The legendary Taj Mahal plays Roaring Camp on Saturday.
(Handout)
The Here & Now

Happy Birthday, America: Fourth of July weekend events in live entertainment

From live music aplenty to a First Friday photo exhibit, this long weekend promises to be full of excitement and entertainment for the whole family.

Here we are again at the birthday of the grand ole U.S. of A.— that’s 245 candles on the cake, if you’re keeping score. In retrospect, it was so thoughtful of the Founders to establish a three-day weekend right when summer is just hitting its stride. As Bill & Ted might say, “Thanks, Declaration dudes!”

Here’s a little bit of what’s happening this Independence Day weekend around Santa Cruz County:

Though his name evokes faraway places, there might be no more deeply American musician than the great bluesman TAJ MAHAL. Born in Harlem to a musical family nearly 80 years ago, Taj has crafted a style uniquely his own, blending acoustic Delta blues with a variety of flavors from Caribbean to African to Polynesian. He’s been rejuvenated in recent years by his collaborations with fellow blues genius Keb’ Mo’. Taj has played Santa Cruz countless times over the years and returns Saturday afternoon, performing at the beautiful outdoor stage at Roaring Camp, in a show produced by Felton Music Hall. Opening is Guatamala-born singer/songwriter Gaby Moreno. Showtime is 5 p.m.

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Headlining the afterparty following the Taj Mahal show, back at Felton Music Hall on Saturday evening, will be the fine acoustic soul band WOLF JETT. The local band lost almost everything in the devastating CZU fires last summer. But it hasn’t stopped them from making music, rising from the ashes of loss to create a bracing new album that expertly mixes shades of bluegrass, soul, gospel and country, a sound frontman Chris Jones likes to call “cosmic street gospel.” With the pandemic pause over, Wolf Jett can now focus on unleashing its debut album on the world. The show is free, too. Showtime is 9:30 p.m.

A Crystal Birns photograph of a young dancer
Photographer Crystal Birns brings her show of portraits of young dancers to the Radius Gallery at the Tannery Arts Center for one night only Friday.
(Crystal Birns)

In pre-pandemic times, First Friday Santa Cruz was a showcase monthly event highlighting the creativity of local visual artists. First Friday is now emerging from its hibernation with events including an eye-opening show of photography at the Radius Gallery at the Tannery Arts Center. Photographer CRYSTAL BIRNS turned her eye to the young dancers of the neighboring Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center for a series of beguiling portraits. The photo show comes to the Radius for one night only on Friday. The event takes place from 6-9 p.m.

Those who like their country music with some mid-century twang might like HANK & ELLA WITH THE FINE COUNTRY BAND, a local group that blends original songs with a style borrowed from old honky-tonk Nashville. H&E are looking to have a big year coming out of the pandemic. They play Moe’s Alley’s new outdoor space, The Yard, on Friday. Showtime is 7 p.m.

Hank & Ella with the Fine Country Band play the Yard at Moe's Alley on Friday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

There’s a nice live music scene emerging out in Corralitos at El Vaquero Winery. On Friday, well-known local singer/songwriter and KPIG programmer MICHAEL GAITHER teams up with soulful singer ALEX LUCERO for an intimate summer evening of songs from the catalogues of Van Morrison and Tom Petty, with food from the popular food truck My Mom’s Mole. Showtime is 6 p.m.

If you (a) have lived in Santa Cruz County for a while and (b) like to dance, then you need no introduction to SAMBADA, the great Afro-Brazilian group that has delighted local audiences for the better part of two decades. From their home base in Santa Cruz, the musicians of SambaDá have been uniting South American and African sounds for grateful audiences, fueled by the charismatic dancer and singer Dandha de Hora and capoeira master Papiba Godinho. They perform live at Michael’s on Main in Soquel on Saturday. Showtime is 8 p.m.