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Too Cool for Words: Quality artwork --like this Peter Coster' waterfall fountain--will be available all weekend long at the Celebrate Santa Cruz Festival.

SC's festival flashback

By Traci Hukill

Springtime fertility rite, Bacchanalian festival, homage to the High Trinity of West Coast culture--call it what you will, Celebrate Santa Cruz: Art, Wine & Jazz has the makings for a pretty snazzy downtown festival. Sound familiar? This is the springtime counterpart to the Downtown Association's precocious brainchild, First Night Santa Cruz--the flirty beaujolais nouveau to the New Year's beefy cabernet, to put it in vintner's terms.

Very appropriate terms, by the way, since all of Cooper Street will blossom with booths yielding the nectar of local wineries. Picture yourself sipping chardonnay in the sunshine, grooving to fizzy jazz--compliments of Don McCaslin and Warmth--on the outdoor stage at the Cooper Street Cafe. If beer is your brew, never fear. The local breweries will see to it that your thirst is slaked in the best fashion.

Of course, all that athletic consumption of wine and beer calls for nourishment, which the food tents are happy to provide. The aroma of skewered chicken and sausage drifts over from the 99 Bottles of Beer booth, while El Palomar serves up scrumptious tacos and burritos. Oswald and Georgianna's Cafe offer lighter fare, and A Different Twist spritzes taste buds with frozen yogurt and fruit sorbet. An entire brigade of booths is on hand offering burgers, pizza, pasta, coffee--anything a gourmand's heart desires.

But above all, this is an esthetic experience. Pacific Avenue will metamorphose into the pedestrian mall it's always longed to be, and perched along its length will be the tents of more than 80 local artists featuring ceramics, jewelry, photographs, watercolors, musical instruments, blown glass, paper, candles and more. Here's the Californian reply to a good Appalachian arts and crafts fair. The ambiance at these shindigs is laid-back, so it's a great opportunity to talk to the artists and get the scoop on the raku vase or mandolin or jewelry box you just purchased for your sister's birthday. The central placement of the booths frees up the sidewalks so you also can wander through your favorite downtown stores.

As evening wears on, the booths will shut down but Pacific will remain closed to traffic--and that makes for an automatic party atmosphere. There's just something about promenading down the middle of the street that feels good, particularly in the glow of a wine- and music-bussed afternoon.

Don't worry about getting a babysitter, either, because the event planners in their wisdom have taken the kinderfactor into consideration. Cotton Tales is the hip spot for the young crowd, offering face painting all day Saturday and Sunday. Storytellers and singers provide a refreshing change from Sega starting at 11am both days. Youthful inspiration materializes in the form of 10-year-old jazz sax player Alana Chandler, who will answer questions about her instrument and music and dispense advice on how to get involved with jazz.

Which brings us to the event's star--music. Kuumbwa has done its world-class best to bring us a threefold jazz experience incorporating local musicmakers, young musicians and big bands. From the phenomenally talented Smith Dobson Quintet and Orquesta Gitano to the Robin Anderson Big Band and Wally's Swing World, the bands are tight, groovy and danceable. The Kuumbwa Youth Ensemble and Morgan Hill's Martin Murphy Middle School Big Band--which Downbeat magazine awarded prizes three years running--feature up-and-coming talents that will see jazz safely to the next generation. In fact, two members of the Kuumbwa Youth Ensemble claim jazz in their blood--Collette McCaslin from grandpa Don, and Nathan Contos from Alegria's Paul Contos.

Three strategically placed stages at Water Street, the Cooper Street Cafe and Cathcart Street ensure that the pulse and strains of Latin jazz, bebop and big band swing will reach your waiting ears from virtually any wine booth, food tent or artist's niche on the mall.

So shake off workaday stresses and meander downtown for a weekend of great taste, perfect weather, good wine, smooth jazz. If it got any better than this it would have to be illegal.

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From the May 16-22, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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