The Hightones


It was yet another beautiful Saturday in Santa Cruz. The air was filled with sunshine and smiling faces in the streets of downtown. I positioned myself on the outdoor patio of New Leaf to enjoy the weather and a coffee. To my delight, a familiar sound filled the air on the patio not long after I was seated. I had heard this sound once before on Halloween night; it was the warm, harmonious tonesof soulful women singing from deep within their souls. I left my seat on the patio to meet the faces of such phenomenal voices. Standing in front of me were twelve lovely young women, The Hightones. The Hightones are UCSC’s premier all-female a cappella group. Their melodies filled the air from the beginning of their show with a strong rendition of “I Will Survive” followed by an unforgettable mash up of Duffy’s “Mercy” with Adele’s “Rumor Has it”. The Hightones pour out duets and solos backed by beautiful vocal accompaniment with unexpected, yet essential beat patterns. These ladies are truly remarkable. It is so refreshing to see young, educated women set their Saturday aside to pursue something they believe in.

Between sets a group member, Mariel Rowels, informed the growing crowd of the High Tones upcoming show on December 6th. Mid-speech Mariel was interrupted by the street police to end the performance due to new street performing regulations. They encouraged the ladies to move in front of the O’Neil shop to continue their show. This disturbance not only interrupted the performance, but cut the Hightones opportunity to spread their message short. I joined the tones as they walked down Pacific to the O’Neil shop, leaving the crowd they had begun to form behind. To everyone’s disappointment, there was already another set of performers completely set up in the street space. Feelings of discontent quickly took the place of the harmonious sounds from minutes before.


I had the chance to catch up with some of the members on the move to the block in front of the O’Neil store. Group member Jordynn Hawkins explained how the all-female Hightones were ironically formed by a male member in 2009. Since then, this sisterhood of singers have produced their own shows, performed at several venues, and have been invited to share the stage with internationally-known a cappella super stars. The twelve members are all UCSC students varying in age, grade and background that come together to share song. The Hightones are one of four a cappella groups at the University and try to perform as regularly as possible to entertain the masses.

The disappointment of the show ending prematurely not only affected the Hightones, but the audience too. Onlookers were visibly disappointed that the show had to end. The tips audience members were giving were clearly not fueling these girls paychecks, but as an opportunity to pursue their dreams. As someone who frequently travels downtown, I can understand the conflict that arises between street performers, citizens and the city. It’s such a shame that new laws thwart the process of the arts being spread in the streets. The street police who stopped the show even complimented the Hightones on their singing!


However, there is hope for resolve on these new standards with street performing. Street performing is an asset to the Santa Cruz culture. It would be a loss to our community if street performing became as regulated of a law as mundane tasks like parking. We as a community should be praising the artists who readily showcase their talents, not discourage them to move elsewhere. If this regulation persists, what will become of the artistic community in Santa Cruz?

Be sure to continue your support for the local artist community and keep these individuals in Santa Cruz. Check out the Hightones on and off the streets of downtown at, through their Facebook page and on Twitter. Don’t miss out on their winter show on December 6th where they will be displaying their wonderful talent!


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