In its rebirth, UCSC Quarry to debut summer music series

Chicano Batman performs at UCSC's Quarry Amphitheater in 2017.
(Via UC Santa Cruz)

Newly announced concerts by indie pop singer Carla Morrison and electronica band STS9 suggest Quarry Amphitheater is ready to emerge as an impressive new concert venue.

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In what could be the first step toward establishing one of the most scenic concert venues in Northern California, the Quarry Amphitheater on the campus of UC Santa Cruz announced the first dates in its new summer music series on Tuesday.

Mexican-born indie pop star Carla Morrison will perform live at the Quarry on June 24. Several weeks later, on Aug. 12 and 13, the electronica dance band Sound Tribe Sector 9 (often called STS9) will play on consecutive nights at the Quarry. Other dates for summer concerts in what UCSC bills as “Red Rocks in the Redwoods” could be announced later this spring. The shows are a co-production of UCSC and the San Francisco-based promoter Noise Pop.

Tickets for the newly announced shows are slated to go on sale Friday at this site (which will go live Friday).

The Quarry is a secluded, bowl-shaped amphitheater in the heart of the UCSC campus, just steps from the Bay Tree Bookstore. The site has long been a campus touchstone, having hosted a wide variety of events. In recent years, however, the Quarry has been transformed by new renovations in sound, light, staging and digital transmission.

On Saturday, the Quarry will host the high-profile poetry event “Universe in Verse” that includes writers, artists and scientists sharing poems that evoke awe and wonder about the universe. The “Universe in Verse” event was originally scheduled to take place in April 2020, but was canceled due to the pandemic.

In that sense, said site manager Jose Reyes-Olivas, the Quarry’s 2022 season is a continuation of what was to take place in 2020.

“We were in pre-production for this (‘Universe’) event prior to COVID,” said Reyes-Olivas. “And if you look at the calendar, this is literally where we left off before we went into shelter-in-place, so it’s kind of a return back to our first big public event.”

The Quarry has a general-admission seating capacity of 2,700, making it the largest outdoor venue in Santa Cruz County. That capacity puts the Quarry roughly on the level of the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, which is slated to big-name acts such as Lyle Lovett, the Decemberists, the Gipsy Kings and Elvis Costello this summer. There are still questions about the Quarry’s ability to compete with other high-profile Bay Area venues, including parking capacity, green rooms and security. But, Reyes-Olivas told me in 2021, he’s hoping to reach that level of prominence in the minds of audiences and touring musicians. “That’s the vision,” he said.

The site’s renovation cost around $8 million, with benefits including new high-capacity abilities for streaming and digital transmission.

The Quarry was once a central focus on the campus, a venue for events including lectures, gatherings, concerts and ceremonies; it has hosted an array of well-known guests from Joan Baez to Buckminster Fuller. But in later years, the site lost its status as a campus meeting ground. At one point, it was closed to visitors for several years.

UC Santa Cruz's Quarry Amphitheater
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Beginning in 2017, after its renovation, it hosted a few musical events for the UCSC student population as well as graduation ceremonies. Reyes-Olivas said another purpose of the amphitheater is to serve as a kind of academy for UCSC students, particularly students of color, in learning the fine art of presenting live events.

“In our first years of operation, we had over 20,000 guests come in and out of the Quarry for college graduation, so we’ve definitely learned a lot about operations.”

After the “Universe” event Saturday, the Quarry will host two other high-profile events before the first concert of the summer series: the John R. Lewis College dedication ceremony May 6, and the lecture event “Abolition. Feminism. Now” with Angela Davis on May 21.

The summer series marks what could be the first major regular interface between the UCSC campus and the broader Santa Cruz community since the heyday of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, which hosted outdoor theater events every summer in the redwood-shrouded Festival Glen until its closing in 2013.

“I think it’s just going to be so impressive to a lot of first-time guests,” said Reyes-Olivas, “because a lot of folks just haven’t come up to campus. It’s such an impressive space that I think it really is highlighting the university and not just the amphitheater.”

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