Friday, February 18, 2011


This just in from Julian Soler at the Santa Cruz Film Festival. A new film sure to be dear to the hearts of anyone who's lived in Santa Cruz for longer than about four minutes will have its World Premiere at this year's fest (May 5 to 14). The Catalyst is a feature-length documentary devoted to the life and times—and, of course, the music—of that most venerated and enduring local nightclub, put together by two local folks who probably know the subject better than anyone. Producer Dean Newbury was the Catalyst booking agent for years, during the proprietorship of the late Randall Kane (whom Newbury refers to as his "father figure"). Director Michèle Benson is herself something of a Santa Cruz institution as longtime court photographer/historian/archivist at the Cat, as well as my colleague at Good Times for many years.

Ten years in the making, the film is dedicated to preserving the funky/hip spirit of the Cat, as envisioned by Kane, who shepherded the place from bohemian '60s coffeehouse/hangout to A-list music venue. Interviews with the always-quotable Kane and various staff alumnae will be combined with rare, painstakingly-unearthed concert footage of such Catalyst headliners as Neil Young, Patti Smith, Nirvana, The Doobie Brothers, Greg Kihn, Tina Turner, The Tubes—well, the list goes on and on. Since basically everybody has played the Cat, from Alanis Morissette to The Zutons, my mind is literally boggling as we speak just imagining what sort of musical treasures Benson and Newbury might have turned up. Check out the film's tasty trailer and get the vibe.

According to my friend Mary Offermann, you know you're a real Santa Cruz old-timer when you can remember all the previous businesses that used to be in this or that downtown retail space. (Remember when Kianti's was the original Pretty Mama's? Remember when the Walnut Avenue Cafe was The Old Theatre Cafe? Remember when the Gap building housed Woolworth's?) Those of us who have been here forever still think of the club's current Pacific Avenue location as "the new Catalyst." When I first arrived as a dewy coed in the early '70s, we used to hang out at the "old" Catalyst under the St.George Hotel. The main entrance was on Front Street, or you could take the scenic route, a surreal stroll from Pacific Avenue through the St. George lobby and into the atrium, with its skylights and burbling fountain (pictured above). The bar was sandwiched in there somewhere, en route to the erm, intimate stage and dance floor over on the Front Street side of the floor plan. There, my best friend, Jan, and I frittered away many happy hours. Among my most cherished Cat memories? Dancing the night away to Oganookie, Annie Steinhart on fiddle, gearing up for the last raucous crescendo of "The Orange Blossom Special." Go visit The Catalyst movie website and jump-start your own!

(All images © 2010 All Access Productions, LLC.)

And btw, speaking of SCFF, they will still be accepting film submissions for this year's fest through next Friday, February 25. Click here to read all the details, or find out about Festival Passes.

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