A&E

Santa Cruz Vets Hall Brings Back Live Music

The building will host its first hardcore show in a decade on Feb. 22

AFI playing the Vets Hall in 1998. Lead singer Dave Havok has said one of his favorite shows was at the iconic local venue, which reopens to the underground scene this weekend. PHOTO: PETE SAPORITO

While on Damian Abraham’s punk podcast, Turned Out Punk, Dave Havok recalled one of his favorite shows his band AFI ever played—which was in the basement of the Vets Hall in Santa Cruz. The 2000 gig was so DIY, he had to apply makeup upstairs in a one-bulb room with no mirror. “Times were tough,” he joked to Abraham. But the magic of this dingy show stuck in his mind for decades. 

Nearly every band in the punk scene has passed through the Vets Hall over the years. Local acts like Fury 66, Good Riddance, Los Dryheavers, Teenage Time Killers (RIP Reed Mullin), Slow Gherkin, and the Nerve Agents either got their start within those walls or used the stage to hone their acts. Godfather punk rockers like the Subhumans, TSOL, Agent Orange and Flipper all played the stage. Even radio bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Rise Against came through. The venue was so integral to the Bay Area punk scene that the Cornell University Library preserves several flyers from our humble Vets Hall, as part of the Aaron Cometbus Punk and Underground Press Collection. 

After years of disarray, including damage from the Loma Prieta Earthquake, the Vets Hall closed in 2010, only to be reopened in 2014 after some renovations, though they stuck to a strict, no-live-music model. With new director Chris Cottingham, it’s once again open for business to the local music scene. Presented by two of the last independent Bay Area show promoters, Nick Dill of Hard Times and Joel Haston of Pin-Up Productions, the building will host its first hardcore show in a decade on February 22 featuring Terror and the Warriors.  

“I’m very excited the Vets Hall is back,” says Haston. “I consider it my hometown venue.” 

Technically, it won’t be the Hall’s first new live rock show. That nod goes to longtime Vets Hall promoter Numbskull Productions and their Lil Peep Memorial last November. Haston was asked to work security for the event, and while he couldn’t, he saw another window of opportunity. 

“I was put in touch with Chris and told him there’s been some legendary stuff that’s gone down here,” he says.

Built in 1932, the Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial building (its proper name) was always envisioned as a community gathering spot and used for galas, dances, bingo games and the like. Walking through the building, it’s impossible not to feel the ghosts of history peeking around every corner. When punk rock came around in the late ’70s, it was only natural for the Vets Hall to book it. As an all ages venue, it provided tweens, teens and young adults a cheap place to hang out without getting in trouble (theoretically, at least). 

Cottingham discovered the space while doing a photo shoot for Salinas reggae band the Rudians, and immediately saw the potential. He was named Director of Service and Operations last June. 

“We want to be that venue where we can have the national headliner and give locals the opportunity to open the show,” says Cottingham. 

Proceeds for renting one of the four newly renovated rooms—the main hall, two upstairs and the freshly manicured backyard garden they hope to use for acoustic shows and wine mixers—will go back to providing services for the veterans such as their weekly hot meal lunches, tech skill classes, support groups and meet-and-greets with local and Bay Area service providers. They also host weekly meditation, fitness, yoga and dance classes, Narcotics Anonymous meetings and poetry slams, all open to the entire community.

“The vision is to have a space that is self-sustaining with these events and a veteran workforce,” he says. 

As for that infamous basement, it’s currently being put to good use as a lounge, kitchen and dining hall area for vets. While it’s not currently available for rent as a stage, that could change. 

Both Hard Times and Pin-Up Productions already have more shows booked in March: local hardcore band Drain and Bay Area metalheads Wolf King, respectively. There’s discussion of other events like a vinyl swap, punk rock flea market, and other DIY events.  

“Everyone has a story, and I’m constantly hearing about people’s memories of everything from legendary shows to playing Dungeons and Dragons and card games in the rooms,” Cottingham explains. “My hope is that kids who grew up going to shows here will have the opportunity to bring their kids and share that experience.”

Terror and the Warriors perform beginning at 7pm on Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. $16/adv, $20/door.  454-0478.

Contributor at Good Times |

Mat Weir originally hails from Southern California but don't hold that against him. For the past decade he has reported on the Santa Cruz music scene and has kept the reading public informed on important community issues such as homelessness, rent hikes, addiction and social injustices. He is a graduate from UCSC, is friends with a little dog name Ruckus and one day will update his personal page, WeirdJournalism.com.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Frank Sosa

    February 20, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Good news. As a teenager I rented the hall in the 90s several times to bring live acts, one being Cypress Hill for their Central Coast debut.

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