UC Santa Cruz has struggled to create a unified campus culture. These students are trying to change that.

Core members of Slug Life Productions Board from left to right: Ari Meister, Mackenzi Rauls, Israel Lasarow and Jai Castro.
Core members of Slug Life Productions Board from left to right: Ari Meister, Mackenzi Rauls, Israel Lasarow and Jai Castro.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

UC Santa Cruz’s decentralized, woodsy campus has made hosting big student events challenging, but after putting on a concert last week at the renovated Quarry Amphitheater, Slug Life Productions Board members say they’re motivated to keep organizing events, and are gauging fellow students’ interest in a fee that could support those efforts.

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After years of fundraising challenges and administrative red tape, a group of UC Santa Cruz students organized a concert last week that they hope will help to establish a tradition of live music events and create a unified culture they say has struggled to take hold on campus.

On Friday, Slug Life Productions Board hosted a concert for UCSC students at the Quarry Amphitheater featuring two bands, alternative indie-pop bands Inner Wave and Dream, Ivory. The group of 15 volunteers behind Slug Life Productions Board hope to make the spring concert a permanent fixture of UCSC campus.

They’re calling the concert Edge of Eden — an homage to a similar event organized by a different group of students in 2014 on the East Field. Those students also hoped to create an annual tradition to unify students through music, but it didn’t take hold. Since then, students have helped co-organize other live music events at the Quarry Amphitheater, Quarry Plaza and at the colleges’ courtyards, but none have continued on an annual basis.

Student-run groups at other University of California campuses host similar annual live music events, including Bruin Bash at UCLA, Extravaganza at UC Santa Barbara and the Sun God Festival at UC San Diego. Several of the campuses have similar student-run groups, known as production boards, that use student fees to produce the events.

The Slug Life Productions Board has a poll on the UCSC campuswide elections ballot this year asking students if they would be open to paying a fee in the future that would support the board in organizing live music and special events for free for students on campus. The results could come as soon as Wednesday. The ballot also asks how satisfied students feel with the social enrichment of current programs and activities.

Alternative indie-pop band Inner Wave performs at the UC Santa Cruz Quarry Amphitheater on Friday.
Alternative indie-pop band Inner Wave performs at the UC Santa Cruz Quarry Amphitheater on Friday.
(Via Alexis Lutter-Lee / Slug Life Productions Board)

The students behind Slug Life hope such an annual event will help shift the culture at UCSC, which until now has not prioritized a unifying event for all students that revolves around music. The student organizers say that likely has to do with funding being more restricted at the smaller UC campus compared to larger budgets at the bigger schools, and that UCSC up until that point didn’t have a group that wanted to make musical events a fixture on campus. The university has also traditionally faced pressure to prioritize funding for basic needs, such as food and housing, as students grapple with the region’s high cost of living.

“We don’t like to compare too much to other UCs because we understand the circumstances of our campus. But at the same time, we do feel like there isn’t a priority to have that unity be the center focus,” said third-year student Jai Castro, 21, one of the core group of students organizing the concert. “Like we say, one of our slogans is, unifying students to the power of music is what we’re really all about.”

UC Santa Cruz has long struggled to create an event that students felt unified the university. UC Santa Cruz’s smaller and unique campus, with its 10 residential colleges nestled among redwood groves and steep ravines, is known for its natural beauty — but its best qualities can also make for a challenging venue for large-scale events for its students.

While each of the residential colleges hosts its own smaller events for its college-affiliated students, both students and administrators acknowledge that there isn’t a unifying event that brings together the entire campus, beyond 4/20 — the large cannabis-smoking gathering April 20 at Porter Meadow.

Ari Meister, 21, who is among Slug Life Productions’ core founding members, said he thinks that their board of students has shown that the campus can have a successful student-run concert.

Meister and Castro said the concert went smoothly, the bands felt welcomed and between 1,200 and 1,300 students attended. In total, they sold 1,246 tickets and had about 100 to 200 students who attended using tickets from the Educational Opportunity Programs office.

Ticket sales brought in an estimated $8,700.

“Just seeing that place pretty full was really rewarding,” said Meister.

UC Santa Cruz students watch Inner Wave perform at the Quarry Amphitheater on Friday.
(Via Aiden Krauss / Slug Life Productions Board)

Castro got a taste of what a unifying campus culture could feel like when they spent their entire UCSC first year living in a fraternity house at UC Berkeley after the pandemic shut down the UCSC campus for the 2020-21 academic year.

Castro, who uses they/them pronouns, was determined to start their college experience immersed in campus culture, not living at home in Orange County. So they stayed in a 14-room fraternity at UC Berkeley while studying film and digital media online at UCSC.

While in the frat house, they saw how UC Berkeley students attended virtual events and hoped to do something similar. “They were showing me events that their campus was throwing despite the pandemic, it made me feel like, damn, ‘We have nothing,’” they said.

Experiencing a mix of nostalgia for the concerts they produced with friends back home in Garden Grove, and feeling a lack of social connection with UCSC students, Castro began researching how to organize virtual concerts for UCSC students.

“I just feel like there haven’t been enough students at the right time who were interested in pushing activities that are contemporary, culture-based,” Castro said. “And I think it took a minute to find the right people to catch up with the rest of our UCs’ concerts, music, networking and career development.”

UCSC students have been trying to create a unifying culture through music for years, according to a City on a Hill Press article that year about the 2014 Edge of Eden concert.

The concert cost $200,000 to put on, largely because of expenses related to setting up the stage on the East Field given that the Quarry Amphitheater wasn’t yet renovated, then-Dean of Students Alma Sifuentes told the student-run paper at the time. In the article, organizers and Sifuentes said the school had likely lost money on the event.

Students had plans to continue the concert the following year but it didn’t happen. “It was the first run and it kind of scared that group away from ever pursuing it again,” said Castro.

Slug Life Productions’ goal was to eventually host the board’s first live concert in spring 2022.

But to start, Castro said figuring out all the details to produce the event — including how to reserve a space for live music — wasn’t easy.

“All this information on, like, where to reserve a lawn or something, it’s really hidden. It takes an absurd amount of time to just get connected to the right administrative office for certain projects,” they said. “I know my freshman year, I was very scared to reach out to the president of UCSC. That in itself was intimidating. I learned email formality, which was a learning curve.”

UCSC third-year student Jai Castro, founder of Slug Life Productions Board, stands in the Quarry Amphitheater.
UCSC third-year Jai Castro, founder of Slug Life Productions Board, stands in the Quarry Amphitheater.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Castro and the core team understood that they needed to build trust with administrators to be able to host the concert. They gained that trust with Dean of Students Garrett Naiman, the go-to person for students on campus who need anything from support for basic needs to information on how to plan an event at the Quarry Amphitheater.

“They’re a tour de force,” Naiman said about Castro. “I was impressed with Jai the second I met them.”

Naiman said figuring out any university, and especially the larger ones, after coming out of the pandemic, is complex, but that he supported the group’s vision.

“Students are craving spaces to gather, find a sense of belonging and solidify their identity as Banana Slugs here at UCSC — to have some of these quintessential college experiences like a concert, and [SLPB] worked really hard,” he said. “I think because we don’t have something quite like that here, it takes time to figure out where the home is going to be.”

While figuring out the bureaucracy, SLPB hosted its first live music event in fall 2021, at College 9 and John R. Lewis College, called Homesick Slug Jam. It had student bands perform and about 600 students attended. That academic year, the board hoped to have a concert at the Quarry Amphitheater in spring 2022 but came up against scheduling conflicts and other administrative challenges.

SLPB then put on another Slug Jam in fall 2022, with about 800 students at Cowell Courtyard, and a virtual show at Iveta Cafe during winter quarter this year.

“We definitely experienced a ton of postponements,” said Castro. “But [those concerts were] our way of pushing music events on campus.”

Through the summer of 2022, they worked with Naiman and Quarry Amphitheater General Manager José Reyes-Olivas on plans to have a concert in October 2022. But university officials turned down their choice, AG Club, because of a concern over the rap group’s lyrics potentially being offensive.

“So we were a little more careful when we decided to go for our next artist [for spring 2023],” said Meister, adding that that’s how SLPB later booked Inner Wave, who performed Friday.

After conquering the administrative battles, paperwork and scheduling conflicts of the past two years, the group turned to fundraising. It raised over $60,000 this past year to cover the costs of the event from various campus and student groups and the university administration.

Fourth-year Ari Meister stands with fellow Slug Life Productions Board members on May 15, 2023, at UCSC.
Fourth-year student Ari Meister stands with fellow members of Slug Life Productions Board at the Quarry Amphitheater.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Reyes-Olivas has worked at the campus for the past 20 years and says Slug Life Productions Board is the most motivated student group he’s worked with. The board members consider him their informal advisor, and say they couldn’t do the concert without him.

“These students are just amazing. They’re so driven and their motives are so pure — all they really are trying to do is create a safe space where students feel connected,” Reyes-Olivas said. “A lot of campuses and schools have those opportunities and I think we’re just hoping to make it more of an annual kind of function.”

Reyes-Olivas, who has worked on many big-budget events like San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music Festival, said it hasn’t been easy. In addition to the logistical challenges and fundraising, the students had to convince administrators that they could, and should, have a large-scale, high-quality live music event.

He recalls having doubts initially, but those disappeared after he read Castro’s proposal with Slug Life Productions Board’s vision. He also saw how the program gives students hands-on experience in the music industry, which he has been promoting through the student internship program, Quarry Amphitheater Production Academy.

Naiman added that the Quarry Amphitheater is still coming out of its early stages of its 2017 renovation and the pandemic. Last summer was the first-ever public-facing concert series. “We’re going to have a couple more shows this summer, and are going to ramp up those efforts even more a year from this summer,” he said.

Student Union Assembly President Jimmy Gomez said he first heard about SLPB when Castro went to the SUA office to raise awareness about their goals in summer 2021.

“They’re trying to uplift and create more of a sense of belonging through music, visual production, and also elevate the school spirit,” he said. “They’re trying to bring in a new perspective of how students can engage with music and understand how it’s getting implemented at other UC campuses.”

To gauge whether students are interested in pursuing a model similar to program boards at other UCs that charge student fees, SLPB put a poll on this year’s ballot. Students submitted electronic ballots from May 15 through May 22 at 11:59 p.m. Vote tabulations have to be verified by the chancellor and SUA president before they’re announced, potentially as soon as Wednesday.

The poll on this year’s ballot is a yes/no poll asking students if they would support paying a student fee. If they indicate yes, the poll then asks what is the maximum dollar amount they would approve.

If a majority of students supports the fee, production board members are hopeful they’ll get a measure on the spring 2024 ballot asking students to support a specific fee to bring free concerts to students.

Naimain said the Dean of Students office is working with the group on the structure of the program board to have more live music and special events to increase a sense of belonging among students.

Castro said they feel good about how the concert went. Students who attended later tagged the production board on Instagram, saying things like, “So proud to be a Banana Slug” and, “We need more of this!” Castro also saw how the board’s volunteers learned valuable skills in how to run a concert and networked with professionals who were hired to help run the event.

Meister said the concert was a good way to end his four years at UCSC, after having most of his time at the university interrupted by the pandemic. Both feel confident in continuing the board next year and having another Edge of Eden in the spring, along with three smaller events each quarter.

“I wish I could be here a little bit longer to see the impact and also still be a part of it. I’m just happy that I got to be a part of it,” Meister said. “Just having the show at the end of it all, that kind of feels more like my graduation than like actual graduation.”


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