday, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., and this year’s line-up features Los Lobos (Aug. 26), Smash Mouth (Aug. 19), The Family Stone (July 8), Lou Gramm (series kick-off on June 17) and more. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz, 423-5590.
Swing Dance Socials: This is your chance to dance—for real, with style. Every Friday at Bocci’s Cellar, it’s swing night, and they have a different band every week to get your hips shaking. Don’t worry if you can’t spin your date over your head—this is a safe space to look like a fool and have some fun. Bocci’s Cellar, 140 Encinal Street, Santa Cruz, 427-1795.
Club Kuumbwa: The Kuumbwa Jazz Center has a reputation for bringing top-notch touring artists. Club Kuumbwa, which is held once a month (and floats between Friday and Saturday dates), is a little different. For one thing, it’s much cheaper than a typical night at the Kuumbwa,—like under $10—and the groups are the finest young indie artists in the scene, from a range of genres that includes folk, soul, pop, roots and more. Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar Street #2, Santa Cruz. 427-2227.