This post was updated Aug. 23 at 9:50 a.m.
The Watermelone Music Festival was born in Bruin Plate.
It was there that second-year statistics student Sheila Wang and second-year undeclared student David Jiaye Pan first discussed the idea of putting together their own music festival and later held planning meetings in the same UCLA dining hall, as well as in a Sproul Hall music room.
Wang and Pan began planning the inaugural Watermelone Music Festival – inspired by the name of the prominent Strawberry Music Festival in China – in May, just three months before its opening on Aug. 13 with an attendance of more than 200 people at Yuyintang, a music venue in Shanghai. The festival featured a lineup of genres from folk to rock music and was planned entirely by students who had never before organized a music festival.
Wang and Pan said they were inspired by music festivals they had attended in the past, including prominent festivals such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and smaller, grassroots ones such as the UCLA-based Coastalong Festival.
“I was like, ‘Wow, students can just make those kinds of festivals from scratch. Why don’t I have one?’” Wang said.
Pan said he was also excited to provide a different festival atmosphere he felt Shanghai was lacking. Although Shanghai hosts other music festivals, such as the larger Strawberry Music Festival, Pan said he hoped to provide a more intimate experience for festivalgoers.
“I don’t think we really have the smaller, more-close-knit-community sort of feeling,” Pan said. “We wanted to build an environment where people can just come and relax and chill and have fun and enjoy our music.”
Wang, who headed the festival committee, and Pan worked to find musical groups based in Shanghai, reaching out to friends and friends of friends to put together the festival’s lineup. Some bands were more well-established, such as Schrödinger’s Fish, which has played in several festivals and competitions. Others, like Lush!, made their musical debut at the festival.
The student planners faced many challenges that extended beyond their lack of experience. Limited planning time made it difficult to complete necessary paperwork such as security documents, which they had to submit to the police department, Wang said.
Money was another large obstacle, Pan said. During the search for venues, the pair discovered that some would cost up to $10,000 a night. However, the organizers found Yuyintang, an older live music venue in Shanghai, and were able to access the venue for free after meeting with the owner.
“Because it’s one of the older places in Shanghai, they don’t get a lot of new people coming in. It’s mostly returning customers,” Pan said. “They want to expand their business niche to the younger generations, and we’re doing that for him.”
Wang and Pan said the event’s involvement with charity also helped them land the venue. The festival offered tote bags and T-shirts for sale, with all profits going to the Shanghai Zhanyi Children’s Intellectual Development Service Center, a charity for children with cerebral palsy and autism. Wang and Tina Duong, a second-year history student, both created original designs for the festival.
Duong’s design, centered on a watermelon drawn to look like a globe, was advertised on the poster and the promotional material for the festival. Duong also painted countries inside of the fruit with seeds exploding outward like confetti to honor and celebrate the culture and location of the festival, she said.
The months of planning finally came to fruition at the four-hour festival last week. Wang said though the festival took a while to warm up, he felt the atmosphere was on fire by the end of the night. He added Schrödinger’s Fish performance for a song titled “Crocodile Has Watermelone,” written specifically for the festival, was the highlight of the night.
Pan and Wang said the event served as a learning experience and hope to bring the festival back again next summer.
“If you have an idea, and if you really believe in that idea, then you’re going to find people who support you,” Pan said. “It doesn’t matter if it seems difficult in the beginning, because none of us ever did it before, holding a music festival. But if you have that sort of passion, that sort of mentality, then eventually, it’s going to happen in one way or another.”