Highlanders came out to admire the sunset on Wednesday night with singer-songwriter Kina Grannis. Fans gathered at the Bell Tower to enjoy the Side-by-Side concert put on by UCR’s Asian-Pacific Student Programs in celebration of Asian-Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The surrounding areas of the Bell Tower were filled with student organizations selling everything from ramen burgers to dumplings. The program began at 6 p.m. and a small crowd sat on the steps in front of the Bell Tower chatting with friends as they waited for Grannis to take the stage.

Before the main act, the crowd was greeted by Not So Sharp, UCR’s own acapella group. They performed covers of Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Up” and Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and were met with a delightful reaction from the audience. They modestly left the stage to make room for APSP members who tried to pump up the crowd by promising giveaways later in the program. They left the stage and we were left to wait. I shivered in the wind and glanced at the side of the stage where a DJ was playing music and an enthusiastic audience member was dancing. Personally, I was grateful for the distraction. The lack of activity onstage gave me too much time to ponder why on earth I’d left my jacket in my dorm and the sudden movement took my mind off things. Finally, a student performer took the stage to perform some of her original songs. It’s hard to estimate the general reaction of a student crowd to an unknown performer, but even as she stumbled on the lyrics as she sang, onlookers cheered her on and made her feel welcome with screams of support.

Nothing gets the crowd moving like free stuff. APSP members tossed up T-shirts and reusable water bottles as audience members gleefully grabbed at numerous airborne items crashing to the ground. The program then continued with a confusing return by Not So Sharp, who proceeded to sing the same songs they’d performed previously with a few more group members. Surprisingly, this may not have been a bad thing. The size of the crowd had grown since the start time and Not So Sharp proved to be strong vocally and talented enough to keep the crowd interested. More free items were given out and another student performer entertained the growing audience with cheery songs filled with pop culture references, including celebrities who’ve starred as main characters in Nicholas Sparks movies and popular theme park Disneyland. Audience members were then instructed to direct their attention to the grassy area sandwiched between the Bell Tower and the HUB where a lion dance took place, filled with drummers and a routine by a performer wearing a dragon dance costume. Following this energetic performance was a comedic student performer who intertwined hilarious life stories with a cover of several Katy Perry songs.

Finally, APSP members took to the stage to introduce the program’s headliner, Kina Grannis. Her entrance produced deafening screams from the crowd and I tried to keep my balance as excited fans struggled to push their way to the front. Cell phones emerged from pockets as the growing mob attempted to get photos of the charismatic singer. Grannis was all smiles as she talked to the audience, emitting beauty with a touch of quirkiness that made her presence warm and captivating. With the assistance of an acoustic guitar she began performing songs from her new album “Elements” as well as songs from her previous album “Stairwells.”

Grannis made the concert more intimate by providing the backstory for many of her songs. She broke hearts while telling the story behind the solemn track “Forever Blue,” in which she spoke of the difficulty she has with change, primarily the inevitable shift in one’s life after the loss of a loved one, and how this has negatively impacted her life. Grannis also showed versatility. She had the entire audience laughing while telling a story that involved a rat, a cabin and herself in the middle of nowhere. She hilariously admitted that she thought she was going to murdered before realizing there was simply a rat in her cabin and this later inspired her song “Little Worrier.” The response Grannis garnered from the crowd was incredible, with someone confessing their love for her almost every five seconds. She sang one of her hits, “Valentine,” and tried to get the not-so-rhythmically-oriented crowd to clap along with her on the last song before playfully acknowledging that it had been a bad idea.

The night was full of laughter and good vibes. Grannis’ smile alone lit up the stage and her musical abilities made her even more alluring. Fans were in for another treat when she announced that she would be having a small meet-and-greet after the show. Overall, APSP was successful in putting on a terrific event that not only showcased the talent of UCR students, but allowed those present to witness the undeniable talent of Grannis who, based on this performance, has nothing but success coming her way.