Photos by DanielNuWinPhotography for Santa Cruz Music Festival | Written by Mark Apuzzo
The Santa Cruz Music Festival was one of the most laid back, enjoyable festivals I’ve been to in a very long time. I was pretty surprised by this because the festival was setup throughout downtown Santa Cruz. I expected the distances to start to take a toll, however it was never an issue. In addition, the weather for the weekend could not have been any more perfect. It was a balmy 70 degrees during the day. So it was warm enough to be walking around in whatever you please, but never hot enough to feel uncomfortable. These gorgeous, sunshiny days made it ideal to be outside, so walking from venue to venue was quite enjoyable. With 19 different “stages” spread throughout 15 unique venues, there was always somewhere to go or someone to see at the Santa Cruz Music Fest. If you were feeling lazy, or just very particular towards one style of music, you could just as easily spend the whole day and night at the three main venues: The Catalyst, San Lorenzo Park or the Civic Auditorium. And if you were willing to shell out a few extra bucks, you could add Hotel Paradox into the mix.
The “Home Bass” for Santa Cruz Music Fest
San Lorenzo Park
I started both my days at the outdoor, party bus stage in San Lorenzo Park. The festival was setup so that San Lorenzo Park had the focus in the beginning of the day. As the sun began to set, the music would move indoors to the other two main stages. In my opinion, San Lorenzo Park felt like the home base for the festival. The atmosphere there was what I believe most people would imagine when they think of a festival. It was laid out in a swath of grass, lined by trees between a walking path through the park and the gently ambling San Lorenzo River. This little corner of Santa Cruz felt like the perfect little hideaway from the city. You could kick off your shoes and feel the grass between your toes. It’s possible that you could string up a hammock and enjoy a cold drink from the bars or vendors. Or most importantly, you could just get down and dirty to some dope music.
Bubbles & The Bounce Car
On the one end of San Lorenzo Park was a huge RV-turned-stage called the Bounce Car. It was decked out with a disco ball positioned as the third eye of gorilla, psychedelic elephants, and my personal favorite part – two bubble machines. The Bounce Car was bumping out a blend of Trance club-style mixes for the majority of the weekend. Music from artists such as Christian Martin, Mikey Lion, Lubelski, Mr. Bounceman and more had the crowds moving and grooving. With their superb mixes of deep bass drops, light ethereal rhythms and consistent beats, it was perfect for shufflers and average joes alike.
Plus, The Best Thing I Didn’t Know I Needed
The music wasn’t the only thing to do there though. There were a good amount of art and merch vendors and cannabis dispensaries. In addition, there were brands and healing/meditation areas for folks to wander in and out of. I found myself drawn into a yoga meditation practice on Saturday afternoon. Surprisingly, it ended up being the best thing I didn’t know I needed. As we were guided through breathing, stretching, and visualization exercises I found all of my conscious and subconscious stresses melting away. With the beat of the music in the background I found myself entering a space of pure joy and bliss. The Emerald Sisters Collective ran most of the healing and meditation practices and spaces. However, Wormhole Cares also partnered with them helping to lead practices and promote their lifestyle of safe festing.
The Endless Pool [& After] Parties
Just behind San Lorenzo Park, no more than a 2 or 3 minute walk, was the Hotel Paradox. It hosted a pool party during the day, the after-parties at night and a series of Cannabis related talks and workshops. It was the official hotel for the festival so the pool party was filled with all the squads staying at the hotel, getting their pregame on for the day. The pool parties ran from 8am – 8pm but didn’t have any major headlining names nor consistent genres. Whenever I stopped in, however, the tracks were always fresh and the party was always popping. You could get edibles, alcohol and food while chilling poolside so the temptation to stay there all day was strong. But there were many places to go and artists to see.
The Hotel Afterparties
We would be back at the end of the night for wildness of the after-parties. And let me tell you: they were crazy. Nasty Nasty’s set brought the roof down with the sheer power of the bass bombs he was dropping. Naughty Princess had all the couples feeling good as she seduced the crowd with her sexy, Trap-House style. Lastly, The Funk Hunters took you to funkytown with their unique blend of live instruments and heavy, spacey bass drops. There were several others playing until (almost) sunrise for the dedicated partiers there who think sleep is for the weak.
One of Santa Cruz’s Premier Clubs
A 5-10 minute walk will get you to the Catalyst, located in the heart of Downtown Santa Cruz. The Catalyst was the host of 3 different stages. As one of Santa Cruz’s premier clubs, this made perfect sense. The upstairs opened up first at 4pm and was primarily club style house, bass, and trap. At 7pm the Atrium and the Main Stage opened up. Each of these stages sported a table from cannabis company Santa Cruz Naturals as well as the usual merch tables.
The “Go-To Spot” for All your Bass Needs
The Catalyst was the spot to go for all of your Bass needs. All throughout the weekend we got tastes of the full spectrum of Bass music. The Atrium had DJs such as Youngsta, Eazybaked, Sumthin Sumthin, and Lost Ones; each bringing their own unique flair to Bass music. The Main Stage had headliners Zeke Beats and Minnesota on Saturday night. I was so hyped to hear Zeke Beats drop an unreleased track with The Glitch Mob, a true masterpiece crafted by genius minds. Minnesota opened a realm of Space Bass all his own, transporting the crowd to another dimension with his uniquely crafted sounds and expert choice of samples. Sunday’s headliners were Thriftworks and Shlump. These two guys gave the headbangers what we wanted with dubstep that would’ve made the OG’s proud. Earth shattering drops painted with a rainbow of lights, lasers, and visuals made everyone in the place lose their collective shit in the best possible ways.
The Civic Auditorium
The Civic Auditorium was the most isolated of the main venues. A quarter mile from Downtown Santa Cruz’s main road, the Auditorium was about 7-10 minutes from either the Catalyst or San Lorenzo Park. In the cool October air, however, the walk was really refreshing after the heat of whichever building you were in.
Rights in the Feels, and then Right Back Up
The artists at the Civic Auditorium had their own unique sound and style. Sweater Beats utilization of samples from many classic pop punk and alternative tracks had every 90’s baby in the place tripping down memory lane. Louis Futon, Hippie Sabotage and Funk Hunters were some of my personal favorites of the weekend. They all had amazing funk vibes, playing a spread of instruments from electric guitar and keys to trumpet and clarinet. Jai Wolf and Autograf were probably the most classic house sets of the weekend in the Auditorium. They gave us songs that hit you right in the feels but always brought you right back up with drops to refresh your soul.
More Venues to Choose From
Aside from these larger venues at the Santa Cruz Music Fest there were several other smaller venues participating in the weekend, most of these were bars, pubs, and restaurants.
DJs and Rock Bands
The Blue Lagoon, Rosie McCanns, Café Mare, and Motiv were all large enough bars that they had a room for the music separated from the main bar. Rosie’s, Café Mare and Motiv had a blend of DJ’s and The Blue Lagoon housed several different rock bands.
For the Acoustics
99 Bottles, Woodstock’s Pizza, Poet & Patriot, and The Reef were all smaller bars and restaurants that had mainly acoustic sets, setup right next to the seating. These spots were great if you wanted to take a bit of a break and sit down for a bite to eat or a better selection of drinks. Plus, there’s nothing quite like sitting right in front of a solo acoustic artist as they sing a song and you feel like they’re singing it straight to you.
Abbot Square was an outdoor plaza area nestled right into a corner of the city, off Pacific Ave. This stage was instrumental bands, but because we were outside there was more room for bigger bands and electric instruments versus the mainly acoustic bands who played the indoor venues.
The Pool Hall
Surf City Billiards was a pool hall right next to the Catalyst. This space was definitely the largest of the smaller venues for the Santa Cruz Music Fest but it felt like it worked against the artists who played there because when there weren’t many people there it made the empty space seem much more apparent. I’m guessing due to the fact that it’s so close to the Catalyst most people were spending their time in there if they were in that area past 7.
Last but not Least: the Record Shop
The last of the small venues and probably my favorite of them was Streetlight Records, a record shop a few minutes from the Catalyst. They had cleared out a small space in the rows of records for the bands and the rest of us just stood in the aisles. It sounds odd, but being surrounded by all these albums from hundreds of different artists spanning generations felt like the most appropriate place to listen to live music. You could feel that energy in the room, brought to life by the musicians.
All of these different artists and venues culminated into one beautiful weekend at the Santa Cruz Music Fest.
The days were warm and the nights brought on the best kind of heat. The pace of the weekend was whatever you chose, come and go as you please, when you please. Wherever you went you were sure to find a mix of your favorite types of music and stuff you’ve never heard before. If you’re looking for fresh festival, unlike any other out there, look no further than Santa Cruz Music Fest in 2020!