New ‘Santa Cruz Live’ puts the spotlight on our flourishing local music scene.
For many people, the name “Austin, Texas” instantly conjures images of a rich, thriving music scene. Its reputation as a music Mecca is not unwarranted: The city boasts the most music venues per capita in the nation. Documenting some of its finest musical moments is Austin City Limits, the nation’s longest-running concert music show in the history of American television. Having first gone into broadcast in 1976, ACL has been named a Rock and Roll Landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and is the only TV program that has ever received the National Medal of Arts.
If local country/Americana vocalist Ginny Mitchell has her way, Santa Cruz will soon be considered a sister city to Austin, and this town’s live music scene will provide just as much a lure for visitors as do the beach, redwoods, Boardwalk and famously pleasant climate. “We’re sitting on a hotbed of music,” the musician states. “Santa Cruz is poised just like Austin, in terms of how many musicians per square foot. And every night there are so many wonderful things, it’s hard to go out and see everything—all kinds of music, no matter what it is.”
December 3 marks the kickoff of Santa Cruz Live (santacruzlive.tv), the brainchild of Mitchell and her husband, filmmaker Marty Collins. Inspired by Austin City Limits, it’s a half-hour program for IPTV, worldwide web and television broadcast. The show is designed to reflect Santa Cruz’s musical richness, as well as to put the city on the map as a musical hot spot. Its worldwide launch party, to be held at Mitchell and Collins’ Westside Santa Cruz multimedia design, production and post production facility Digital Media Factory (digitalmediafactory.com), will feature a screening of the premiere episode as well as live music by the gypsy jazz group Hot Club Pacific and the acoustic rock band Kemo Sabe.
The idea of Santa Cruz Live began to form in Mitchell and Collins’ minds in 2005, when the couple held a concert to raise money for musicians and animals affected by the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Featuring no less than 17 bands, the “Katrina-thon” turned out to be something of an epic event. At the last minute, the concert’s presenters decided to film the proceedings. Pleased with the outcome, they hit upon another bright idea: to film every concert they presented.
The next turning point was in 2006, when Mitchell and Collins met Austin City Limits producer Terry Lickona at the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance Conference in Austin. The encounter sparked their imaginations, and they began dreaming up a TV show of their own: While following in the footsteps of ACL, the program would have more of a magazine-style format, offering profiles of behind-the-scenes people as well as musical performers.
In keeping with that vision, the first episode of Santa Cruz Live features comments and stories from Richard Hoover, cofounder of Santa Cruz Guitar Company. According to Mitchell, the second episode of the show will include a profile on Sleepy John Sandidge of KPIG and Snazzy Productions.
As for the musicians, Mitchell says the initial idea behind Santa Cruz Live was to spotlight “artists coming up, coming back and passing through.” The game plan changed after she and Collins attended a concert by bluegrass/country musician Alison Krauss, who had played on Mitchell’s 1997 album A Wild Rose. While hanging out backstage, the producers told Krauss of their intent to bring Santa Cruz Live to life. “She said, ‘Ginny, you need to do this, because the music business is changing so much, and people really need this,’” Mitchell recalls, adding that Krauss stressed the show’s potential to help not only new artists, but also artists who had been around and needed a little push.
In response to the latter concept, Collins came up with the idea of profiling an artist’s entire career on the show: Each program could contain a segment that showed the artist in his or her younger days. The musician would discuss the highlights of his/her career, and other people would comment on the artist’s work. “I stopped production and went back, because I thought I had my first episode, and I clearly hadn’t had that piece yet,” Mitchell states.
The first episode of Santa Cruz Live contains a profile of local folk singer Mary McCaslin. One of its standout moments is a snippet of a McCaslin performance from the 1970s. “Everybody who’s looked at it [has said], ‘Oh, gosh—she was such a baby! Listen to her; look at her!” Mitchell says. Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist John McEuen, who played with McCaslin before joining The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, is also seen heaping praise upon the singer. As Mitchell notes, “This is a guy that’s played with everybody, been all over the world and has been a huge star, and he was just going on and on, glowingly talking about Mary McCaslin.”
Also on the premiere episode are powerful performances from Mitchell herself, the Santa Cruz a cappella trio Mayim and The Claire Lynch Band, the last of whose instrumentalists do some world-class soloing in “Wabash Cannonball.” Mitchell recalls approaching Lynch with the idea of using “Cannonball” on the show: “She says, ‘Ginny! That’s eight minutes! You don’t want to do eight minutes.’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ Because in showing that piece to people who don’t like bluegrass, don’t know who she is, who have it in their minds that bluegrass is hillbilly music—when they see what this band does, they’re astonished at the musicianship. Their minds are changed; their preconceived notions about that are changed.”
Mitchell says the Santa Cruz Live series will put many local people to work. She also hopes to create a Santa Cruz Live Festival, which, in addition to helping brand Santa Cruz as “Austin Left Coast,” would also make for more local jobs. “You’ve got food people, beverage people, rental companies … let’s build the industry up and put people to work doing what we do!” she enthuses.
The Santa Cruz Live’s worldwide launch party takes place at 7 p.m. Friday, December 3 at Digital Media Factory, 2809 Mission St., 2nd Floor, Santa Cruz. For more information, go to santacruzlive.tv or call 427-1785.