The Here & Now

Halloween revelry returns to downtown Santa Cruz after pandemic pause

After a year’s interruption courtesy of the COVID-19 virus, downtown Santa Cruz resumed its distinctive love affair with Halloween on Sunday with big, festive crowds, lots of party music, and a processional of costumed revelers that looked like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of the damned.

It was the kind of night where Wonder Woman could stand between Super Mario and Neptune the Sea God in line for tacos at Los Pericos and not generate much attention. Only on Halloween does the bizarre turn into the commonplace, and few cities, if any, are as comfortable with the bizarre becoming the commonplace as Santa Cruz.

After a year’s interruption courtesy of the COVID-19 virus, downtown Santa Cruz resumed its distinctive love affair with Halloween on Sunday with big, festive crowds, lots of party music, and a processional of costumed revelers that looked like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of the damned. For the first time in two years, there were more masks covering eyes than those covering mouths and noses.

Whether Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz somehow reverts to its pre-pandemic ways on Sunday evening or not, it...

The 2021 version of Halloween in Santa Cruz felt subtly different than recent years in that this year Pacific Avenue was not closed to vehicular traffic, as it had been for several years on Halloween, in anticipation of smaller-than-usual crowds in the wake of the pandemic. Indeed, the crowds did not feel as all-enveloping as in past years. But pity anyone in a car on Pacific who had to get somewhere in a hurry, as some witches, pirates, and Teletubbies spilled out into the streets anyway.

The fun began in the afternoon with a more family vibe as kids, young and not so young, scored with candy offered by costumed downtown merchants right there on the sidewalk. The store-bought and thrown-together costumes soon gave way to more elaborate showcase presentations.

Sure, there were ninjas and astronauts and demented clowns. But a few folks went for the deep cuts, such as characters from the animated fantasy TV series “Over the Garden Wall” (points for originality). One group of friends came as the roster of Disney villains including a Maleficent, a pre-teen Cruella, and a painted-purple Ursula from “The Little Mermaid.” “We couldn’t get Scar (from “The Lion King”),” joked Jafar from “Aladdin.”

Halloween revelry returns to Santa Cruz after a pause during the pandemic.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As night fell, a party mood began to take shape, as live and recorded music began issuing from various nodes along Pacific. At Cooper Street and Pacific, activist and well-known downtown figure Curtis Reliford misread the crowd’s mood with a confrontational political exhortation in which he tried to get the crowd to chant with him “Love! Peace! Compassion!” Reliford was clearly frustrated with the crowd’s indifference but, to his credit, he soon surrendered to the prevailing mood and began playing Michael Jackson music over his PA system, attracting scores of pogo-ing dancers.

Every block, it seemed, had its own musical entertainment. A group of UC Santa Cruz a cappella singers sang “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” near El Palomar, a four-piece band played by Forever 21, a small rock combo torched “Black Magic Woman” out in front of New Leaf, a drum circle dominated a small patch near the Cafe Campesino kiosk, a nine-piece salsa band was parked out front of the Del Mar, and the Kuzanga vibraphone band had five marimbas all going at once near, appropriately enough, Five Guys. Over at Abbott Square, meanwhile, the funk band Superbloom was killing it while dressed as the famous foursome from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Halloween revelry returns to Santa Cruz after a pause during the pandemic.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

All the while, the costumes kept coming. The only nod I saw to the trauma of the pandemic was one guy wearing a jacket on the back of which was scrawled the word “Variant” (not everyone put in full effort). Otherwise, it was the mishmash of imagery that was more dazzling than any one particular outfit: Medusa trailed by Jerry Garcia, followed by Austin Powers, then by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Five Santa Cruz police officers (in legit uniforms, not costumes) agreed to pose for a photo with a zombie and a corpse bride. That’s how they do Halloween in Santa Cruz. Everybody was grinning, even the undead.

Presented by UC Santa Cruz

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