By ESC Team Member – Mat Weir
Great things come in threes. The original Star Wars trilogy. The pyramids of Giza. The number of peanut butter cups in a Canadian Reese’s package (yet another thing we are getting ripped off on). And now, Santa Cruz’s favorite Midtown Friday Summer Block Parties.
Yes, the block parties are returning for their third year in a row sponsored by the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Department, Event Santa Cruz and the Midtown Business Association (MBA). What started as a way to celebrate community in a Covid-safe environment post-lockdowns has become a beloved staple for free, family-friendly summertime fun.
Returning this year to the parking lot at 1111 Soquel Avenue is all the music, all the food and all the local artists, makers and vendors. However, just as the third part of a trilogy always kicks it up a notch and flips the script, this year expect the unexpected.
“I have over 100 beach balls,” states Event Santa Cruz founder, Matthew Swinerton. “And I also bought a 12-foot tall beach ball.”
This year the festivities will run from June 2 through September 29th. That’s 18 events with 288 vendor slots and the musical talent of over 30 different local-and Bay Area-bands and artists.
“We have James Durbin and the Lost Boys on June 16 and at the Boardwalk, the Lost Boys [movie] will be playing on the beach for Free Movie Nights,” Swinnerton says.
Along with The Lost Boys, this year’s music will feature acts such as Broken English, The Dylan Rose Band, Ancestree, Dirty Cello, The Joint Chiefs, and more. Like the past two years, this stacked line-up is hand-picked by Neil Pearlberg of Off The Lip Radio,
“I always love when The Joint Chiefs play,” explains Sonia McMoran, owner of Midtown retail store, Home/Work, which is right across from the 1111 Soquel lot. McMoran is also a founder of the MBA.
“I find their music brings out a really fun crowd of people.”
The weekly block parties will culminate in a blow-out final night featuring Santa Cruz’s first sons of reggae, The Expendables. Where else can you find a free, all-ages show featuring one of the hottest names in reggae music?
Of course, no block party is complete without plenty of food to tease the taste buds and please the belly. .
“Because I love Pana Food Truck, they will have a weekly residency,” Swinnerton excitedly says.
The Venezuelan food truck serves a flavorful mix of arepas—ground maize dough filled with with animal proteins and veggies with spicy sauces and deep fried plantains. For the plant-based folk, make sure to try the vegan PB with beans, tomatoes and avocado.
In addition to Pana, the rotating cast of food pop-ups will include Chubbs’ Chicken, Taqueria Gabriel, Surfin Turf, Scrumptious Fish & Chips, Epoch Eats, Watsonville Munchiess and many, many more.
For those partiers who are looking to support local artists, jewelry makers and crafters, 2023’s vendors will bring plenty for the eye without breaking the bank.
“We’ll have a lot of our past vendors” explains Swinnerton. “But we’ll also have about 50 percent new vendors. It will be a fun mix and very artist centric, more than ever before.”
He adds if any other vendors would like to sell their wares, feel free to contact him throughout the summer as spaces always become available.
But the true focus of the Midtown Fridays Block Party is Midtown. Regardless if you call it Midtown, Seabright or Santa Cruz, the area around Soquel Avenue with its shops, restaurants and the Rio Theatre, has a unique charm unlike anywhere else in town. Just ask McMoran.
“It feels like a district that is really designed and made for locals,” she says. “We’re not only trying to only cater to tourists.”
Afterall, within a walking distance of each other are local favorite foods like The Crepe Place, Charlie Hong Kong, Suda and Lillian’s Italian Kitchen. Snuggled between the restaurants is plenty of shopping with Home/Work, Childish Toy Shop, vintage and new clothing shop Tomboy and plenty of others. Want a coffee? Look no further than Midtown Cafe. The Diversity Center and Pacific Arts Complex are literally open with locals in mind. Of course keeping it all together is the Midtown cornerstone, the historic Rio Theatre, where locals (ok, and tourists) have enjoyed live music, movies and thought provoking lectures for almost 100 years.
Never stagnant, the area is constantly updating with fresh business like The Midway. Sound familiar? It should. Opened by Katherine Stern, The Midway originally started in September 2020 as a market brunch pop-up during the weekend Santa Cruz Community Farmers Markets. By using only fresh, locally sourced ingredients, Stern quickly forged a close relationship with farmers and shoppers. In 2021, she continued brunch service and also opened a residency at Bad Animal Books with a full dinner service.
“The Midway’s concept will remain the same: market focused and locally sourced,” she writes in an email to Event Santa Cruz.
Despite only being able to attend the Block Party once in the past, she writes that it was very fun and she was “so happy to see the neighborhood come to life.”
For McMoran, she’s excited to see something that was started in response to the pandemic is not only still relevant, but thriving.
“I look forward most to seeing the community out there,” she says. “It reminds me how important it is for the community to have reasons to get together, to celebrate each other and celebrate Santa Cruz.”
McMoran and Stern also want to remind Santa Cruzans that during the rest of the week, the parking lot at 1111 Soquel Ave. still provides the neighborhood as a three hour free parking lot for Midtown shopping and dining.
“A lot of people forget about that parking lot and it almost always has spots available,” McMoran explains.
Some might recall the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and the Midtown Friday Block Party is no different. Along with the NEXTies, the Block Party is his most involved event, usually taking four to six months to plan. Swinnerton says neighbors and locals often help him with the set up and tear down of the block party on the days of, but there’s always room for more.
“If anybody wants to help, to get experience and be involved, reach out to me,” he exclaims. “If photographers want to take pictures, or people want to help with clean-up, whatever they’d like. Afterall, it’s a community event.”
Midtown Fridays! Summer Block Party starts June 2nd and goes on to September 29.
More info at https://www.eventsantacruz.com/
Midtown Fridays! Summer Block Parties are located at Midtown Square, 1111 Soquel Ave, in Santa Cruz, beginning at 5pm and going until 8:30ish.
Midtown Fridays! Partners: City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Department, Off The Lip Radio Show, Lookout Santa Cruz, Shopper’s Corner, Spring Hill School, Santa Cruz Realtor – Loren Morse, Growing Up in Santa Cruz, and Kaiser Permanente.
June 2nd: Broken English w/opener Soquel High Jazz Band
June 9th: The Neverland Band w/opener Shoreline Middle School “Summer Band”
June 16th: James Durbin & The Lost Boys w/opener Coffee Zombie Collective
June 23rd: Ribsys Nickel w/opener Joshua Cremer
June 30th: Afrobeats Nite Santa Cruz w/opener Carolyn Sills Duo
July 7th: Ancestree w/opener Hijinx
July 14th: The Rayburn Brothers
July 21st: Dirty Cello
July 28th: Alex Lucero Band w/opener Asher Stern
August 4th: The Dylan Rose Band w/opener Maddie & Jackie
August 11th: Santa Cruda w/opener Yaya’s Kitchen
August 18th: Mak Nova
August 25th: Cowboy’s After Dark w/opener Corrina & Rick
September 1st: The Joint Chiefs
September 8th: Locomotive Breath
September 15th: Funkranomicon
September 22nd: AC Myles
September 29th: The Expendables