Bringing an urban soundscape to St. Olaf
Shortly after arriving at St. Olaf College three years ago, Salvador Alvarez ’19 created an event focused on promoting an urban soundscape of diverse culture not readily present in the small-town Midwest. Alvarez and three friends transformed the Lion’s Pause Mane Stage into a vibrant music festival called Urban Sound, showcasing a full line-up of student talent complete with a master of ceremonies and lighting design.
“There hadn’t been anything done like Urban Sound, where there has been a platform for students to perform original music and have that done in a way that felt professionally curated,” Alvarez says. “I wanted to create not only a brand but an experience for people — students, family, friends, even professors — who want to come and see for themselves.”
The event was a hit, drawing 350 students who drenched the performers in applause and enthusiasm.
This spring, as he prepares to graduate and leave the Hill, Alvarez brought Urban Sound back for round two.
With urban music spiking in popularity since his first year, Alvarez shifted his emphasis from presenting diversity of music to highlighting the diversity of the individual, using music as the medium for artists to openly and honestly represent themselves.
“Urban Sound was a music festival that brings students together — from different faces, backgrounds, cultures, religions, and sexuality,” he says. “It was a great way to celebrate their expression, which was through music.”
Alvarez sees a clear evolution of the student body and calls his festival “the hallmark of the ever-diversifying St. Olaf campus culture. As more and more students find their home at St. Olaf, more students find ways to channel their own forms of expression through the arts.”
Alvarez notes that being able to feel the energy in the room, and engaging with and responding to the vibe, impacts both performers and audience members. Even if their backgrounds are different, he says, there is a sense of common humanity and love floating in the air of a concert.
“I feel like people can feel an experience through music regardless of what the person is saying in the music. One of those things is the performance side of it. Seeing a live performance is very different than hearing a recording [of the same song]. Live creates that connection with the artist,” he says.
Urban Sound 2019 became more than a music festival — it was an interdisciplinary experience. Not stopping at producing a live performance, Alvarez also enlisted the help of students who specialize in marketing/PR, stage production, special effects, photography, and video production to further document and promote original St. Olaf talent.
“Even if it were just one person who showed up, it would have been a success.”
“Even if it were just one person who showed up, it would have been a success,” he says, noting that being able to see students shine on stage is his favorite part of event planning.
During his time at St. Olaf, Alvarez additionally wrote, recorded, and performed music, creating a network of close creative friends along the way. In doing so, he discovered a passion for working closely with artists to uplift them and support their voices.
“The number one thing I’ve realized I enjoy right now is working with artists,” he says. “Being in the studio, in the middle of the grind, is the most fun for me.”
He will soon take that passion off the Hill. Alvarez plans to take on the Twin Cities music scene with his newly created venture, Smack Records Collective. The collective will function as a family of artists supporting each other. As the music industry is notorious for causing harmful emotional strain, Alvarez sees Smack Records as a timely addition to an artist network.
He sees Minneapolis and St. Paul as a promising hub for, in his own words, “people coming together to do music that becomes global, not just local.” Alvarez, an American studies major at St. Olaf, wants to advance that work.
“Being from San Francisco, I bring a very different flavor of my perception of the world. It’s a very innovative city, but it’s also very diverse. I want to bring that to the Twin Cities because, even though there’s diversity, it isn’t being represented or not everyone has a voice,” Alvarez says. “Through music, I want to be able to represent artists from different backgrounds — not just black, white, Latino — but people who speak, for example, Arabic or German or Spanish to do music on the level that Prince would have.”
Although it can be intimidating, Alvarez keeps in mind the personal growth that goes along with being an artist. He wants to encourage others to keep moving forward with their dreams, even if that means taking an off-beat path.
“It’s a matter of letting yourself evolve. Be flexible. If the initial vision isn’t going according to plan, think about the story and the purpose,” he says.
“It’s a matter of letting yourself evolve. Be flexible. If the initial vision isn’t going according to plan, think about the story and the purpose.”