A Brief History of OU’s Party Culture

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Despite falling in the national rankings in recent years, The Ohio University Party School’s reputation lives on through holiday celebrations that date back decades.

Something bigger than a few house parties strung together on residential streets came to mind when alumni reminisced about the festive seasons of their college years at OU.

“Spring Fest” accompanied warmer weather in Athens in the 1980s. Students were able to attend a concert organized by the Spring Fest committee, according to a precedent To post report.

“Equipped with coolers laden with beer, flasks, Frisbees and the scant amount of socially acceptable clothing, thousands braved the scorching heat to launch a massive assault on the intramural fields of Mill Street,” the report said.

The 1982 Spring Fest was held in May, and the 93-degree weather prompted students to cool off by jumping into the Hocking River, which was conveniently located along the OU’s intramural grounds.

Scott Hunter, a 1987 OU graduate, fondly remembers the Spring Fests of the 1980s. Specifically, he remembers the number of kegs of beer present at the event.

The party had 200 to 300 barrels at the festival on the intramural fields, Hunter said. An official beer truck with coolers and taps on the side was also present.

At some point, the spring parties celebrated by college students in the ’80s died out and street parties grew in popularity in the ’90s, Hunter said, though he’s not sure why. Palmer Fest was the first street festival held and others including High Fest and Congo Fest followed.

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, OU student parties were restricted to residential streets and not considered organized events, said Justin Schwartz, OU Class of 2001.

“It was like just a group of people on the street coordinating in the sense that we were just going to walk the streets, walk to different houses, chat,” Schwartz said. “I vaguely remember maybe a few signs on Palmer Fest but otherwise it looked like a loosely coordinated group of people.”

Despite the subdued nature of parties in the late ’90s, Schwartz said he remembered the camaraderie among OU students whenever parties were held.

“There was often just a party, and you would come up and people would invite you over, whether you knew them or not,” Schwartz said. “I’ve been to other campuses where it wasn’t like that at all: going to Miami one time and…you had to pay for a cup or you had to know someone to get into a party, and that wasn’t just not like that.OU tended to work.

Katie Ryan, Class of 2011, and John Ryan, Class of 2010, who are married, enjoyed attending an event called “Numbers Fest” while they were students.

In 2004, students at UO decided to add a modified version of the ’80s “Spring Fest” to the holiday season schedule. After the first Spring Fest of the 2000s, subsequent festivals have been named based on the number of years after the original. The resulting festivals were named Two Fest, Three Fest, Four Fest, etc., said John Ryan.

The event was eventually dubbed “Numbers Fest” and turned into an annual music festival, which took place in a field outside of town, John said. Students had to purchase tickets and arrange trips to campus and the festival site.

“We had like legit school buses that shuttled you to and from, and you had to pay,” Katie said. “For one way, (it was) $20 per person, so…if you had a vehicle, you could make a ton of money taking people there and back.”

While the Ryans attended OU, Numbers Fest hosted artists such as Mike Posner, Kid Cudi and Machine Gun Kelly. The event was put on hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the festival season concert era has yet to return. However, Hunter hopes he can be resurrected by current OU students.

“I would love to see an event held like (what) Spring Fest was in Athens 25 years ago,” Hunter said. “(It) would bring everyone together…with better music that you can charge, (and) everyone could pay $15 and get regional bands in a place like the intramural grounds.”

There is currently a dedicated Numbers Fest Instagram account, but it hasn’t been posted since September 7, 2021.

Though the years have passed, the Ryans said OU festivals rekindle feelings of nostalgia.

“It’s bittersweet, I think, thinking about it,” Katie said. “Thinking back to the festivals, all I can think of is how much fun and excitement there was. I miss it.”

@AddieHedges

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