Roots rockers the Coffis Brothers join 20-plus bands playing Main Street Summer Soulstice

By Bliss Bowen

The Coffis Brothers bring a bit of Santa Cruz cool to this weekend’s Main Street Summer Soulstice

With more than 20 acts performing on eight stages at Sunday’s family-friendly Main Street Summer Soulstice, which supports sustainability-promoting nonprofit Santa Monica Spoke, it’s likely to be a lively day in Santa Monica. An information booth at Main Street and Pico Boulevard will have maps identifying stages and participating vendors on the mile-long festival stretch closed to vehicle traffic.

The music will range from the Celtic-infused folk rock of Ruled By Venus (aka guitarist/songwriter Simon Petty and fiddler Emily Moore) to hard-working local music man Rich Sheldon and his band, to Steely Dan tribute Dr. Wu and buoyant children’s artist Kristen Cook. The new McCabe’s Stage will host three bands, including the Coffis Brothers, a rootsy folk-rock ensemble that’s a product of Santa Cruz’s eclectic music community.

“There’s a ton of great musicians and singers up here,” says guitarist Kellen Coffis, who splits singing and songwriting duties with keyboardist brother Jamie. Since they started performing in public nine years ago, they’ve been mentored by “older generations” of Santa Cruz musicians.

“They’ve been super supportive, giving us spotlights that in other cities and situations we may not have been able to get, on stages and venues that we were maybe a few years from getting, because we were local.”

Despite its size (over 62,000 and growing), he says Santa Cruz still has enough small-town feel that people knew the Coffis Brothers through high school and soccer connections before they’d ever heard the band.

“I wonder how that would be if we had come up in San Francisco or L.A. instead,” Coffis muses. “There are certainly things that would have been nice about that, but there’s a real community here and a lot of support.”

That convivial spirit comes through in the music on their third full-length album, 2017’s “Roll With It,” recorded with Santa Cruz producer Andy Zenczak at Barefoot studio in Hollywood. They’ve recently started working on their next album with Mother Hips folk-rocker Tim Bluhm — “a hero” to the band — for whom the Coffis Brothers opened at McCabe’s this spring.

Backed by longtime lead guitarist Kyle Poppen, bassist and harmony singer Aidan Collins, and drummer Sam Kellerman, they’re progressing forward from the classic rock flavor of their 2011 album “the Coffis Brothers & the Mountain Men” and 2014’s “Wrong Side of the Road.” The hooky “You and Me” is almost reminiscent of the Milk Carton Kids, if MCK were plugged in and backed by a rock rhythm section. “Roll With It” as a whole sounds lighter and brighter than its predecessors, which Coffis credits to their evolving musicianship.

“I think we probably weren’t even really ready to record that first album,” he admits. “We tracked all of ‘Roll’ to analog tape, which was cool. The process we took was, we’re going to set up all together and play and work for the best take on a song and we can’t edit two takes together. We’re gonna live and die by that. It puts you in a different headspace; you can’t just say you’ll fix it later. It has a different sound. It seems a little more raw, in some ways.”

Some songs translate better than others onstage. Coffis says it would be “tough to take on the responsibility” of writing anything specifically to lift listeners’ spirits, but songs like “Everybody Falls” and “Better Days” have a Petty-ish, feel-good vibe that connects with audiences.

“With my jacket pockets torn
Wipe the dirt and pull the thorns
Gonna head out for the storm
And float away
California treats me good
Makes me feel like I think I should
And I know that better days are ahead of me”

“It may sound selfish, but we’re really trying to write songs for us,” Coffis says. “I don’t always think about it — you can get yourself in trouble if you start writing for big audiences or whatever size we’re playing for. If I like it, then there’s gotta be someone else who does too.”

SET TIMES & STAGES:

The 19th annual Main Street Summer Soulstice happens from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday (June 23) along Main Street between Pico Boulevard and Marine Street. Admission is free, but Firestone Walker beer garden and bar hopper wristbands are $15 to $45 at eventbrite.com.

The Coffis Brothers perform on the McCabe’s Stage at 5 p.m., preceded by country-rockers Redwood Black and Driftwood Mac.

Ruled By Venus performs at 1 p.m. on the Ashland Hill Stage, followed by Westerner and Weekend Celebrity.

The Rich Sheldon Band kicks things off on the La Vecchia Wine Garden Stage at 1 p.m., followed by the Black Stripes and the Cardiac Arrest.

The Dr. Wu Steely Dan tribute happens at 5 p.m. on the Edgemar Stage, preceded by Creedence Concert Revival and DJ MP.

Kristen Cook opens the Kid’s Corner Stage, followed by the Beatbuds, Baila Baila, and the Dill Kids Live.

Bands are also playing at The Victorian, Enterprise Fish Co. and various public spaces.

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