It’s that time of year again, time to step up your holiday lights game. And that sad string of lights you purchased in 1998 — a third of which don’t even work — just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Make a plan. Embrace the season. Dazzle the neighbors.
Now, on with the show.
This Just In!
If you just have to see a live performance of “The Nutcracker” sometime in December, you are in luck this year. Besides the previously announced show from Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on Dec. 10-11, there are several performances of the famed ballet at the Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College: The Santa Cruz City Ballet at International Academy of Dance will present “The Nutcracker: Experience the Magic” at the Crocker on Dec. 17-18, and the Agape Dance Academy of Aptos will present “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 21-22. The day before that, Agape will also present “The Petite Nutcracker” with performers aged 3 to 7. See one, or see them all.
Check out my 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.
Here they are, nine necessary know-abouts for the week ahead. Welcome to the B9:
- One of Northern California’s most durable bands, The Mother Hips, returns to Moe’s Alley, on the verge of the release of an exciting new album.
- The holiday season means a lot of intriguing shopping opportunities, like the Holiday Makers Pop-up coming to Abbott Square in downtown Santa Cruz on Sunday afternoon.
- Remember the creepy horror classic from the ’70s “Suspiria”? How would you like to hear a live performance of its score with a screening of the film? You can do that.
- If you have a ticket to next week’s local appearance of the brilliant Patti Smith, lucky you. It’s officially a sold-out event.
- You might not be familiar with the sweet chill West Coast vibe of the duo Mapache. But on Friday, you can change that.
- There’s an exciting new name on the local music scene, the promising young Americana singer-songwriter Lucas Lawson, ready to unleash his debut album this weekend.
- Great opportunity to learn about the roots of the modern environmental movement with presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
- Still time to catch Mountain Community Theater’s fine new production, “Now And Then.”
- After Thanksgiving Day, there’s a palpable season change, even at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Check out the Boardwalk’s “Winter Wonderland.”
A new voice from the county line
He’s only 18, but Lucas Lawson is already launching a promising music career.
The young singer-songwriter will be making a big splash Saturday evening at the Catalyst’s front-room Atrium stage, to unveil his debut full-length album “This Dirt,” with his band The Unturned Stone, along with special guests Wild Iris and Joe Kaplow.
The album’s title is a specific reference to where Lucas calls home, on a farm in the Pie Ranch area, up Highway 1 on the county line between Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. It was there, at Pie Ranch, where he grew up steeped in the bluegrass performed live every month at a regular barn dance in the tiny tight-knit community.
“My whole identity is centered around that piece of land,” he said.
“This Dirt” is a collection of tunes best described as Americana in the singer/songwriter tradition, with a strong background in bluegrass instrumentation and sound. Among Lawson’s inspirations are the North Carolina duo Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) and the SoCal twosome the Milk Carton Kids, as well as favorite artists such as Jackson Browne and Brandi Carlile.
As far as themes of “This Dirt,” climate change looms large. Lucas was only 15 when the CZU fires struck the north coast of Santa Cruz County, and though his family’s home was spared, some of his neighbors were not so fortunate. The trauma of CZU, on top of the ordeal already imposed on him and his family by the pandemic, was formative in his artistic sensibility.
“It definitely left a pretty big impact on me,” he told me. “I’m super grateful that our home is OK, but my home is also the surrounding landscape [of Pie Ranch], and the place I call home definitely suffered a lot and that was hard to deal with.”
Lucas Lawson & the Unturned Stone features guitar, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass and pedal-steel. The new album will be available Friday, and Saturday at the Catalyst show. Lawson is currently enrolled in the music program at Cabrillo College, but he’s already got another collection of songs in his pocket that he plans to record next spring, and maybe by next summer, he and his band will be touring with two new albums.
Keep an eye on this talent as he progresses and see him play live at the Atrium on Saturday. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $15 in advance.
Earworm of the Week
The great Patti Smith is visiting Santa Cruz next week, as she has done several times in recent years. Her visit to the Rio Theatre on Tuesday — which was sold out soon after it was announced — is as much a book event as a musical one. Smith has become a literary star on top of her rock-solid status as a pioneering figure in punk rock. As much as I love her as a writer, I’m still drawn to her formidable musical catalogue. You might know her iconic albums from the 1970s, like “Horses” or “Easter.” But a song I return to, again and again, comes from her 2000 album “Gung Ho.” It’s called “Strange Messengers,” and it’s a ferocious and mournful 8-minute-long anthem that dives into America’s bitter legacy when it comes to slavery. Evoking images of the colonial slave trade, it’s a deeply haunting wallop of moral indignation and anguish that works as a kind of bookend to the classic jazz song “Strange Fruit.” And, with her moaning and ghostly outrage, Smith becomes a kind of keening widow and exorcising priestess of American history. It’s a potent and utterly gripping song that demands a close listen and an emotional engagement. It’s also a high point in Patti Smith’s often overlooked late-1990s renaissance when, facing middle age, she produced some emotionally powerful and deeply reflective music, fueled by grief and the grace that comes from maturity. If you’re wowed by “Strange Messengers” — and my bet is that you will be — take a spin with her most fruitful period with the albums “Gone Again,” “Peace and Noise,” and “Gung Ho.”
Where in Santa Cruz County Am I?
So how well do you notice the little things when you’re out and about across Santa Cruz County? We’ll post images from places that are accessible to the public somewhere in Santa Cruz County. You tell us where it is, as specifically as you can … or, better yet, send us your own photo of the same thing.
Wait, is there more than one cement ship in Aptos? Where is this one above?
Last week’s answer: Images of surfers are not exactly rare in Santa Cruz, but do you recognize the guy above?
Though it’s kind of at shin level and easy to miss (unless you’re a dog), this surfer image sits at what amounts to the Times Square of Santa Cruz’s Eastside surf scene.
It’s the Pleasure Point marker near the bathrooms on East Cliff Drive, just across from The Point Market (or what old-timers might call Elizabeth’s Market), the breakfast burritos from which are the point of much pleasure from locals and visitors alike.
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.