.Serving the Servants

Community throws all-out fundraiser fest for Vets Hall

For a majority of its 92-year-history, the Downtown Santa Cruz County Veterans Memorial Building has provided a gathering place for veterans and the community.

From Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to weekly yoga, meditation sessions to fencing classes, along with weekly food pantries, the Vets Hall—as it’s known by locals—carries the veterans’ mission to serve.

And once in a while Santa Cruz has the opportunity to give back to a venue that has given so much over the decades.

This month the Vets Hall is hosting not one but three separate fundraisers—all organized by locals—to raise money for building and equipment upgrades. An essential part of the nonprofit’s income, the money made from shows and renting rooms goes directly back into programs servicing veterans and the houseless community.

“It’s amazing to see—across all three shows—how many people are willing to give back to a place that gives back to not only the music community but others as well,” says Joel Haston, the Vets Hall events coordinator and interim building manager.

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On May 3, the first fundraiser kicked off with a circle pit with local punk and metal bands: Worship, I Don’t Wanna Hear It, Give You Nothing, Nothing Over Silence, Casino Youth, Slam and Intrusive.

On May 5, things were a little more laid back and irie with 831 Love Benefit, an all-reggae night featuring True Zion, JR Rankin, Valley Roots, Ancestree and other acts.

The trio of fundraisers culminates May 17 in an eclectic festival starting at 4pm with 16 bands, local comedians, art and food vendors, info booths from local nonprofits, and a burlesque show. The entire event is all ages, except for the burlesque show, which will be 18-plus and require a valid ID.

Like many Santa Cruzans, fundraiser organizer Jesse Kenneth Cotu Williams has a lifetime of memories at the downtown establishment dating back to his days as a punk kid, or “grom.”

“I remember seeing the Suicide Machines in the [Vets Hall] basement in ’96 or ’97,” he recalls.

Two stages—the main hall stage and the Starving Musician stage upstairs—will host Perch, Diggin’ Trails, The Randy Savages, Boss’s Daughter, Thanks Buddy, Rabbit Truck and Outpatient X.

There will be information tables for nonprofits like the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter along with art collectives.

“Especially now, when everything [downtown] is in flux with development, it’s crucial to keep our anchor venues and spaces open, says Artist & Info Coordinator Rosebud Widmann.

“We really have an eclectic offering of different creative worlds from many different genres of music and types of art,” she explains. “I’m very excited for people to meet one another and inspire each other.”

Along with being a community space, the Veterans Memorial Building is—first and foremost—a place for United States vets to reintegrate and better their lives after service.

The nonprofit also oversees the six-acre Veterans Village in Ben Lomond, which houses 11 people in 10 cabins. The Village is hoping to double its residency with the addition of new cabins.

“Without the services it’s just a regular apartment complex,” Executive Director Keith Collins says. “For permanent supportive housing, our veterans need the services so they can retain the housing and have enriched lives.”

Benefit show 4:30-10pm at  846 Front St, Santa Cruz. $20 suggested donation.

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