Amid budget constraints and a contentious history, the Student Union Assembly (SUA) will hold its first large concert since 2014 and make the campus concert dream of many students a reality. Sage the Gemini will perform at the Quarry Amphitheater on Oct. 20.
Since Isabella Bullock’s election in May as SUA’s vice president of student life (VPSL), she’s been in a frenzy organizing the venue, finding an artist and securing funding.
“It’s been a process,” Bullock said. “[…] Through the summer, I was able to get a lot of help from different funding sources. This project’s about $60,000 so it’s been a lot for me to handle — trying to budget it out and make sure it works out.”
Creating a Concert
Over 90 percent of students surveyed this July said they wanted SUA to fund a campuswide concert. UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego host annual large-scale free music festivals for students with multiple headliners, and thousands of students attend. Other UCs host annual student concerts too, so why doesn’t UC Santa Cruz?
Student fees fund SUA, which has the lowest budget of all UC student governments. Concerts at other UCs have budgets of more than $500,000, funded by student fees and multiple large sponsors. SUA held a large concert four years ago called Edge of Eden, but came up about $37,000 short and is still recovering from its debt. Although considered a success in terms of student enjoyment, it left behind a bitter aftertaste.
Edge of Eden cost about $200,000 to put on and SUA charged students $55 per ticket. The artists performed at the East Field, so a stage was built from scratch and the performers alone cost $80,000.
“I really don’t like talking about that,” Bullock said. “That was irresponsible and honestly, when I look back at it, the reason why SUA has such low funding sometimes is because of Edge of Eden. My [VPSL] office has been cut down because of Edge of Eden.”
Partially in response to the deficit, past VPSL Tamra Owens (2016-2018) proposed a student fee increase referendum to SUA’s budget, some of which would have funded concerts. The 2017 fee did not pass.
Since Edge of Eden, SUA held smaller “Pop Up” concerts featuring Anderson .Paak in 2015 and Daniel Caesar in 2017 on budgets of about $19,000, but Bullock envisions a large annual concert for UCSC, starting this fall. She hopes to garner more funding through sponsorships and eventually bring bigger artists to campus.
This year’s concert will be cheaper for SUA and free for students. The budget totals about $60,000, with funds coming from student fees and various campus sponsors. Sage the Gemini costs $16,500, student labor costs $1,200 and rented generators cost $2,000. A portion of the budget also paid for police and fire marshal presence and renting concert infrastructure.
Though interested in the concert, some students are critical of this prioritization of student fees.
“It’s good that they’re doing the concert and it’s bringing forth a community for people who like to listen to music and enjoy the same types of music and have fun,” said third-year Gabby Magee. “But I mean, other than a concert they could use their money for other resources for students on this campus that need it.”
Preparing the Venue
Sage the Gemini will only be the second concert held at the Quarry Amphitheater since it reopened in 2017 after an $8 million reconstruction. Previous Executive Vice Chancellor Allison Galloway spearheaded the construction project after the Student Fee Advisory Committee approved the use of $6.3 million in student fees to fund it.
“We wanted to give the students a place where they controlled it and they could feel welcome,” Galloway said to City on a Hill Press in 2016, “and they could use that to build community.”
The Quarry Amphitheater is now a multi-use venue registered student organizations can rent for free but it sees more events from non-student groups.
“I want to revert the amphitheater into something that students use more often,” Isabella Bullock said. “It shouldn’t just be outside sources using this so much because this should be a resource for students.”
The amphitheater has the necessary infrastructure to host concerts, yet does not have the electrical capacity to support concert lights and renting $2,000 generators to power them.
Still, using the amphitheater will cost significantly less than the East Field did for Edge of Eden four years ago.
“The reality is that you have a real venue that has staging already available,” said Quarry manager Jose Reyes-Oliveras. “It’s a venue as opposed to an open field where you have to bring everything. So that eliminates a lot of the cost and along with it a lot of the work that’s involved with building a site from scratch.”
Sage the Gemini
Dominic Wynn Woods, better known as Sage the Gemini, is a rapper most famous for his 2013 hit “Gas Pedal.”
The Office of the VPSL announced Sage the Gemini as the concert’s featured artist at an announcement party at Quarry Plaza on Oct. 10. Attendees were guaranteed tickets and the remaining tickets sold out in the first day they were released.
“[He’s] someone that’s in your back pocket that you always are down to listen to, but don’t think about on the regular,” Isabella Bullock said.
Finding an artist who would fit the budget along with other cost considerations wasn’t easy. Responses to the survey sent to students over the summer came back requesting R&B or hip-hop artists, but the top requested artists, Bryson Tiller and E-40, were not within budget.
Though not originally on the survey, Sage the Gemini met all requirements, and after some price negotiation Bullock and Jose Reyes-Oliveras confirmed him as the artist in early September. Sage was upbeat and engaging at his 2016 Catalyst concert, said third-year Gabby Magee, who attended at the time. He interacted with the crowd and brought a good energy.
“We have so many great events at different [residential] colleges, but not one where all colleges can come together,” Bullock said. “So this unity of being able to go listen to artists that we all love and just being able to have a good time is something that I want students to have.”