By Mat Weir
Three years out from the pandemic lockdowns and many of us are still trying to process the past while catching up to the present. But locally, one of the positives to come out of the post-lockdown world is the Midtown Fridays Summer Block Parties. The weekly event just celebrated its second year highlighting the shops and tastes of Midtown Santa Cruz paired with the sounds of some of the area’s hottest music.
Fresh off the heels of the Midtown Fridays Summer Block Parties success, the City of Santa Cruz, Downtown Santa Cruz Association and Event Santa Cruz are proud to present the next installment in local entertainment, Downtown Fridays!
However, don’t call this a repeat.
“The difference is with Downtown Fridays, a whole collective of businesses are coming together to throw a party,” explains Event Santa Cruz’s Matthew Swinerton.
“This is such a community effort.”
Every Friday, starting January 13 through April 14th, 2023, participating Downtown Santa Cruz restaurants and eateries will feature special menus, live music and more. Retail shops will offer special activities and discounts, like Botanic + Luxe or Yoso the Annex which will both offer 15% off exclusively during Downtown Friday hours.
“Between the lockdown, surges in Covid and skyrocketing inflation on gas and food things have been really hard and the energy has shifted,” Yoso Wellness Spa and Annex owner and Downtown Association board member, Jennalee Dahlen.
“But we also have the power as a community to shift it back and reignite what was once so alive. It’s been almost three years but we are here and creating a space to come together again, as a community.”
“This was definitely driven by the downtown business community,” says Jorian Wilkins. Since September 2020, Wilkins has served as the executive director for the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz.
“A group of downtown business owners got together and thought, ‘What could we do to enliven the Downtown winter evenings?’”
The answer is a local party showcasing the sights, tastes and new businesses on Pacific Avenue and surrounding areas.
“The Downtown businesses have stuck with it through the hardest times,” Wilkins explains. “I’ve had an amazing opportunity to get to know the business community downtown full of incredibly hardworking, family owned businesses.”
She adds it’s “been joyous despite the hardships” to see so many businesses reopen and thrive, along with many of the downtown storefronts vacant since 2020, newly filled.
According to the Downtown Association 18 businesses opened–or reopened–their doors in 2022 like Mariposa Cuban Coffee, The Moon Beauty Salon and Cruz Kitchen & Taps.
“We’ve really seen Downtown [Santa Cruz] come back relatively quickly compared to so many other cities,” ecclaims Wilkins.
No party, especially a Santa Cruz party, is complete without music.
So for Downtown Fridays, Event Santa Cruz asked Neil Pearlberg–host of the Off The Lip radio program and podcast–to curate a delectable menu of warm sounds to pair with the winter season. Those bands will perform at Pono Hawaiian Grill–which recently reopened its downtown location last year–but Downtown Fridays will also promote the other live shows happening downtown on a weekly basis at venues like Abbott Square, The Blue Lagoon and Catalyst.
Local favorites, The Dylan Rose Band, kick off the inaugural weekend at Pono Hawaiian Grill and will be followed by acts like the Joint Chiefs, Alex Lucero and seven piece, progressive funk group, Jive Machine.
“Jive Machine does more than just play, they’re interactive with members walking around the audience and starting conga lines,” Swinerton says enthusiastically. “It’s going to be epic to see a band like them inside a space like Pono.”
For Wilkins, Downtown Fridays are another reason to see Santa Cruz’s main gathering hub as a continuously active hot spot.
“We have some really great, constantly active places like Abbott Square and 11th Hour Coffee,” she says. “So the question was how to extend that scene from a couple of pockets to more widely spread across downtown.”
Along with the weekly event the normal schedule of downtown celebrations will continue as planned, like the monthly First Friday art walk, Wine Walk, Greek Festival and other Santa Cruz favorites. Spots like Abbott Square will continue to host their Friday and Saturday night live concerts as well.
“There is life down here,” states Dahlen. “And it can be exciting, and it can be fun and it can be great for families. It’s a place to connect.”
For more information on Downtown Fridays and a full music line-up schedule please visit https://www.eventsantacruz.com/downtown-fridays/