The Catalyst (1011 Pacific Ave., advance tickets 866/384-3060, door tickets 831/423-1338, www.catalystclub.com , $12–35), right downtown on the Mall, is the Santa Cruz  nightclub. This live rock venue hosts all sorts of big-name national acts, most of whom now play clubs rather than stadiums. The Catalyst is completely democratic in its booking—you might see Ted Nugent one week, the Indigo Girls the next, and a ska band the week after that.
In between, the Catalyst hosts DJ dance nights, teen nights, and other fun events. Be sure to check the calendar when you buy tickets—some shows are 21 and over only. (Mmm…music, dancing, and a full bar!)
The main concert hall is a standing-room-only space, while the balconies offer seating. The bar sits downstairs adjacent to the concert space.
The vibe at the Catalyst tends to be low-key, but it depends on the night and the event. Some of the more retro acts definitely draw an older crowd, while the techno-DJ dance parties cater to the UCSC set. You can buy tickets online or by phone; purchasing in advance is recommended, especially for national acts.
The Crow’s Nest (2218 East Cliff Dr., 831/476-4560, www.crowsnest-santacruz.com ) functions as a venue for all kinds of live musical acts. You might see a contemporary reggae-rock group one night and a Latin dance band the next. Lots of funk bands play the Nest—it’s just appropriate to the Santa Cruz  ethos. A few tribute bands, usually to hippie 1960s and ’70s legends like Jimi Hendrix and Santana, perform on occasion as well.
Most shows are free, but if there’s a really popular act you might be charged $5 at the door. Check the website for a performance calendar, but it’s a good bet that you’ll get live musical entertainment here every night from Wednesday through Saturday.