Leo Yue / The Highlander

When COVID-19 hit our lives just a mere year ago, the world was thrown into a frenzy. Schools shut down, work was being taken to the home office, and people were separated from their families. After a year of lockdown, the world started to return to what we could consider normal, yet we still had to endure specific guidelines to ensure humanity’s safety. Now with 2021 coming to an end, UCR students were able to experience their first big event hosted by ASPB: the annual Homecoming Bonfire. 

This year’s theme was “Welcome to Candyland” and incorporated delicious meals such as funnel cakes from The Sweet Stop, savory tacos from El Ojo de Agua Taqueria and mouth-watering pupusas from Las Ploras. Lengthy lines formed behind these stands, with many students unaware that they could get free meals with a single ticket. Once people realized this, an even longer line formed beside the field where tickets were being dispersed to those who showed proof that they had a wristband. 

The line for entry nearly wrapped around Skye Hall before stretching out beyond the wide crosswalk between the field and Lot 19. Lines of what appeared to be around one hundred people formed at individual booths, where people either pushed or collided against others to get to their destination. It was like going back and forth between the lines just to get what was needed, such as signing the waiver or waiting to grab a Bonfire 2021 hoodie. ASPB members were often helping to guide people in line to prevent large crowds from forming under health and safety measures. As a second year on campus for the first time, it was intriguing to see how many people had come tonight. It was the first in-person event where excitement became the night’s overwhelming feeling. 

Leo Yue / The Highlander

Many enjoyed spending their time on the large chair swings, getting their caricatures drawn or gliding down the high fiberglass slide while waiting for the live show to begin. The thrill of waiting to see the various performances trickled down everyone’s thoughts as the clock ticked. People were already flooding into the stage area once it was 7:30 p.m., ready to release the energy they had been feeling ever since the event was announced. It was clear that after a year of being in quarantine, UCR students and patrons were ready to feel alive once again. 

Openers took the stage near 8 p.m. that featured student DJs Adonis, Anansi and our very own alumni, DJ Jey. Thrilling dance performances included Collective Faction and 909DT. Each performance elevated the audience’s energy, even causing one guy to get on stage until one ASPB member told him politely to get off. He gracefully exited by jumping into the crowd that carried him before the bonfire countdown began. 

Loads of fireworks exploded into the air as flames overtook everyone’s sight. The fluorescent show garnered many phones to be brought out for Instagram stories and posts, with the added performance of a man playing the bagpipes on stage to showcase Highlander pride. The pounding of the fireworks collided with the beating of my heart, and I was unaware of the sound pumping in my ears. Even then, I was still mesmerized by the fact that I was standing at a live event. Being surrounded by my fellow peers made me realize that this was the beginning of a welcoming year. 

Leo Yue / The Highlander

Flames and smoke grew bigger as the bonfire slowly incinerated our rival Bethesda University’s mascot before Cid was announced on stage. Many people watching the bonfire rushed over to the stage where a large crowd was amassed. Strobe lights and fog machines spilled into the crowd as the beats to the music pounded loudly against our chests. Cid, originally from Queens, New York, played notable songs like “Satisfaction” by Benny Benassi and The Biz, “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida and more. Many people sang to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, captivating the audience with jolts of amusement and lots of screams. 

The show started calmly, even with a mosh pit slowly developing in the center of the crowd. An hour into the show, people became so desperate to get toward the front of the stage that they began to push regardless of the people around them. Toes were stepped on as people linked arms to get through the rowdiness of the crowd and resulted in jumping just to get through. At first, it was overwhelming to feel bodies collide against my five-foot stature, and it soon became annoying as people squished into spaces. 

Leo Yue / The Highlander

Not only were people beginning to focus on the music, but they were forced to watch over their personal bubbles as more and more people merged their way into the middle of the crowd. The middle portion included the chaotic mosh pit, resulting in many getting pushed to the edge of the stage for those who wanted to release their last bits of energy by jumping and pumping fists into the air. By the last 10 minutes of Cid’s performance, it felt like a secret message had silently gone around that informed everyone to join the mosh pit. By that point, whoever was even near the middle was pulled into an arena of moshers while people on the edge peacefully watched the ruckus unfold. 

The music died down by 10 p.m., as did the flames from the bonfire where ashes remained. Audience members slowly trickled down the street to walk home with sore feet, aching back pain and ears that could barely hear anything after that explosion of music. Bonfire 2021 managed to suck up all the energy that we had ever since we were locked behind our doors. 

Thank you to ASPB for hosting yet another great and memorable event! It comes to show that even after a wary year, we were still able to celebrate together with a night filled with food and fun. This could perhaps be the opening of more in-person events, such as Block Party and the highly anticipated Spring Splash, an event which UCR is known for. Only time will tell as to whether or not we will be seeing more in-person events on our campus.