Just a friendly reminder that the best holiday gifts can be experiences rather than things. Take your loved ones to a show close to home — grumpy comedy from Lewis Black, sublime guitar from Leo Kottke, blues from the legendary Bonnie Raitt. Those and more are on the horizon. And tickets don’t spoil, don’t need batteries, and they’re never the wrong size.
Now, on with the show.
This Just In!
Yes, he was in the ensemble of the great NBC comedy “The Office,” but fans of creepy Creed Bratton might be surprised to learn he’s also an accomplished singer-songwriter, from his days in the 1960s group The Grass Roots. Bratton, in all his Creed-ness, visits the Felton Music Hall on April 7. You might recognize the name GZA from his days in the Wu-Tang Clan; he comes to the Catalyst on Jan. 21. The fine Bay Area rapper Lyrics Born returns to Moe’s Alley on March 11. And the Kuumbwa Jazz Center is holding a special event for Black History Month, with back-to-back dates of music and conversation with vocalist Elena Pinderhughes.
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:
- The circus is coming to town! The acrobatic, high-flying Flynn Creek Circus opens a three-week run in Capitola.
- Top-drawer stand-up comedy comes to the Catalyst in the person of Hari Kondabolu.
- Yep, you read that right: The hot dance/punk band coming to Felton is called !!! and if you want to pronounce it, think of trying to start a car with a dead battery.
- The Rio turns into a center of worship and celebration with the free event Christmas at the Rio on Sunday morning.
- They are special and they’re certainly fun, and they’re the quintessential Santa Cruz party band.
- Holy Cross Church comes alive with the joy of the season, thanks to the Santa Cruz Chorale.
- Looking for a Christmas event your mom will absolutely hate? This benefit concert of punk bands playing the songs of The Misfits will do the trick.
- Live blues feels right on Sunday afternoons, especially when you’re hanging out with harmonica monster Mark Hummel.
- Have you seen your favorite version of “The Nutcracker” this year? You’ve still got several shots at it.
The Whites of ‘White Lotus’
Is there a Santa Cruz angle to the lurid HBO drama “The White Lotus”? You bet there is. The show’s lead writer and showrunner is actor/screenwriter Mike White, one of Hollywood’s biggest players these days, thanks to the buzz generated by “White Lotus.” Mike White’s dad is Mel White, who grew up in Santa Cruz in the 1950s and ’60s (Mel’s father, and Mike’s grandfather, was former Santa Cruz mayor Carl White). If Mike White’s story of rising to fame in Hollywood is amazing, Mel’s story might be even more so. Mel White was a conservative evangelical who was a ghostwriter and advisor to some of the biggest names in the Christian right, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
But White had a secret. He was gay. For years, he tried to “cure” himself with aversion therapy that included electric shock treatment. Finally, he had an epiphany, embraced his sexuality, and walked away from the Christian right, earning him condemnation from both religious conservatives who thought of him as a heretic and progressive LGBT activists who viewed him as an apologist for homophobic religious leaders. Eventually, he devoted his life to opening the church to gay people and preaching tolerance and acceptance to conservative Christians. He has also written several books on the struggles of being gay and Christian.
Mel White is now 82 and lives with his husband, Gary Nixon, in the Palm Springs area. He is suffering from several medical maladies, most prominently dementia. His life bridging two mutually suspicious communities would make a great movie, and it’s a safe bet that’s crossed the mind of his son, the big Hollywood showrunner. Memo to Mike: Maybe it’s time to expend a bit of that “White Lotus” capital and get a film about your father made. We here in Santa Cruz will be the first in line to see it.
The three-dot gazette
Thursday night is the latest launch event for the quarterly Catamaran Literary Reader, featuring many local and regional writers reading their work. And this one’s an online-only event …
Also Thursday night is downtown Santa Cruz’s Ugly Sweater Pub Crawl and Scavenger Hunt, with a lot of bars and restaurants taking part. If you don’t have an ugly sweater, I got plenty …
Avant-garde, experimental, bleeding-edge, call it what you will, but the adventurous Santa Cruz arts organization Indexical has big plans for the new year, beginning with the trans-punk musical called “City of Lost Souls,” and the visionary poet artist Mimi Tempestt. Make it a New Year’s resolution to experience more Indexical …
Earworm of the Week
December is the month of happy music, or at least warmhearted music about red-nosed ruminants and such. You may, as a rule, love holiday music or you may think of it as a mass exercise in forced gaiety with a cold consumerist cynicism at its core. But there’s no denying that all that piped-in Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole every year drowns out the natural melancholy of the month. It’s the end of another year, the beginning of a long winter, when daylight is scarce and heartache is a little harder to ignore. We should all feel a little blue in December. To indulge a bit in that wistful kind of sorrow, I always turn to Mazzy Star’s “Flowers in December,” the stately beauty of which I just cannot exaggerate. Mazzy Star was the duo of the luminous but enigmatic Hope Sandoval and the late David Roback. And though they created some wonderful music in the 1990s, “Flowers,” in my mind, remains their masterpiece. It doesn’t belong on your Christmas playlist, but in quieter moments, with a sleepy rhythm and Sandoval’s ghostly vocals, sorrow never tasted sweeter. On a personal note, this song always reminds me of my beloved daughter, born years ago in a deep and dark December, who lives far away now. I won’t be seeing her this holiday season in person, and this song — any song — is a poor substitute. But I’ll turn it to it again this December, hoping that sorrow now will be offset by joy somewhere down the line.
The Songs of My Life
Thanks to all who’ve responded so positively to my Earworm of the Week song suggestions this year. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I sat down and listed my favorite songs from each year of my lifetime, and found it to be a satisfying, even illuminating exercise. (To be clear, these are my favorite songs now, listed according to the year they were released, not my favorite songs during each year of my life. That would be a more embarrassing list, at least in the earliest years.) I’m happy to share my long list of songs from each year I’ve been on the planet, and I encourage you to do the same. I’d love to see what you came up with. Email me at email@example.com and I’ll share my list of Songs of My Life.
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.
Have you seen the freaky dude above around town?
Last week’s answer: In mid-century America, one would see signs like the one above in many public places. Today, they’re pretty rare.
Locally, you can spy one on a private home on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, between Fair and De La Costa avenues. Once upon a time, they were indicators of a nearby fallout shelter, a building that had been designated by the federal government as a suitable place to shelter during a nuclear attack, presumably at the hands of the Soviet Union. Today, they are little more than conversation pieces, and you can snag one on eBay for about $30. We’ve certainly come a long way, baby.
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.