Drive south down Rugby Road on any given Saturday during the school year and you may be greeted with the usual sights of Madison Bowl across from University of Virginia Grounds: sunbathing students, a pickup game of soccer, fraternity brothers playing spikeball.
If you’re up early enough you might even catch the women’s rugby team before they start practice. They’ll form a line on one end of the field and walk slowly across with their heads down, scanning for broken glass left the night before.
Madison Bowl looked rather different this past Saturday amid the year’s Midsummers festivities, an unofficial UVa tradition the weekend between academic summer sessions. Students in bathing suits were carrying gallons of mixed alcohol across the grass, climbing the field’s goal post and quite literally flying through the air on a makeshift Slip ‘N Slide.
The best protection from broken glass was a pair of close toed-shoes, squelching with rain, mud and someone’s spilled beer.
“It’s just a fun reunion,” Akon Awuok, a rising second-year at UVa, told The Daily Progress on Saturday. “You haven’t seen all your friends for a couple of months, it’s just nice to see them all again because you do miss them.”
The festivities begin on Friday; that much is clear by taking one look at the streets of Venable, parked bumper to bumper with cars. Students scramble to find a place to sleep: extra beds at a sorority house, the Courtyard hotel, a couch or air mattress at a friend’s apartment. It’s a well-known tradition among college students in Virginia, and there are plenty of students visiting from Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University and other schools.
Joey Giordano, a rising second-year at UVa, told The Daily Progress he made dinner for the “eight and a half people” staying at his friend’s house before heading out to the bars and fraternity houses throwing parties Friday night.
“It was bleak,” Giordano said of his boxed penne pasta and off-the-shelf red sauce with parmesan. “I would have made it myself but we didn’t have a ton of time.”
Students packed the bars on the Corner Friday night. Select fraternities threw parties complete with live music and bounce houses, where anyone could simply walk in. It’s a far cry from the parties during the school year, when fraternities might hire security to bounce uninvited first-years, students told The Daily Progress.
A rising second-year and a rush chair at a fraternity, who asked for his name to be retracted between a party Saturday afternoon and the bright light of day Monday morning, said he caught someone Friday night trying to walk off with the fraternity’s composite, a framed collection of photos of every member that year.
Pati Castro, a rising third-year at UVa, said the night was a lot of music and “aimless walking.”
“It’s hazy,” Castro told The Daily Progress Saturday morning. She did recall, however, seeing an abandoned Wawa takeout bag on the sidewalk near her apartment throughout the day, finally claiming it for herself Friday night when she was hungry and “incoherently high.”
“I’m chomping on that thing, it’s like a burger and fries, and it had been out in the heat all day,” Castro said. “I’m three quarters of the way there, I take a bite and put it down, I look down and there’s literally ants and bugs swarming all around.”
For some bug-free brunch Saturday morning, Castro and her friends headed to Bodo’s Bagels on the Corner. The Charlottesville staple filled more than 1,100 orders Saturday, its busiest weekend of the summer as students fueled up for the “main day” of Midsummers.
For others, however, the morning was spent tackling organic chemistry problems for their summer course’s final exam. Checking their test scores throughout the rest of the day, those students wouldn’t easily forget how Midsummers got its name.
Besides a weekend in between academic sessions, Midsummers is also sandwiched between orientations for incoming first-years, some of whom join in on the festivities. Alex Hall, a rising third-year at UVa, said that during his first Midsummers as an incoming first-year he saw a student pull out a credit card to do a line of cocaine sitting at a table in Crozet Pizza at Buddhist Biker Bar.
“He wanted me to hold his beer,” Hall told The Daily Progress. “It was a great introduction. Really set the tone.”
By 2 p.m. Saturday, students were already clogging up Madison Lane, holding on to six-packs of beer and Bold Rock cider, bottles of cheap wine and plastic bags filled with premixed drinks. A few cars tried to drive down the road, inching along as students remembered to dodge them — including a U.S. Postal Service truck.
“It’s too many students,” Miller Parsons, a few hours into his schedule for the day, said affectionately. “But this is where kids are and live and party and have fun, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
One Sigma Alpha Mu party came complete with squirt guns, live music and an inflatable water slide, the water quickly turning gray. Students played drinking games with dice and splashed each other, and two brothers lifted another’s feet to dunk his head in a barrel of water. Once he resurfaced, a girl in a white sundress slapped him in the face. Unfazed, he grabbed a gallon jug filled with a radioactive-green mixed drink from a brother and swigged it.
Down the street, brothers from Delta Upsilon fed a foam machine from the roof of their shed. Another brother clipped a hair salon cape onto his friend and began shaving his head. Others tossed blue and green Jell-O shots from the roof into the eager crowd below, mingling and dancing to the party’s live music.
Two fire trucks inched down the street at around 2:30 p.m., honking for students to get out of the road. Someone had passed out on the sidewalk and was carried into the back of one truck on a stretcher.
Most students don’t know the origin of Midsummers, which was born out of UVa’s “Easters,” a tradition that dates back to 1898 until it was banned in 1982. Named the “best party in the country” by Playboy magazine, the week of parties and games drew thousands of people, congregating in Madison Bowl at the peak of the celebrations.
One thing hasn’t changed, at least. At around 3:30 p.m., students started spilling into “Mad Bowl,” walking or barrel-rolling down its sloped sides to the turf field. Music blasted from the house at the top of the field. Students boosted each other onto the field’s goal post where they sat there, straddled, talking or smoking cigarettes.
An unsuspecting, out-of-town couple visiting Charlottesville for the weekend peered at the crowds from Madison Hall, where just beyond them a group of male students relieved themselves by a dumpster.
“These girls are half-naked,” the woman said, who declined to give her name but noted she attended Penn State 60 years ago. “What are those jugs they’re all holding?”
The jugs were BORGs, an acronym for “Blackout Rage Gallon,” a recent TikTok trend popular among college students. Partakers start by emptying a half-gallon of water and filling the rest with hard alcohol and a mixer. Then they give their BORG a name, written on the container in Sharpie, where a pun is obligatory: “Borg in the U.S.A.,” “Borganelle, the powerhouse of the cell,” “Hoos a good borg,” “Gettysborg Address.”
In between swigs of his bright red BORG, Giordano, who is almost 19 years old, described what he ate on Saturday: two Krispy Kreme doughnuts and chips and salsa from a gas station. Setting the jug down, Giordano laid on his back and closed his eyes.
“I have had many long nights, and I need a tiny little break,” he proclaimed.
“We’re BORG-ing today,” his friend jumped in. “The BORG won.”
At 4 p.m., brothers from Delta Upsilon started setting up a giant bootleg Slip ‘N Slide. They lay out a gray tarp that may have once been white, covered it in dish soap and draped it over a wooden ramp, where just beyond brothers filled up three inflatable pools with a hose.
Dozens of students lined up at the end of the tarp, where, one at a time, they grabbed hold of a long rope attached to a winch and a gas-powered motor welded together. The crowd cheered for each slip-and-slider holding on for dear life, suddenly yanked across the tarp and up the ramp, catching air before landing in the inflatable pools below — or just to the side, in the turf and broken glass.
Awuok lay panting in the grass after her turn on the slide, which was “mid,” she said, having hit the water on her stomach. Ten minutes later she was up again, throwing a football around the field with friends.
At around 6 p.m., it started to pour. It had been impending all day: a smattering of rain that might be confused with sprayed beer; it was a drizzle welcomed by sweaty, sunburned students. But the crowd finally scattered as the field began to flood, and the make-do Slip ‘N Slide was stored for another year.
The downpour continued until late Saturday night. That didn’t stop the students, lined up along the Corner in soaked shoes, waiting to get into a bar. Some carried umbrellas. Most didn’t. They drank and danced until 2 a.m. when the bars closed, having brought in the most revenue of the whole summer. But for many students, Midsummers wasn’t over.
“My suggestion for Midsummers is that the night is never done,” Castro said. “The best part of the night is where you’re with your friends, you just left the party and you’re like, ‘Why don’t we just do this one more thing? Why don’t we just go walk around Grounds?’ That’s still fun.”
At 2 a.m. Sunday, students were, in fact, walking around Grounds. Others were running, and plenty were running naked in one of UVa’s wilder traditions, “streaking the Lawn.” Following the rules of the ritual, students ran naked from the Rotunda to the statue of Homer at the other end, circled three times, kissed the poet’s toe and ran back. Still others sat naked in the fountain on Darden Court. Someone set off fireworks not far away — it had finally stopped raining.
Students left Charlottesville throughout Sunday, returning home after a weekend of broken glass, partying and reunions. By the end of the weekend, street parking was ample again, 7 Day Jr. Food Mart had made well over $10,000 in revenue and Madison Lane was littered with empty Jell-O shots, beer cans and smashed wine bottles.
A group of students laid out in Madison Bowl Sunday night on picnic blankets, some of them throwing a football. The field was cleaned; Midsummers was over. The next reunion would be late August, when classes start again.
And beyond that, there was always next year