Quick Take:

The Sept. 29 edition of Midtown Fridays will be double the size of the usual block party along Soquel Avenue, with Santa Cruz legend James Durbin headlining and 30 vendors lined up. All that comes as organizer Matthew Swinnerton celebrates 10 years in business for his one-man company, Event Santa Cruz. “We have a lot of manufactured experiences to connect people,” Swinnerton says of the current scene and how Event Santa Cruz aims to be different. “And I always wanted to make sure ours were genuine.”

Event Santa Cruz’s weekly big Midtown Fridays comes to an end on Sept. 29, putting an exclamation point on the summer of 2023 at the lot at 1111 Soquel Ave. The blowout bash will feature live music from Santa Cruz rocker James Durbin and his band The Lost Boys, as well as singer and rapper Alwa Gordon.

The jams and good vibes have been happening every Friday all summer long, but the Sept. 29 party is special to Event Santa Cruz founder/director Matthew Swinnerton because it marks the 10-year anniversary of his business.

Next week’s bash will be a bit bigger than the weekly parties that have been livening up the Midtown commercial corridor this summer. Swinnerton said that the event will be expanded to include the entire parking lot on Soquel at Cayuga Street, doubling its space from previous weeks. “We’ll have over 30 vendors there. And we have two bands, he said. “We’re going to try to do a huge sing-along. James Durbin is going to pick a song, so we’re going to something like 2,000 people all singing along to like one song. I think that would be pretty epic.”

Event Santa Cruz began back in 2013 as a much different venture. Then, it was all about inspiring audiences with testimonials and talks from local professionals and entrepreneurs on how they made exciting things happen in Santa Cruz County. The pandemic changed how people viewed such in-person events, and Swinnerton changed to offer local people the one thing that online culture could not bring them: in-person opportunities for social connections and fun.

“I didn’t do one Zoom event [during the pandemic],” he said, “because I feel like it did not represent what Event Santa Cruz is. I can’t give a hug to person. I can’t share a beer with somebody. And I think also, we have a lot of manufactured experiences to connect people. And I always wanted to make sure ours were genuine. I didn’t want a name tag. I didn’t want a business cards to be passed out in the event. I just want people to talk and I feel like that’s a real genuine interaction that can grow to something. So whether it’s a music event, or it’s an entrepreneur [gathering], a speaker series, a small-business summit … whatever it is that we’re doing it’s about really connecting people in a genuine way.”

In between, Swinnerton has worked to bring a higher profile to dozens of local artists, chefs, performers and entrepreneurs. Before social media and the internet swallowed everything, these kinds of events were how people created and maintained relationships. They emerged much more naturally, but now it takes a bit more deliberate effort to make those things happen, and locals have Event Santa Cruz to thank for that.

Swinnerton said he is poised to change things up at Event Santa Cruz. If you’re trying to seed social events, change, he said, has to be embraced. “No matter what,” he said of the future of his one-man company, “it has to change, I mean, it’s been 10 years. I think, just in general, people need to be motivated. I need to be motivated. And so I have to change, whether it’s by getting a partner, whether we do different kinds of events, whether we expand on the events we’re doing. I can’t just do the same things over and over.”

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Wallace reports and writes not only across his familiar areas of deep interest — including arts, entertainment and culture — but also is chronicling for Lookout the challenges the people of Santa Cruz...