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Hampton Terrace Innkeeper Blog: Deals and Things to Do in Lenox and the Berkshires

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"The Best Party in America," 1975 Easters Revisited (conclusion)



The University of Virginia Magazine titles its Retrospect article "The Rise and Fall of Easters."

I guess that is one way to look at it, because after the 12-alarm warning that was the 1975 Mad Bowl party, the Easters Weekend was clamped down and ultimately choked out, in spite of considerable student protest.

Was the party bad?   No, it was great!   But considering that University-of-Virginia"the party school's ultimate party" had drawn 15,000 in its inaugural year, it was a certainty that exponential math would subsequently apply.   Welcome to Spring Break Charlottesville!   The University was verklempt.

There were issues of course.  Dean of Students Bob Canevari called me into his office a few days later to say that the University had been contacted by the Attorney General's office because it was discovered that huge quantities of beer had been sold to minors and sold without an ABC license.  Then he laughed, and said that University attorneys pointed out that if the ABC Board sued the University, it would be essentially the state suing itself.   So the matter was dropped.   This is why Canevari was Dean of Students for something like 25 years.

University-of-VirginiaAnd yes, students washing off mud in the dormitory showers caused back-ups that flooded whole dorm floors.   And there were several dozen cases of "grain blindness" seen in the University emergency room during the afternoon.   Kids being kids...

However Associate Dean Chester Titus wrote to me, "I know you received accolades for the job you did before and during Easters, but I want to give you one more.  Your efforts to inform the community and to organize in preparation for the weekend were, as far as I was concerned, highly unusual.  You did a good job, and I believe it is borne out by the relatively few incidents during a weekend that had all the potential for a disaster.  You certainly deserve a commendation."

University-of-VirginiaStill, University President Hereford formed a Commission to examine the future direction of the weekend, stating,"I have been either a witness or participant of Easter Week for 35 years and I believe that the event this year went beyond the bounds of reasonable behavior."  I guess it is our bad luck that the President's home overlooks Madison Bowl.  

My term as President of the IFC carried me into 1976.....and I did what all good leaders do when faced with diminishing returns.  I cut bait and ran.

I am looking at a Cavalier Daily article where I am quoted as saying the IFC would be taking a de-emphasized role in Easters, and instead concentrate on IFC Weekend, three weeks later.   I congratulated the Black Student Alliance, Student Council, Student Union and Office of Student Affairs for their new role in organizing Easters.   Suckers.

And then the frats took "our" 1976 party off-grounds....beyond the view of the President's mansion.

"Their" 1976 Easters was held in the "Cage"..... a windowless basketball practice facility.   I was not there, but I expect it was like a 2011 high school prom.   You know what I mean...

University-of-VirginiaThat didn't solve the Easters problem....which was the out-of-control drinking, combined now with driving.  Granted, 1976 was still early when it came to clamping down on drinking and driving....but potential for disaster of a different kind was there.  Stopping the parties in the countryside was important..and it did happen.   No one was killed, that I heard of, but essentially Easters was cancelled.

And then by 1982, the other major party weekends on UVa's historic social calendar, Openings and Mid-Winters, also went the way of Easters.

A very funny thing happened in the 1990s.   I was invited back to UVa to participate in a Career Day panel.   I decided to take Susan into the old IFC office to show her what it was like.  We walked in, and lo, there was a full meeting going of all of the frat presidents.   I tried to excuse myself, just explaining that I was an old IFC president showing my wife around.   The President welcomed me to stay, and asked my name.  I told him, and felt the air go out of the room.University-of-Virginia

Shocked that my name would mean anything to these guys, I found out that the legend that was Easters had grown with its banishment.   They actually thought that the Mad Bowl Easters had been a university tradition since Jefferson - rudely yanked by the administration.   The fact that there was ONE, and only ONE Mad Bowl Easters party has been lost in revisionism.   (...disclosure:  in several prior years, abutting fraternities had run hoses to Mad Bowl, creating giant mud slides down its banks...but these were extensions of the individual fraternity parties that spilled mayhem up and down the streets, and not a Mad Bowl party)

There were some nice things that came from it for me.   Katie Couric, a "cub reporter" (as she put it) for the Cavalier Daily interviewed me.   She remains a friend.   It turns out one of the observers at the neighborhood association meetings was Dean Snook, head of the Darden Graduate Business School.   He offered me admission....right there after one of the meetings I chaired.   I took the business school boards, just in case, and scored well.   I didn't go.  That's a whiff.

But now, I get to wax poetically about the "good old days."  Not coincidently, this whole episode sent me on a path of concert and event promotion, which landed me a job with Dick Clark.   That took me to Lenox and now we have the inn.   It started with a beer party.


Party photos:  Scott Barrow, Lenox MA

"The Best Party in America" 1975 Easters Revisited, Pt.1



It is quite satisfying when something you did 35 years ago is remembered.  Not that many people associate my name with it any more.... but Playboy magazine called it "the best party in America."   You don't know who built the Chrysler Building...but it still stands.  I am sure the architect will take that.  So will I.

I was 20 years old.   And handed a responsibility larger than any kid should ever have.   But that is the way the University of Virginia works.   Students are given 100% authority to run all aspects of student life, including the Honor System.   That forces leadership skills at a critical age....and in spite of the academic reputation that UVa carries....I have always said that I learned more as a student leader than I did in the classroom.

The party pictured above is the "Easters" celebration in Madison Bowl....across the street from the famous Jefferson Rotunda.   It appears as an article on the last page of this month's University of Virginia Magazine, entitled "The Rise and Fall of Easters."University-of-Virginia

THE RISE: UVa used to be a men's school.  Since the late 1800s, the week after Easter was set aside for a series of formal dances, hosting the various prestigious womens' colleges in Virginia.  In those early days, students pledged that they would not attend that evening's dance if they had had a drink of alcohol after noon that day.

Predictably, by the early 1970s, the parties had degenerated into grain-alcohol driven mayhem.   Every one of the dozens of fraternities in the Rugby Road area would hose their yard down into mud pits, and you'd find oil drums full of alcohol concoctions:  sometimes smoking from dry ice and with a bra floating on top.   People would stagger from frat to frat, swigging juice cans full of it.   Great stuff.  One of the reasons I went to Virginia....(just kidding...well not really).

ENTER ME:  In 1975 I was elected President of the Inter-Fraternity Council, and in the prior year I was Social Chairman, which meant for a 2-year-period I was unofficially in charge of this beast-of-36-heads (the number of fraternities).  The Rugby Road neighborhood association (Venerable) decided that year to put an end to the hijacking of their prestigious neighborhood and they approached the school about ending it all.  Dean of Students Robert Canevari called me in and shared the news.

University-of-VirginiaNever one to turn down an impossibility, I volunteered to fix the problem.   The first thing I did was to declare that we would have one central party that could be controlled.   Then I got every fraternity to sign a commitment to that party, in lieu of their own.   To sweeten that deal, I signed the Tams, The Platters and Junior Walker & The Allstars for $10,000.   I did not have a dime.

I solved that problem in a way that is incomprehensible in 2011.  I was friends with a Charlottesville beer distributor.  Twice per year he was offered a promotional discount from the brewery, which he passed on to the local A&P store.   He sold me 500 cases of beer at that price, and I sold the cans for $1 apiece at the party.   The hitch was that I had to take the cases three weeks in advance of the party, which raised the issue of storing them and making them cold.

I went to see the head Nun at St. Anne's Catholic Girls School, one block from the University.  I asked if I could store my beer in her walk-in fridge and pick it up on the morning of the party.   She said yes.   I probably startled her so profoundly with the request that she blanked out momentarily.   At any rate, we made $10,000 in the first hour of the show and paid the bands in dollar bills and change.

Then I solicited "t-shirt security volunteers" and created shocking pink tees with "Easters 1975" printed on them.  I wanted the security to be obvious.  I still have my shirt, which is now worn regularly by my son-in-law, Brad.   I don't know how he got it,  but it is better to be used than eaten by moths.   Brad was born in Australia a year after this party, so its current use is completely out of context.

Using fire hydrants, we hosed water into the Bowl as promised.   We allowed people to set up their grain alcohol, and we told the neighbors to close their shutters.   15,000 people came from all over the East Coast.   No further descriptions are needed....

Virginius Dabney (is that a stereotypical UVa name?), the university historian wrote, "It was becoming obvious that a halt would have to be called on these stupefying college gambols."


color photograph by Ed Roseberry


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