One day, seven venues, 11 stages, more than 90 acts, and 85-plus hours of entertainment. The inaugural Santa Cruz Music Festival hits Downtown Santa Cruz on Saturday, July 20, and we have one question for you: Can you handle it?
Inspired by the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive festival in Austin, Texas, the SCMF is the brainchild of Thomas Dawson, manager of local hip-hop outfit Eliquate, Bubb Rader, manager at Pacific Wave Surf Shop and owner of the local Thieves clothing line, and Brian Crabtree, who works at Streetlight Records and runs Blank Productions Photography. It’s the first festival of its kind to hit the Central Coast. Featuring a seemingly never-ending lineup of local and touring acts from genres as diverse as electronic music, hip-hop, folk, punk and reggae, and even a few comedians and spoken-word artists, the festival promises to be a smorgasbord for the ears.
To help you navigate the massive event, we’ve handpicked 13 varied, must-see acts…
When trip-hop heavyweight Emancipator (aka Doug Appling) takes the stage, audiences tend to be swept away by his cinematic and ethereal soundscapes. Dreamlike in nature, the Portland, Ore.-based producer’s sonic explorations soothe, enchant and surprise. Since his debut album, Soon It Will Be Cold Enough, was released in 2006, Emancipator has earned a loyal cult following around the world. His latest and third album, 2013’s Dusk to Dawn, is both crisp and polished, with weaving elements of jazz, hip-hop and electronica, and not a dull moment. Fans will have the opportunity to hear it live at the Catalyst main stage—fingers crossed that Ilya Goldberg will be on-hand to add his expert violin flourishes. Sold out shows are not uncommon for Emancipator, so plan to arrive early for this one. (http://www.emancipatormusic.com)
@ Catalyst Main Stage
Electro-pop powerhouse Midi Matilda sets feet on fire with its out-of-this-world beats and echoing vocals. What started as a garage band has evolved into a dynamic duo that has garnered a great deal of Internet buzz with its innovative music videos, particularly “Day Dreams”—a stop motion-like video featuring footage of Logan Grime and Skyler Kilborn dancing, which was then projected onto buildings and other surfaces all over their hometown of San Francisco—off the band’s 2012 Red Light District EP. In fact, it was the positive response to that video that prompted Midi Matilda to start playing shows. It appears to have been a good decision, considering that after the group performs at the SCMF, they’ll join the all-star lineup at the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in San Francisco. Passion Pit fans will swoon when Kilborn unleashes his high-pitched falsetto a la Michael Angelakos, and fans of The White Stripes will dig Grime’s merciless drum pounding. http://www.midimatilda.com
@ Blue Lagoon
The queen of the underground electronic dance music scene, divaDanielle, will make the left stage at The Blue Lagoon her throne on July 20. The fierce, redheaded dynamo spins a dance-ready mix of techno, disco house, hip-hop, ghetto funk, and booty breaks that’s known to make audiences sweat. Burners know divaDanielle as the music curator for the infamous Charlie the Unicorn art car, which brings epic DJ sets, laser light shows and fireballs to Burning Man each year. For a taste of her self-proclaimed “Music 4 Unicorns,” check out her first original remixes from 2012—“$pend My Money (divaDanielle Remix)” and “Can I Get a … Shadow (Unicorns Heart Booty Mash-Up)”—and her more recent spin on 2 Chainz’ “Birthday Song.” Samples from artists like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, and Wu-Tang Clan add to the fun. http://www.soundcloud/divadanielle
@ Blue Lagoon
Roadkill Ghost Choir
Though Roadkill Ghost Choir had intended to release a debut full-length album, 2012’s five-track EP, Quiet Light, is testament to the band’s commitment to producing only music that is memorable and polished. From start to finish, the short but sweet EP, which took nearly a year to complete, is brimming with expert instrumentation—from banjo riffs, to old-timey organ, to quiet piano—and carried by frontman Andrew Shepard’s twangy vocals. The Florida-based outfit will be far from home when it performs songs off the album at Kuumbwa Jazz, but its six members will bring the sounds of the South—namely folk, rock and country—with them. A small-town band with a big sound, Roadkill fits the Santa Cruz music scene like a glove. http://www.roadkillghostchoir.com
@ Kuumbwa Jazz
Channeling Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Santa Cruz’s own Ancestree spreads the message of spiritual healing and equal rights through its reggae music. The nine-member band knows exactly how to get listeners on the dance floor, too: with a spicy blend of roots, rock, funk, dub, soul and infectious grooves. Inspired by the vocal trios of 1970s Jamaica, Ancestree features three vocalists—two males and one female—who captivate with seamless harmonies, backed by two guitars, two saxophones, organ, Latin percussion, bass and drums. The result? A multilayered, feel-good soundtrack to summer. http://www.ancestreereggae.com
@ Rosie McCann’s
Some artists use the microphone to express themselves, while others use it to get rich, and still others, like The Coup, use it as a means of educating the masses. The Oakland-based political hip-hop group has been making aggressive, yet danceable music with humorous, hopeful and sometimes violent lyrics since 1990. Their quick-spitting rhymes criticize capitalism, American politics, patriarchal exploitation, police brutality, and more. But despite the serious nature of their lyrics, the group’s sound is mostly playful, animated, and at times goofy, similar to Outkast. Take note of the group’s latest album, Sorry to Bother You. It’s a creatively confrontational arsenal of tracks that, at first listen, sound like kids’ songs with handclaps, a kazoo, trash-can drums, and funky beats. But frontman Boots Riley—who grew up with activist parents in Oakland—and his crew are actually suggesting overthrowing the government. It’s also The Coup’s first album where no samples are used and all tracks are made by live instrumentation. https://www.facebook.com/TheCoup.
@ Catalyst Main Stage
At the tender age of 20, Santa Cruz’s own Tal Levy, better known by his stage name, Clark Kent, is making tsunami-size waves in the electronic scene. His pulsating remixes of artists like The Wanted, Haddaway, Zeds Dead, B.O.B., Adele, Smokey Robinson, and Kanye West, as well as his original dubstep productions have rapidly expanded his fan base—as of press time, he had just under 29,000 likes on Facebook—which will undoubtedly continue to balloon following his SCMF performance. Citing another Santa Cruz electronic A-lister—Bassnectar—as an early influence in his taste and production, Levy puts his musical background in guitar and piano to good use in both his originals and his remixes. Listen for it at Rosie McCann’s. http://www.soundcloud.com/ClarkentOfficial
@ Rosie McCann’s
You know you’ve made it big when the king of dubstep—UC Santa Cruz alumnus Bassnectar—makes one of your tracks a staple in his sets. Such is the case for Christian Bauhofer, who took a leave of absence from UCSC to pursue a music career. Dropping out of school isn’t the best idea for everyone, but for Bauhofer—better known by his stage name Minnesota—the decision has certainly paid off. In high demand among the festival circuit, Minnesota has established himself as a bass heavy dubstep/glitch hop master. The aforementioned pulsating track, “Push It” (a fresh spin on the Salt-N-Pepa classic), is one of many explosive club-bangers that have earned him critical acclaim. He’s also tackled songs by The Notorious B.I.G., Cassie, and more, but take note of his originals, too, which slowly build and unexpectedly drop, Jenga-style. For a preview of Minnesota’s Motiv set, check out his remix of The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin.’” http://www.minnesotadubstep.com
Celebrated for his explosive energy and thought-provoking lyrics, Wakefield has won the Individual World Poetry Slam Finals two years in a row, and took home first place in the International Poetry Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2004. He has released two CDs and two books of journal entries, poems and performance pieces, but he’s best known for his live shows. On stage, Wakefield commands the audience with his engaging, honest and occasionally humorous wordplay. Wakefield’s decision to make spoken word his career came late in life, when he was living in Seattle, and working as an executive assistant at a biomedical firm. After selling and giving away all but the bare necessities, Wakefield adopted the life of a travelling poet, and began performing around the country, living out of his car. Now a world-renowned wordsmith, Wakefield hasn’t looked back, and on July 20, Santa Cruz will be especially grateful for that. http://www.buddywakefield.com
@ Kuumbwa Jazz
They’ve only been recording music together for two years, but electronic/alternative duo Magic Bronson already has a technically proficient and irresistible sound. Made up of producers Michael Nicastro and Matthew Lieberman, the Los Angeles-based group’s influences—from Kid Cudi to STRFKR—shine through on its debut six-track EP, Nor’Easter, released in May. The EP is chock-full of dance-ready tracks—highlights include the title track and “Rider Rider,” which show off Lieberman’s live bass chops, multiple synths, programmed drums, and Nicastro’s distinctive, effect-heavy vocals. Fresh off a performance at this year’s SXSW, you can bet Magic Bronson will be raring to go come July 20, when it’s scheduled to play two sets, one at the Catalyst Main Stage and another at Streetlight Records. Photo: Blank Productions http://www.magicbronson.com
@ Streetlight Records & Catalyst Main Stage
It appears as though Nicholas “Pumpkin” Alvarado has one goal in mind when crafting his remixes and original productions: to make listeners smile. Up until 2006, the music producer/DJ had spent his life playing in rock bands. Then, he found his true calling in deep house music. Entranced by the hypnotic rhythms and electronic dance music culture, Alvarado found a way to marry his past with his future: a futuristic electronic sound that incorporates a singer-songwriter, the punk rock ethos and childhood nostalgia. That unique amalgam has earned Pumpkin a loyal and ever-expanding following, and made him a staple in the festival circuit. With live shows that manage to span every genre—in one set audiences can hear everything from Florence + The Machine, to David Bowie, to Noah & The Whale—its no wonder he’s a crowd-favorite. Check out his Love Letters EP, featuring collaborations with singer Katie Mogli and lyricist Everyman, for a sample. Pumpkin’s notorious for having fun with the audience, so expect a lively and interactive set. http://www.pumpkinsounds.com
Pounders recently took home first place at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s Battle of the Bands Contest, and it’s no wonder why. Just as the title of its 2012 sophomore album implies, the San Jose-based punk rockers only know how to play one way: Hard, Dirty and Fast. Since forming in 2007, driving bass lines, smashing drums, catchy hooks, and a fun-loving attitude have proven to be a winning combination for this trio, earning them a spot in the Vans Warped Tour lineup and numerous other festivals. For a preview of what will undoubtedly be a high-energy and head-banging set at Woodstock’s, check out the bouncy album opener “Riot In The City.” You’ll have no problem spotting Pounders—just keep an eye out for frontman Chris Pounders’ cotton-candy pink Mohawk. http://www.poundersband.com
@ Woodstock’s Pizza
The Santa Cruz Music Festival takes place from 10 a.m.-midnight, Saturday, July 20 at various locations in Downtown Santa Cruz. For complete schedule, lineup and tickets, visit http://www.santacruzmusicfestival.com. Tickets are $30-40. 16+. Get amped for the event with the Santa Cruz Music Festival 2013 playlist on Spotify.