Photo Caption: Partiers thrust their hands in the air during Nine Fest Saturday.
The journey to Saturday's Nine Fest begins with a man named Rick Cunningham. Rick is a bus driver from Grove City hired by "number-fest" impresario Dominic Petrozzi. For about 10 minutes, three people appear to be the only Athenians interested in the free shuttle, which might seem odd considering the alternative is to fork over $5 to $10 for an unauthorized car or truck ride. Yet right before the bus driver gives in and heads out, the screams of about 20 OU students can be heard coming from nearby.
The large group carries cases of water, Coors Light, Miller Lite, and jugs of what they call "Alcohol Grenade."
A large OU senior explains, "Alcohol Grenade is just a bunch of different kinds of alcohol thrown in a jug with a mixer. Hey, everybody! Every time the bus moves you have to drink!"
He's making a drinking game out of the hilariously slow speed at which the bus moves through traffic. The driver said he expected about a 20-minute ride to the festival site a few miles to the west of Athens, but was surprised when he could only get through in just under an hour. (Normally, the drive would take five minutes from uptown Athens.)
The outfit of choice is much like the other Athens fests this spring. Males wear T-shirts and shorts if they've opted to wear a shirt at all. Female students are in jean shorts and some kind of sports bra or bikini top, with a ripped jersey or T-shirt loosely layered over.
"You gotta look hot but stay cool," one girl sitting on the bus explains.
UPON ENTRANCE TO NINE FEST, it's immediately clear people are prepared. Cases and cases of beer are lugged through the crowd as well as tents, slip n' slides, chairs, couches, etc. It's extremely reminiscent of elementary school field days, just with drunken people, and during most number-fest years, with an absurd amount of mud your mother never would have let you dive into.
Mud, however, is absent for the most part for this latest edition of Petrozzi's annual number-fest. The warm and dry weather from the past week has dried up most of the usual muck. Yet, upon realizing that there will be no mud, partiers immediately dump out their coolers and water bottles in an attempt to form a mud pit.
Wes Kasick, a recent OU graduate, defends the tactic: "people want a little bit of mud at the number-fests, it's part of the experience."
A girl from Bowling Green State University in northwest Ohio approaches the entrance and is complaining about how much money she paid to get here.
"I handed some redneck $20 to get me here, and now I'm drunk and I want some drugs," she says. After being reassured she can probably find marijuana inside, she gets angrier. "I'm not talking about weed; I want some molly (MDA) or some coke. I know I can get it here; these people are gems."
As far as the rides there and back, $20 is a rarity on the high side. Almost every car has "5 dollar ride" written on the windows, with almost no variation in price.
MICHAEL EDWARDS AND MATT MACKNEY are both OU sophomores working the car service gig for Nine Fest.
"We've been out here for maybe an hour, and we've already made almost $100," Edwards says. "The cars are a better deal, even though you have to pay because we know shortcuts and we can go faster than the buses can."
A few people at the Nine Fest entrance and by the stage are with a group called Campus Shift. At least one of the members behind the table up front appears to be feeling the effects of alcohol, speaking with a slur and slathering sunscreen across his freckled pink body. If he's drunk on the job, it's good to know he's keeping his skin care in mind.
Another Campus Shift member, Derek Haake, explains what their team does for the fest.
"Mainly we sell tickets ahead of time, and we work with Dominic for special guest lists and things like that," he says.
The concert is fairly tame earlier in the day but at about 4 or 5 p.m., people start to crowd the stage. Young women head bang atop large shoulders, and people throw beer. The opening of full beer cans and tossing, pouring and slinging them is constant. People in the crowd do it; people on the stage do it; everyone loves to throw the beer.
The MC for the fest, Santino Corleon, has worked as the MC for every fest since Seven Fest and says he'll be back for Ten Fest in 2013.
"My favorite part of coming to OU the past few years has probably been the crowd surfing; the girls are great too," he says.
Petrozzi seems to be an exceptionally charming individual. Standing under the Prime Social tent behind the stage, he offers water, food and other comforts to everyone he meets.
"I started this whole thing nine years ago, with $15,000. I was a senior at OU, bartending at Courtside, and it was successful, and it's grown every year," says Petrozzi.
Petrozzi says he'll be having 10 Fest in September next year, which promises to be the biggest number fest yet, as the attendance has grown exponentially each year.
"We make money off of ticket sales, and we also charge $400 for vendors to sell here. We also employ students, security, and we have a program which employs veterans for security purposes," he says.
Petrozzi talks about being a full-time dad, which is his main job the rest of the year. However, he stays busy organizing and putting on other festivals similar to the number-fests.
"We have other fests all over – Bowling Green, North Carolina, New Orleans, and Columbus," he says.