One of the year's most significant events took place over the weekend — albeit, one of the most significant events for Ohio University. Friday and Saturday were dedicated to what some say OU does best: partying. With decades worth of students enjoying Palmer Place and Palmer Street Fests, one year — 2004 — stands out as one of the most amicable fests thanks to the work of an OU alum.
For 2023, Friday was dedicated to “festing” at Palmer Place Apartments, located at 25 Kurtz St., within the outside courtyard. The area was packed full of people dancing to music, doing keg stands and generally enjoying the nice day.
Saturday curated the same vibes but in a different location a couple of yards over. The annual Palmer Fest, hosted by residents of Palmer Street, saw a little bit more rain but no fewer partygoers. The sunshine in between the brief showers made it possible for everyone to enjoy another day of festing.
Students flocked to the parties, but some neighboring residents expressed their disdain for the repeated song “We Found Love” by Rihanna. Although not opposed to the singer as a whole, it was noted that there are other songs in her discography that would have been welcomed.
Fests and “Fest Season” have been a part of OU culture for a very long time, and Palmer Fest arguably is one of the most notable. Wrapping up the 2023 season, Palmer Fest even has its own Wikipedia page.
According to the online page, attendance can range up to “tens of thousands” of people. Furthermore, the page states that the origins of Palmer Fest can be traced to 1988, with its official inauguration in 1991.
Since Fest Season is so iconic to OU, there are many alumni who look back at their college years with fondness.
One such alumnus is Michael Burns, a member of the class of 2005. Now working as a senior lecturer and director of career readiness at Texas State University, Burns was a journalism major living on Palmer Street almost 20 years ago.
What makes Burns’s experience with Palmer Fest unique is his involvement with the day to ensure everything ran smoothly and remained safe.
“I lived on Palmer Street my junior and senior year but was highly involved with the organizing of it my junior year in 2004,” Burns said. “I lived at 15 Palmer, and our group of people that lived there, along with a lot of the other houses, we knew a lot of the folks on the street and we were pretty close.”
Burns said that bond aided the group on Palmer Street in talking frankly about fests to ensure everyone had a good time while also remaining safe.
“We decided that if we were going to plan Palmer Fest, was there a way to do it better and more organized and smoother than it’s usually done?” Burns said.
He also said many of the residents on the street were leaders on campus, whether that be academically or for student organizations. Burns said that notion pushed the agenda for more care to be taken for the block party.
“They had a little more responsibility than I would say the average student had,” he said. “I think that’s kind of how those conversations started.”
The core group of students not only organized matters amongst themselves but even made the effort to get OU, as well as the city of Athens, involved.
“We had a meeting with every house on Palmer Street, we asked at least one rep from each house to come,” Burns said. “We invited the university police and the Athens police to come, and we invited City Council members if they wanted to come, and we just had a conversation about the issues around Palmer Fest, and how we could still have a good time as students and still obey the law and keep it as safe as possible.”
That self-made committee went so far as to give the police officers a phone number for every house on the block so that they could reach out if anything got out of hand. Burns said that not only improved relations between the residents and law enforcement, but it also gave the students a chance to calm things down before the police intervened.
“I think it created an atmosphere where it was just a little more respectful, because there was a little more responsibility tied to it,” Burns said.
Burns also said it was common knowledge amongst everyone that there was a really low number of arrests that year because of the efforts that were taken. He made it clear, though, that all the partygoers still had a good time.
“I just remember people staying and that there were like really low levels of arrests and there weren't major problems that year,” Burns said. “People still walked away having a really great time.”
In addition to being on staff at Texas State, Burns has been working at the Olympics for the Today Show since 2006 at both the Winter and Summer Games. He admits that it may be goofy, but it could be argued that Palmer Fest in fact aided Burns in his professional career.
“I do logistics for the Olympics now and plan events for the Olympics, so maybe Palmer Fest was a good classroom space for me to practice these skills that would eventually lead me to helping with the logistics and planning of the Olympic Games,” Burns said, laughing.