From Neil Young to Tyler the Creator: How the Catalyst Became Santa Cruz’s Most Iconic Venue

The Catalyst in Santa CruzThere are plenty of venues where you can hear live music in downtown Santa Cruz, but there’s only one club that can boast about a storied past that includes performances by the Beach Boys, and about having the best pizza-by-the-slice deal in town.

That club is the Catalyst, and it’s been serving Santa Cruzans with affordable music and nightlife for over sixty years.

The History

Although the club’s current facade with the Catalyst lettering now feels iconic, the Catalyst so many know and love today wasn’t even in the same location before 1973.

The club used to be where Bookshop Santa Cruz is today, and didn’t move until Randall Kane, a spirited man who wore a uniform of rainbow suspenders, bought the club and moved it a few blocks down Pacific.

Under Kane’s leadership, the Catalyst thrived. He booked acts as varied as Neil Young, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, turning the Catalyst into the landmark that it is today.

The Music

The Catalyst’s past historic acts might be what it’s well-known for, but that doesn’t mean its musical present deserves to be overshadowed. At any given time, the Catalyst’s calendar can feature acts as varied as Tegan and Sara, Tyler the Creator, Streetlight Manifesto, Cold War Kids, Big Boi of Outkast, Pepper, The Expendables — the list goes on and on.

The Catalyst’s main genres are rock, reggae, and hip hop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some nice acoustic or indie acts if you keep your eyes peeled.

The Food

Who could forget Rocker’s Pizza Kitchen?

The restaurant connected to the Catalyst serves some of the tastiest, greasiest slices in town, along with wings and soda. You can access Rocker’s from within the club or at the outside window on Pacific.

The Atmosphere

The club’s clientele can change greatly depending upon who they have playing, from upscale hipsters in their thirties and forties for classic acts to grungy teenagers for the all-ages shows. Drinks are available at the bar for everyone 21 and up.

There are a couple different rooms within the venue — the Atrium, a smaller, more intimate setting, and the main floor (it will say online if an act is playing in the Atrium). Both rooms are dark, tend to be smoky, and have limited seating as most shows are general admission. Although doors open an hour before the show starts, there tend to be very long lines, so it’s advised to get there as early as possible.

And remember: the Catalyst may not be the most classy music club in Santa Cruz — far from it, actually. But that’s part of the fun.

About Blair Stenvick

Blair Stenvick is a freelance writer who has lived in Santa Cruz for four years.

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