The band Dark Star Orchestra will kick off the Felton Roaring Camp music series May 7, 8 and 9.
(Felton Music Hall)
The Here & Now

Felton Music Hall’s new outdoor live-music summer series at Roaring Camp a step toward ‘normal’

Felton Music Hall has designed a pod-based live experience to keep music fans safely distanced as they enjoy the bands they remember from pre-pandemic times.

Santa Cruz County’s second most famous theme park will be the setting of a live music series that’s beginning to sound a lot like pre-pandemic normal. The best part is that it starts next month.

Felton Music Hall, an ambitious new music venue that opened just eight months before the shutdown, is staging a series of shows at Felton’s beautiful Roaring Camp Railroads. The first dates are a three-night run by one of the West Coast’s premier Grateful Dead cover bands (and a pre-pandemic Santa Cruz fave) Dark Star Orchestra. Those dates are May 7 through May 9.

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However, given that pandemic protocols are still in place across California, the Roaring Camp shows won’t remind anyone of Woodstock just yet. The crowd for the outdoor shows will be separated into “pods,” distanced by six feet on all sides. Food and beverage can be ordered via text, minimizing wandering from your assigned pod, with masks required outside the boundaries of each individual pod.

Thomas Cussins, Felton Music Hall’s co-owner, said that safety is still the top consideration to create a worry-free live-music experience. “In an outdoor setting like (Roaring Camp),” he said, “this is going to be safer than going to the beach.”

The line-up for the Roaring Camp series, features 14 musical acts, many of them familiar names to local live-music fans from having performed in Santa Cruz County for years. It includes the lively LA Latino hip-hop band Ozomatli, legendary bluesman Taj Mahal, one of Santa Cruz’s most enduring local band The Expendables, and the gifted country/folk singer/songwriter John Craigie, among many others. The series stretches into the last weekend of July.

A look at how "pods" will be spread out for Felton Music Hall's series at Roaring Camp.
(Felton Music Hall)

“Everybody at Roaring Camp has been super-supportive,” said Cussins, “and the community so far has responded with immense support. We’re really feeling like these shows are going to do very well and going to be a great way to get back to concerts.”

It’s been a long time since Cussins and his staff could feel any kind of excitement for the future. The Felton Music Hall opened in mid-summer 2019 with an eye to developing a thriving venue that attracted national as well as regional and local music acts. In their first few months, FMH brought in a wide range of acts from movie-star-turned-country-singer Billy Bob Thornton to grunge proto-heroes The Melvins. Before the new venue could find its identity and penetrate the consciousness of a wider local audience, the pandemic put everything in the deep freeze.

Today, Felton Music Hall is offering dinner-and-a-show evenings of live music with limited capacity as part of baby steps toward resuming what was once a promising venture.

Cussins said that hope is certainly the theme of everything that his venue is now involved in, but there’s no place for complacency. “This is actually the absolute hardest time,” he said. “Because, despite seeing everything possibly happening again, we are entering the 13th month of our core business being completely shut down. So, although we can see the ending, this is still the toughest time to be an independent venue.”

IF YOU GO: Check out Felton Music Hall’s upcoming calendar of live events, as well as its Roaring Camp Summer Music Series.