Every rock is intentional, event and facility manager Jose Reyes-Olivas assures me, peering down at the stage from above the Greek-style rows of seating in UCSC’s Quarry Amphitheater. Even that big-ass one jutting up through the floor. Having overseen months of renovations, Olivas has something to prove.
“This is the best way to show off what the hell we’ve got, we need to do a big show right out of the gate,” Olivas says.
The Quarry is a historical site, having been a center of Vietnam War protests and the Tiananmen Square Vigil. It’s hosted Cesar Chavez, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, countless graduation ceremonies, and a nude psychology class or two. But it fell into disrepair through the years, eventually closing in 2006 after safety and stabilization became a concern.
Nearly 10 years later, Alison Galloway, former executive vice chancellor, rolled up—literally. She drove a backhoe into the groundbreaking ceremony of the Quarry Amphitheater in 2014, with the goal of restoring the venue to its rightful place as the epicenter of the campus.
“My hope is to see this place being used as a creative outlet,” Olivas says. “This can and should be a bridge builder for the city of Santa Cruz. The campus has had such a big impact on the city, why shouldn’t the campus have events here, too?”
Nearly one year and $8 million later, the newest and largest music venue in Santa Cruz is complete. In celebration, UCSC booked Chicano Batman, a popular Los Angeles-based four-piece, to christen the restored Quarry last weekend. Chicano Batman’s newest album, Freedom is Free, is an eclectic mashup of jazz, rock and Latin influences—think James Brown meets Tropicália Joe Bataan. Olivas says that with a large percentage of UCSC students hailing from Latino backgrounds—and in the wake of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) repeal and anxiety over AB540—the band is really a perfect fit.
It’s no surprise that with the popularity of the band, and a student body of more than 18,000, demand for the free concert on Saturday was above and beyond what was expected. Tickets were raffled off, leaving more than a few disappointed students. I had a Willy Wonka-esque moment as one of the lucky few ticket holders, despite not being a student or a die-hard Chicano Batman fan.
There was security everywhere, which was both reassuring and good for a bit of conversation between sets. Why are there video cameras here? When I asked the UCSC Chief of Police Nader Oweis why there were so many security guards and police officers there, he explained that though the event security was planned before the Las Vegas tragedy, it did have an impact.
“There definitely was a greater sense of awareness after Las Vegas, but it didn’t necessarily change our numbers,” he says.
When I wasn’t chatting it up with security, I was admiring the venue. It was hard not to, as a stunning green hue illuminated the underside of the trees and bounced off of the limestone face, and a thick haze of smoke swirled up from the stage and front row. I was getting emotional seeing the amphitheater come back to life—until I would glance down at the empty rows of seating.
Maybe people didn’t turn up, or something happened with tickets? No, it turned out, the organizers had simply underestimated how many people the Quarry could hold. The sheer enormity of the space dwarfed the 1,800 people spread across the aisles and packed into the standing room. The amphitheater seemed only about halfway full. Though the fire marshall will have the final say, the possibilities were visibly exciting to Olivas, who, when not pacing back and forth between aisles, stood in the back mingling.
“Now we know how many more it can hold,” he says, craning his neck and voice over the shrill keyboard of Chicano Batman’s opening set. “This is the next chapter.”
For more information about the Quarry Amphitheater or for upcoming events, visit deanofstudents.ucsc.edu.
Update 10/24 10:48 a.m.: Link updated.