The east Quad was packed with more than 3,000 concertgoers by the time rapper Duckwrth and his band took the stage to headline Lawntopia in mid-May. Hands raised high in the evening air as the hip-hop show rolled along with joyful jumping and singing along.
For the audience of mostly UC Davis students, the free Lawntopia concert was a perfect way to unwind before finals a week later. It was also a much-needed celebration after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic squashed much in the way of live music, especially on campus.
Lawntopia, organized and produced by the ASUCD Entertainment Council, had been months in the making, from booking the artists to promoting on social media and securing the sound system and staging. And that day, the council’s members and volunteers managed the logistics and made sure all went to plan.
“It is a lot of work, and I think anyone involved learns a lot,” said Ashley Hicks, the council’s director, following the show. “I really love the council so much. It’s a total mix of majors, music tastes, backgrounds and everything, and everyone contributes. Even if you don’t want to go into the entertainment industry, the skills you learn are applicable to any career path.”
The ASUCD Entertainment Council — or “EC” for short — has been a pivotal part of campus life since 1979. Over the decades, the student-based council has booked some of the biggest names in popular music, including Bob Dylan and Elton John, Snoop Dogg and heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath. They’ve also introduced Aggie crowds to such artists as Kendrick Lamar, Muse and Drake before they became superstars.
In the process the council members learn firsthand about show production, marketing, project management and much more. The days leading up to Lawntopia meant promotions director Brandon Ball did a lot of lunch-hour “tabling” — promoting Lawntopia at picnic tables outside the Memorial Union.
“I was interested in seeing the behind-the-scenes of the music industry,” said Ball about why he joined the council. “I’ve always been playing music and I wanted to see how to produce shows and also promote shows. I’ve been learning social media skills, the importance of flyers and tabling. That’s been a real fun opportunity for me.”
The EC had to get especially creative once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Along with organizing concerts, such as noontime shows and open mics, the council holds free movie screenings and other events for students. That all came to a halt in the days of remote learning.
The EC soon pivoted to Zoom, where it broadcast shows with local bands and a virtual concert featuring indie-rock singer Phoebe Bridgers. The council also hosted a speaker series with entertainment industry professionals offering their advice and tips.
“I really struggled throughout [the pandemic],” said Hicks about the emotional toll of the pandemic and the difficulty of organizing events. “But as cliche as it sounds, I still think about how happy everyone seems at the events I work on and it really does make it worth it and makes me want to continue.”
As COVID restrictions began to ease, the EC focused on bringing back in-person events. That included a Vinyl Paint Night in Davis’ Central Park, where participants gathered to paint on vinyl records that were supplied by downtown’s Armadillo Music. Its Local Limelight series spotlighting area bands returned, as did a free movie screening — of the Nicolas Cage movie Massive Talent at the Varsity Theater. Sunset Fest, the council’s popular outdoor concert, had also returned by fall 2021.
“As far as our mission,” said Ball, “I think my greatest experience was tabling and someone came up and said, ‘You’re doing a movie screening? I’m in 24 units this quarter and I really need to de-stress.’ I was like, this is exactly what the ‘EC’ is for.”
But Lawntopia was the current council’s biggest event by far, and one with plenty of challenges. Volunteers were harder to come by in the wake of COVID and ever-changing public health guidelines. Excitement still remained high. Duckwrth was considered a big score for 2022 Lawntopia, especially as the Los Angeles-based rapper spent part of the year opening for Billie Eilish on her American tour.
The EC features its legacy of showcasing A-list acts and emerging artists on T-shirts — listing many of the definitive musicians booked for UC Davis events. And as the final notes of Lawntopia 2022 wound down, there was hope that this successful show is just a taste of what’s to come from the council.
“It’s good to let people know what the Entertainment Council has done,” said Vanessa Gonzalez, the Entertainment Council’s assistant director. “Duckwrth is a huge catch and I think he’s going to go down on the T-shirt when it’s next printed. That knowledge makes us think about what can we do to continue these traditions. Going to concerts is one of my favorite things, so to be behind that and bring it to UC Davis students is really fulfilling.”