Whether you’re a local, new in town, or just passing through, Santa Cruz open mics are a great way to experience the local music scene. Everyone has to start somewhere, and open mics are a rite of passage for up-and-coming artists. Occasionally, they’re a place for pros to practice and let loose. Even though attendees are never sure what the lineup will be, a good time is almost always guaranteed. The spirit of the people of Santa Cruz comes out during an open mic. It’s a time of camaraderie.
Santa Cruz is host to a vibrant and varied music culture, and open mics can be found throughout the county almost every day of the week. The Catalyst, The Poet & Patriot, The Ugly Mug, Rosie McCann’s and Santa Cruz Food Lounge all host, and have distinct environments. Although there are plenty of singer-songwriters and acoustic guitarists, all kinds of musicians, comedians and entertainers show up.
It can be exciting and downright scary getting in front of a crowd for the first time, but open mics are known for providing a safe place to perform and mingle with fellow performers. A healthy round of applause is thrilling, and can be fuel for your musical journey. Just keep in mind that some open mics fill up fast, and if you show up late you may not get to perform until late, if even at all.
When guests attend an open mic, they’re not just enjoying a unique night on the town; they’re supporting aspiring artists and professional musicians. Singer-songwriters often go to multiple open mics to network with fellow musicians, work on their timing and precision, and be surrounded by music.
This Guide to Santa Cruz Open Mics will help you navigate the scene.
ROSIE McCANN’S IRISH PUB & RESTAURANT
Tuesdays; Sign-Ups at 7pm/Performances at 8pm; Free
Located in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, Rosie McCann’s Irish Pub & Restaurant hosts a lively open mic every Tuesday. The pub’s motto is “Cead Mile Failte,” which is Irish for “100,000 Welcomes,” and the cheerful atmosphere and well-above-par pub food make Rosie’s a can’t-miss spot for anyone craving an evening of local music.
The open mic is in a lounge adjacent but separated from the bar, complete with plush couches and comfy pillows. Colored lighting makes participants feel like stars while on stage, and they have a quality sound system. The gracious sound manager will help musicians get plugged in and ready to go. Performers are allowed three songs. Many different kinds of musicians show up to Rosie’s each Tuesday, which means you might see violinists and mandolinists go toe-to-toe with the area’s guitarists and singer-songwriters. Only music at this open mic; no comedy or poetry.
There’s a full bar attached and the restaurant is hopping even midweek. Drink specials vary each night, and 25 beers are on tap. Regulars describe the crowd as young and enthusiastic, but very respectful. The bar area can be loud, but the lounge feels like a small musical oasis.
POET & PATRIOT IRISH PUB
Tuesday Sign Ups at 7pm, Performances 8pm
Saturday Sign Ups 1pm, Singer Showcase 4:30pm; Free
The Poet & Patriot is a Santa Cruz landmark that draws inspiration from the spirit of activism of Ireland’s Easter Rising of 1916. With low ceilings, and a dark interior that feels a little rough around the edges, the Poet is a quintessential beloved dive bar. To some, the atmosphere might feel imposing, but those who stick it out can experience some of the best local music in all of Santa Cruz County. The Poet has been attracting aspiring and professional musicians for many years, and established bands like The Inciters and The Wild Rovers regularly share the stage with those just getting started.
The Poet & The Patriot hosts two open mics every week, and the Tuesday open mic is probably the more popular. On Tuesday, amateur musicians are given 15-minute time slots or three songs. Artists be forewarned, the setting is intimate and it can get loud at the bar. Musicians sometimes struggle to be heard over a constant, sometimes rowdy din.
The Saturday open mic is a singer-songwriter showcase. Artists are given 30 minutes to perform a set, and can either sign up at the bar or call in by phone. Because of the length of the set, some local musicians have said this was their first official show. Early in the day the crowd at The Poet can be sparse, and sometimes musicians find themselves playing in front of only a handful of people. Only musicians are showcased each Saturday—no comics or spoken word artists allowed. The employees at The Poet & The Patriot are gracious and available if performers need help setting up.
First & Last Sunday of Every Month; Sign Ups at 8:45pm/Performances at 9pm
The Catalyst has been the center of the Santa Cruz music scene since the early 1970’s, and is actually composed of a number of distinct venues. The 5000-square foot Main Room has a storied past and regularly plays host to headliners like The Expendables, Snoop Dogg and Social Distortion. A large slanting plexiglass roof covers the downstairs Catalyst Atrium, where smaller, but equally entertaining bands can be found most nights.
The Lone Star Lounge, upstairs, plays host to one of the hottest open mics in town where performers can boast that they “played the Catalyst.” Even though it’s technically a glorified bar/pool hall, the Lone Star Lounge makes the artists who show up on Sundays feel special. This open mic is an all-night affair for many. Every first and third Sunday of the month, guests and musicians spend Sunday nights at the Cat shooting pool, watching old movies on the many TV’s (subtitled), drinking libations, and listening to superb local music. For late night munchies, the popular Rockers Pizza Kitchen serves pizza by the slice downstairs. The atmosphere is friendly, funky and supportive. The crowd and the performers here are an eclectic mix, much like Santa Cruz itself. Surf kids and skate rats shoot pool with punks and goths while concert goers mix with locals and sip drinks at the full bar.
The mic is open to musicians and comedians. Artists and musicians are given a 12- to 15-minute time slot and performances can last to midnight. Most of the open mic-ers play acoustic and electric guitars, and there’s actually a decent number of comedians performing here, too. The sound system is “improved,” but definitely not to the level of the Atrium and Main Room
THE UGLY MUG
Mondays; Sign Ups at 5:15pm, Performances at 5:30pm
Located in sleepy Soquel, The Ugly Mug Coffee Shop serves caffeinated drinks, homemade pastries, sandwiches and Italian gelato. Everyone seems to know each other, and everyone is welcomed. Regular Ugly Muggers are encouraged to leave their very own ugly coffee mugs on hooks next to the coffee bar, while rainbow flags fly in the windows.
This open mic has been going steady for years, and draws a different clientele than the events in downtown Santa Cruz. The Mug’s open mic is a positive and diverse event. There’s an immediate swarm at the sign-up sheet as musicians try to snag their favorite spots, so unless you want to get trampled, arrive early. The acts are mostly musical with a few comedians sprinkled in. Mug regulars describe the open mic crowd as “attentive, and friendly.” Participants are allowed three songs. The sound system and stage setup have both improved within the last year, and crowds have increased.
Seating can get limited as the night goes on as open mic-ers compete with students consuming coffee and free WiFi. Due to popular demand the venue recently began selling local craft beers to go with the requisite lattes, mochas, and espresso. By the end of the night the applause is a bit louder. Hosts unplug the mic at 8pm as the coffee house closes. Musicians pack up their things, students turn off their computers, and they step out into the chilly Soquel air; parting ways until it’s time to do it again the next week.
SANTA CRUZ FOOD LOUNGE
Every 3rd Thursday; Sign Ups at 5pm, Performances at 5:30pm
Located in the Santa Cruz Arts Center in a relatively untraveled part of downtown, the Santa Cruz Food Lounge is known for hosting creative events and lending its large commercial kitchen to local pop-ups. There’s always something tasty coming out of the kitchen on the third Thursday of the month during Open Mic Night.
Ukuleles, saxophones, stand-up basses, and keyboards are as plentiful as guitars. The large, open performance space has great acoustics which is filled by a good mix of amateurs and aces. Each performer is given a 15-minute slot, and around 15 musicians play at this elegant yet down-to earth-venue. The monthly open mics run until 9pm or even later depending on mood, performers, and business.