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A Lean Scene: In Santa Cruz, people will stand for anything, even if they have to lean over to do it--just ask Mark McCloskey and Brenda Leech at the Mystery Spot.

Get Rooted

True Americana roots survive even in high-tech Santa Cruz

By Andrea Perkins

A SUBTLE BUT PERVASIVE sense of national campiness swells the Santa Cruz ether. Americana in various and sundry forms piles up in the forgotten corners of antique stores, as if a limitless vein of the stuff came bubbling up from underground. Is it the redundantly Western history of this place that creates such a sensibility, or (as many never tire of suggesting) the ineffable effects of some powerfully surging vortex that calls and carries that kooky Santa Cruz vibe?

Speaking of vortexes, Santa Cruz's famous Mystery Spot is billed as a literal one and might even be the manifest source of all this weirdness. Practically unchanged since its opening in 1939, the promotional literature still says things like, "It's Unusual, It's Amazing, It's Wholesome, Interesting Entertainment." A couple years ago, a professor from Berkeley took it upon himself to debunk the place, claiming it all to be nothing more than clever optical illusion. Whatever. This campy spot is open every single day of the year, even Christmas, and draws visitors from all over the world. According to Randall, a tour guide at the spot and the kind of guy who likes wagon wheels lying around in the front yard, the place "is testimony to the power of belief."

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is our most obvious monument to Americana. Opened in 1907, the West Coast's last remaining seaside entertainment resort has lost some glitter since the days when it offered visitors the chance to see a 3,000-pound octopus, but you can still get some good advice from those fortune-telling machines that whirl and light up at the drop of what was once a penny but is now a quarter. The famous Giant Dipper is one of the last remaining wooden roller coasters in the world, and the antique carousel still spins to the squeaky sounds of a 342-pipe Ruth organ from 1894. Starry-eyed Miss California hopefuls once promenaded up and down the boardwalk--and if that's not a monument to Americana, I don't know what is.

However, KPIG radio is the true and living keeper of the Americana flame. They have also become one of the most popular online radio stations in the world. Behind a Chinese restaurant in Watsonville, from a studio stuffed with country clutter (there isn't an inch of wall space that's not covered with hula girls or flying pigs), KPIG has been broadcasting the undiluted sounds of good old American music for 12 years. Their mission statement: "Real people, real music, real radio." Creators of the weird, hybrid Santa Cruz soundtrack (singer/songwriter, roots/rock, cowboy/surfer), they are to be applauded for refusing to play Don Henley and turning the term "pig" into a compliment.

And no survey of the Americana landscape hereabouts would be complete without a mention of David Scully, resident street musician who can be heard on most sunny days from a bench on Pacific Avenue. Righteous Mississippi Delta blues streams from his steel guitar like there's no tomorrow, and besides, he looks like he just stepped out of the swamp himself, clad in snap-up cowboy shirt and hat. Appropriately, his first CD was recorded in someone's kitchen. An American institution in and of himself.


The Mystery Spot
465 Mystery Spot Rd., off Branciforte Drive, 423.8897

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Beach and Cliff streets, 426.7433

KPIG Radio
1110 Main St. Watsonville, 722.9000


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From the September 13-20, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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