Over the past decade, Santa Cruz has fostered a healthy Americana scene. But more recently, things have taken an unexpected turn toward the traditional with a wave of popular country and western artists. We have newer acts like the Carolyn Sills Combo, Miss Lonely Hearts, Jesse Daniel, and McCoy Tyler, as well as longtime locals like Patti Maxine and Charlie Wallace that are increasingly in demand.
All of this local talent and public interest dramatically intersects at the Crepe Place’s monthly country and western series Western Wednesdays, which on March 13 will begin its fifth year. The series was the brainchild of Mischa Gasch, who saw something similar up in Seattle when his band Miss Lonely Hearts was on tour.
“I was like, ‘Oh man, I wish we had something like that in Santa Cruz. Because we also have a great music scene, and a lot of people loving this type of music,” Gasch says. “I don’t want to say I started old-time country music or honky-tonk music in Santa Cruz. It was already there. I just wanted to build a scene.”
Western Wednesdays helped to connect these bands with a local audience, and give fans a recurring showcase at which to see them. Gasch worked to bring the culture of country and western to Santa Cruz by encouraging people to come dressed in their finest cowboy gear and ready to do some Texas two-step dance moves. It took a while to catch on, but these days, it’s a whole other world at Western Wednesdays, even when compared to country shows at other venues.
“You don’t just show up and stand in the back. People participate. You get dressed up, you bring a date, you dance,” says Carolyn Sills, who’s played several Western Wednesdays, including every show in the event’s third year as part of the backing band. “It’s how you would imagine a barn dance back in the day—everyone looked forward to the weekly dance at the town center. This kind of captured that old-school vibe.”
By year three, Gasch noticed that the event was really coming together. Shows were packed. People were coming every month, dressed up and dancing, creating a strong community vibe.
“It helps with the dancing when you know each other already. It started to feel like a family,” Gasch says. “I don’t think we are excluding anyone. It feels really welcoming. I just love going there and seeing familiar faces.”
Gasch did everything in his power to promote the event: radio ads, posters all over town. He offered discounted drinks and ticket prices to those who wore cowboy boots. But the biggest hurdle was getting everyone to dance.
“I felt like everyone was really close to wanting to dance, but didn’t know how,” Gasch says.
His wife stepped up and started offering two-step dance classes, which also happen a few times a year at bigger shows at Moe’s Alley and Flynn’s. It all added to the momentum of an old-timey country music scene in town.
“Western Wednesdays, and Mike Lewinski started to do old-time music where you could square dance, which he did last year at the Blue Lagoon, all are smaller parts of this bigger picture,” says Gasch. “It’s growing and growing.”
There are some phenomenal dancers that come out to Western Wednesdays, meaning the band on stage is not the only show. But even if people don’t get lessons, Gasch encourages them to come out and be brave. He feels like it’s something anyone can do.
“Part of why I like that kind of dance so much is because it’s really easy. I’m able to teach it to a person that has never danced before, but you can also get better,” Gasch says. “It’s fun on all kinds of levels.”
The next Western Wednesday will be held at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, and feature On The Tree. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $10 door/$7 with cowboy boots. 429-6994.