After two years, fest season is back.
Since COVID-19 first hit the U.S. in 2020, the large parties known as “fests” were halted due to public mandates preventing mass gatherings. When students tried to continue fest season by themselves in 2021, the city of Athens and Ohio University were focused on deterring parties or gatherings.
The fests are coordinated by a group of students known as Brick Life Entertainment, which was founded in 2016 with the goal of creating engaging events for the OU community.
“I like to call us a group of creative students who all have a love for the music and entertainment industry,” Matthew Fischer, a senior studying music production and the recording industry, said.
As a member of Brick Life, Fischer also said its goal is to better the social life of Athens with all of the group's talents put together, such as DJs, photographers, digital designers and more.
On Jan. 27, the 2022 fest schedule was released on the organization's Instagram page. The post surpassed 1,500 likes, and multiple students voiced their excitement in the comments.
Fischer said the fests are exciting for students and bring a sense of unity to OU, though he feels the school has lost some of the party spirit over the past few years. For seniors, the fests haven’t been around since their freshman year, so the return will be a new experience for the majority of students.
“This is something that we can give students to look forward to and be happy about,” Fischer said.
While COVID-19 is still looming with the omicron variant in Athens, questions are being raised about how it will impact the parties.
As far as Brick Life is concerned, Fischer suggested everyone follows the city of Athens' COVID-19 protocols, even though he hasn't officially heard anything from the city yet. The city doesn’t currently prevent outdoor gatherings, which means the fests aren’t breaking city rules.
OUPD Staff Lt. Tim Ryan said OUPD and APD will be working closely together to address what he calls “unsanctioned events,” and safety is their top priority.
APD Chief Tom Pyle said the department works with not only OUPD to monitor the fests but also outside units, such as the Ohio Investigative Unit, or OIU. OIU sends out “plain-clothes” officers, what most people know as “undercovers," to monitor safety from the inside, checking out the area and preventing any bigger issues, like fights or underage drinking.
APD isn’t expecting typical fest numbers this year because of COVID-19 and the hiatus resulting from it.
Because the events are outdoor gatherings, they are not breaking any COVID-19-related laws. Despite that, Pyle said the department expects to see a rise in COVID-19 numbers after the fests, though he hopes that because vaccination rates are high, herd immunity will keep them a bit lower than expected.
The departments still plan on policing the fests and will continue to be firm when it comes to the enforcement of regulations and laws. They’ll make sure that fests end by nightfall on the days they fall on, Pyle said.
“We’re just dusting off the playbook that we’ve had in place for the probably last 10 years,” Pyle said.
Pyle suggested that in order to maximize the length and success of parties, people should keep the parties in backyards, keep trash picked up, not allow urination on and outside of houses, prevent fist fights and not carry alcoholic drinks outside of the party area.
“There's a point of control that's just at some points lost … because of the volume of people, the violations that occur and the consumption of alcohol,” Pyle said. “Those three things together just make it impossible for these things to continue without being in direct violation of the law.”