Summer preview: Santa Cruz snaps back into a normal-ish season of fun

A band performs during the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Friday summer concert series
A Friday night concert at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Summer returns, and we’ve got a preview of the don’t-miss events. But there are questions, as the landscape is changing. Is there an artistic renaissance just around the corner? Or are we losing our edge? Whatever happens, the summer of ’22 could be the first step toward a different future.

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Summer events guide signature graphic

In the summer of 2020, at 8 p.m. sharp every evening, the daylight still bright and inviting in the evening sky, my wife and I would drop whatever we were doing, step out onto our deck and howl like unhinged werewolves, almost always in response to neighbors from down in the canyon doing the very same thing.

In the summer of ’21, I stood with a few other bewildered but delighted souls on a golden Sunday afternoon at Seacliff Beach. Way up the cliffside facing the beach, on someone’s patio, a rock band played with energy and aplomb, amps pointed out toward the ocean. We could barely see them, and we were so few and far away, I doubt they could even hear our applause.

At least for me, these memories are already browning into nostalgia. They, and similar experiences that others have had over the past two years, hinted at a certain spirit of summer that simply would not be suppressed by the deprivations and restrictions of the pandemic. Despite the isolation and fear of the period we’d all like to forget, some of these memories are still wondrous and beautiful in their own way. But I’m confident that most people are done making pandemic memories. What we want this summer is not the extraordinary. The ordinary will do just fine.

Looking toward the summer, everyone’s favorite number this year is 19, as in 2019, that not-too-distant period back when a face mask was a football penalty (15 yards!), and social distancing meant quitting Facebook. Everyone wants 2022 to feel like 2019. If we can’t have normal, we’d be thrilled with normal-ish.

In the spirit of returning to a pre-pandemic summer, I want to invite all our Lookout members and readers in Santa Cruz County and beyond to check out my new weekly email newsletter. Beginning in April, I will send you the weekly lowdown on Santa Cruz’s wildly rich and varied arts and entertainment culture. There’s news, interviews, my picks for the best events of the week, recommendations, trivia, jokes, asides, alerts, reminders, and other nuggets of intel drawn from the people and places that make up this impossible-to-contain community. Let’s welcome the Santa Cruz we know back.

Of course, we can never really go back to 2019, and there are many reasons why we’d never want to (one of them rhymes with “dump”). The pandemic has fundamentally changed our world, and that includes Santa Cruz County. In downtown Santa Cruz, and across the county, development is bringing about new environments which might change the character of the city. Familiar businesses that helped shape the city’s personality, from The Poet & The Patriot to Saturn Cafe to India Joze, are gone forever.

It will be fascinating — at times exhilarating, sometimes frustrating, maybe even enraging or heartbreaking — to experience these changes and to attempt to recognize (or not) a familiar spirit in those new surroundings.

The same goes for the city’s cultural life. How will the post-pandemic world change or shape the battalion of artists, writers and performers in Santa Cruz County? Will scenes that once flourished — African dance, improv theater, Celtic music — revive like a dormant wisteria? Is there an artistic renaissance just around the corner? Or, as the many pessimists might say, is Santa Cruz sliding into comfortable but inert Bay Area-style anonymity, a Sunnyvale with beaches? Whatever happens, the summer of ’22 could be the first step toward a different future.

Here’s the part where we pay due respect to COVID-19. The virus could render all our speculations silly and pointless (if they aren’t already) with some unforeseen mutation or variant. Now, a new Omicron subvariant called BA.2 is spreading widely in some parts of the world and counts for a third of the cases in the U.S. (but officials, for now, don’t expect a major surge). Given how such a huge chunk of the population has lost all patience for COVID restrictions, like Batman movies, the virus could come back in a big way just when we’ve all thought we’ve seen the last of it.

Still, unlike last summer, when so many events and attractions had severe restrictions or opted entirely for virtual activities, this summer feels like a determined march back to normal (even Hearst Castle is reopening after being shuttered for two years). As for the months ahead, in the case of many familiar touchstones of the summer season, all systems are go. So, let’s have a tour — wending our way through the summer season, beginning next month — shall we?

The Quarry Amphitheater at UC Santa Cruz is set to introduce a concert series this summer.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

  • The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has not announced its plans to bring back the free Friday night concert series on the beach, but that announcement is planned for April.
  • An entirely new concert series is coming to the Quarry Amphitheater on the campus of UC Santa Cruz. That series will be announced in April as well.
  • Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz will be holding its annual Record Store Day on April 23, and Bookshop Santa Cruz will celebrate Independent Bookstore Day the following weekend, on April 30.
  • Speaking of Bookshop, it is now beginning to host more in-person events after two years of online-only author talks. Author Cara Black will be in the store to greet readers in person Wednesday, and several more are planned throughout the summer, though Bookshop says that the virtual events are quite popular and will continue alongside the in-person events.
  • Santa Cruz Pride went virtual in 2021, but it’s back in business for ’22 with a festival in Abbott Square, a film screening at the Paradox and other events, all in early June.
  • The fabulous Redwood Mountain Faire returns to the San Lorenzo Valley, to take place June 4-5 at Roaring Camp. (The Santa Cruz Mountains Sol Festival is also planning a return in September.)
  • Cabrillo Stage is reinhabiting its beautiful theater, the Crocker, after presenting its 2021 season outdoors. This summer’s big, fully staged shows include “Grease” and “Candide,” starting in late June.
  • After two years of absence, the only-in-Santa-Cruz car show Woodies on the Wharf is all set to go for the weekend of June 23-26.
    Lorenzo Roberts played King Richard II in Santa Cruz Shakespeare's 2021 production of "RII."
    (Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
  • Last summer, Santa Cruz Shakespeare held a season with small casts and limited audiences. This year, the company snaps back to pre-pandemic standards with big fully staged productions of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night,” along with Kathryn Chetkovich’s “The Formula,” beginning in July.
  • After two years of only virtual programming, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music comes back for its 60th season live and in person with two world-premiere commissions, collaborations with the celebrated vocal group Roomful of Teeth and more good stuff, at the end of July.
  • The famous Gilroy Garlic Festival has a heavier burden than other events in its efforts to return to normal. The festival was not only mothballed in 2020 and scaled back for ’21, it’s struggling to return from a tragic mass shooting in the final moments of its 2019 event. The Garlic Festival has yet to formally announce its plans for 2022.
  • The massive Outside Lands concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is ready to launch Aug. 5-7.
  • The astounding Monterey Car Week, the largest automobile show in the country, and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance are slated for a return in August.
  • After making a return in 2021, the Capitola Art & Wine Festival is on for Sept. 10 and 11. No word yet, however, on another local favorite, the Watsonville Strawberry Festival.
  • The Monterey Jazz Festival took place in 2021 with only one stage and 50% capacity. This year, the festival is planning to return to its four-stage format for its 65th season Sept. 23-25.
  • The Santa Cruz Film Festival is planning a return for October, though it’s yet to announce its lineup.
Tents dot Capitola Village during the Capitola Art & Wine Festival
Tents dot Capitola Village during the Capitola Art & Wine Festival.

As for everything else, the beaches are open, the Boardwalk is ready, the restaurants are buzzing, and summer life is about to burst open across Santa Cruz County. Check out our weekly newsletter, and let’s take the roller-coaster ride together.

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