Wallace Baine

Weekender: Watsonville’s star turn, Nina Simon catches a wave and getting bookish at Discretion

Hi friends,

Memo to Burning Man: There’s this concept you guys should look into. Let’s call it a “natural lifespan.” Things do end, you know, and that’s not always bad. There comes a time to take a bow and make a dignified exit, though “dignified” is probably too late in your case. There is a steep price for enduring just for the sake of enduring. Ask any vampire, or zombie. Food for thought.

Now, on with the show.

This Just In!

Everyone’s favorite Monterey Bay cultural historian, Sandy Lydon, comes to the Rio on Oct. 14. YouTube sensation Casey Frey will perform at the Rio on Oct. 20. Polynesian reggae artist Sammy Johnson will play the Catalyst on Dec. 14. And the fine R&B/soul singer Lee Fields will drop into the Rio on Dec. 29.

Be sure to check out Lookout’s carefully curated and constantly updated planning guide, Down the Line, for the staggering riches and amazing choices awaiting Santa Cruz audiences. It’s our look ahead at the best shows, concerts and events through the rest of the year at clubs, stages and venues all over the county.

The logo for Baine's Nine

B9: What’s what in the week ahead

Here they are, nine necessary know-abouts for the week ahead. It’s the wait-it’s-football-season-already? B9:

  1. September is a glorious time to experience Capitola Village, and a little art and wine only makes it better.
  2. Fantastic gathering of NorCal talent on display with the Duo Quartet at the Kuumbwa.
  3. Writer Megan Kakimoto has an innate sense of the haunting grace of Hawaii, and she gives us all a sense of it in her new story collection.
  4. Jamaica-born veteran singer and rapper Kabaka Pyramid finds his sweet spot somewhere on the continuum between reggae and hip-hop. Moe’s Alley has him for two nights.
  5. If you’re a fan of gypsy jazz guitar, I don’t have to tell you who Bireli Lagrene is, do I?
  6. One of Nashville’s brightest new voices, Ashley Cooke, comes to the Catalyst in the wake of her attention-getting new album, “Shot in the Dark.”
  7. Sometimes, the best way to celebrate the wonders of the ocean is to go indoors.
  8. Tony Camin, the comedic mind behind “The Marijuana Monologues,” highlights the third and final “Laughternoon” comedy special outdoors at London Nelson.
  9. Call it “surfing concrete.” It’s the Tim Brauch Memorial Bowl showcasing the best in the art of skateboarding, live Saturday and Sunday at Mike Fox Skate Park.
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(The Catalyst Club)

More than just the fair: Cultural events take center stage in Watsonville’s big upcoming weekend

Beginning with next Friday’s Fiesta Mexicana at the downtown plaza, continuing Saturday with a celebration of music and culture at the Mello Center and winding up Sunday with a Mexican Independence Day festival, next weekend is shaping up to be an excellent time to visit Watsonville. And the Santa Cruz County Fair is happening, too. Get more details here.

Everything’s Nina

Nina Simon, former director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and now author of "Mother-Daughter Murder Night"
Nina Simon, former director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and now author of “Mother-Daughter Murder Night.”
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sept. 5 is likely to live on for a quite a while in the memory of Santa Cruz writer Nina Simon. That was the day that her new novel, “Mother-Daughter Murder Mystery,” was published. It was also the day that Reese Witherspoon announced that the book was her choice for September’s book of the month at Reese’s Book Club, giving the book a big national profile. And, to top it all off, that evening Simon also spoke to a jammed house at Bookshop Santa Cruz to celebrate the novel’s publication. By her side at the event was her mother, Sarina Simon.

Sure, it’s always a big thrill for an author to have her mom on hand at her first book signing. But in this case, Sarina was both a muse and a quasi-collaborator. Nina wrote the book while caring for her mom who, back in 2020, was undergoing aggressive treatment for cancer.

Bookshop’s Chorel Centers reports that the crowd that turned out to see Simon numbered around 150 — a big number for Bookshop’s author talks. And almost every one of them bought a copy of the book — an almost unheard-of percentage. Nina spoke with obvious emotion when referring to her mom and her struggle, and the crowd was right there with her.

Yep, it was a night to remember in the Simon family. Best wishes to Nina aboard her rocketship to literary stardom.

Meetup for book lovers

On Thursday, Sept. 14, Bookshop is hosting an intriguing event at Discretion Brewing in Soquel. It’s called the Fall Reading Challenge Mixer, where Bookshop staff will introduce eight new tantalizing titles and challenge readers to finish two of them in a month in order to raise money to stop book banning.

That’s all well and good, but the value of events like this is that it creates what so many people crave but can rarely find these days, meet-and-greet social events that put people with a common passion in one room together. Whether you’re looking for your next great read or a bookish soulmate, try this strategy if you fall on the introvert side. Show up carrying a beloved book. Give it at least as much thought as you give your outfit for the evening. It will either be a magnet of interest from a potential new friend, or a good fallback in case the party’s a dud. You’re welcome.

Earworm of the Week

It was 12 years ago this month that a Santa Cruz performer named Chris Rene began his monthslong seduction of the American television audience as a contestant on the talent show “The X Factor,” ultimately finishing just shy of the top prize. Amazingly, it was the second time that supposedly rare phenomenon took place that year, after a different Santa Cruz singer (James Durbin) on a different talent show (“American Idol”). At the time, Rene told me that his journey to “The X Factor” began while he was in drug rehab, overhearing the crowd reacting to Durbin playing live at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk after his “Idol” odyssey. Ultimately, “The X Factor” experience landed Rene a record contract and a chance to work with the great producer L.A. Reid. And because of that recording, we can enjoy Rene’s signature song, the wonderfully warm and upbeat “Young Homie,” an inspiring testament that it’s possible to transcend addiction, crime and violence with hope and hard work. The video will bring all kinds of pleasure to those familiar with Santa Cruz, but the song’s lasting legacy is the well-earned, almost ecstatic joy from a guy who — both before his “X Factor” fame and since — has seen his share of pain and struggle. This song is a big intoxicating shot of love and faith, and it sounds as fresh as ever today. As Rene sings, “Life’s too short/Gotta live it long,” or, even more succinctly, as tattooed on his knuckles: “Love Life.” Long may you reign, “Young Homie.”

Santa Cruz County Trivia

Santa Cruz was included in more than a dozen surf-spot shoutouts in the Beach Boys’ 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA.” Of all the others, which one is closest to Santa Cruz on the map?

A sign on the UC Santa Cruz campus
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Last week: What was the nickname for UC Santa Cruz, coined in its first year? It was “Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp” (get it? “UCSC”). That not-always-affectionate nickname was a reference to the less-than-luxurious accommodations on campus and the sense of isolation many students felt from the rest of the city. Cowell was the first of UCSC’s Oxford-style colleges, and it was contained pretty much to a collection of trailers in what is now the East Field.


That’s all I got, friends. Come at me with comments, ideas, complaints, or thundering insights. Thanks to all Lookout members for your faith and support, and please, spread the word on what we’re doing.