At most parties, you can either feel lost or lose yourself.

Depending on the atmosphere and location, a party — more specifically, a college party — is the space for young people to dance, talk, drink, smoke, laugh, make out and interact with strangers and friends.

A party can be an unnerving experience, even a mediocre one at that. The place may be too crowded or too empty, the music may be wack, or it just might not be your night.

But with the right people and elements, a party can be a fun and ultimately worthwhile event. Whether in the humid, suffocating intimacy of an enclosed fraternity basement, the spaciousness of a house shindig or the rowdiness of an outdoor function, every party, whether big or small, has something to offer to the overall college experience.

During this past Welcome Week, many students embarked on their first, 13th or perhaps 40th college party, excited about the prospects of each evening and already nauseous from stuffing down five Smirnoff shots and a PBR only moments before. Before an equally promising and nerve-racking semester at the University of Michigan would ensue, these several nights allowed students, new and old, to utilize their independence, forget about their everyday worries and indulge in a much-needed dose of going out.

Last Friday and Saturday night, many got to have that satisfying release of unadulterated freedom at the annual Mary Court and Greenwood Block Parties, which respectively exemplified some of the typical “college party” attributes: throwback songs, drunkards galore and lots of uncomfortable pushing and shoving.

Friday night at Mary Court

At Mary Court, a neat corner tucked away from the quiet streets of Ann Arbor, a cacophony of voices permeated the cool Friday night air with a tinge of exuberance. Set in a gravel patch between two parallel rows of solid-colored bungalows, the Mary Court Block Party was already in motion by 10:30. The venue was pretty crowded, consisting of a varied cast of normal-looking and eccentric characters: girls in skimpy outfits; boys wearing tank tops and basketball jerseys; three blondes holding fruit punch Gatorades and Snapchatting themselves; a dude in a Hawaiian shirt turning up way too hard to Kevin Gates’s “Really Really;” a G-Eazy doppelganger with a jean jacket, a septum nose ring and ’90s glasses attempting to do a cool smoke trick; a guy casually wearing a Yoshi hat helmet. A Bernie Sanders cardboard cutout also made a guest appearance.

The acrid stench of cigarette smoke was palpable from all around, while red Solo cups were scattered on the ground, some crushed and others plain empty. Near the first house at the beginning of the block, the snarling snare and blaring bass reverberated from the speakers, blasting an eclectic mix of EDM, Rae Sremmurd, the Chainsmokers and Kanye West. Even Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” played at one point, prompting everyone to unearth their 2004 selves and belt out the unforgettable chorus in unison.

As many danced uneasily and engaged in excited conversations, the focus was directed toward the Mary Court party’s main attraction: the tall tree trunk standing on the edge of the block. A mixed wave of anxiety and awe washed over the crowd, as gung ho partygoers climbed to the top of the trunk and were consequently met with people chanting “Jump!” It was mostly drunk dudes who ascended this formidable leafless tree. In particular, one of the many guys wearing basketball jerseys sat proudly atop the trunk, alternating between chugging a 40 malt liquor and smoking a cigarette with unabashed bravado. The looks on people’s faces, which were mostly obscured by the light from the surrounding lampposts, ranged from concerned to astonished. Luckily, none of the tree climbers got injured once they climbed back down to the ground and resumed their party-going experience.

Despite the high energy exuded from the block party, Mary Court was relatively mild. Sure, walking through a highly concentrated throng of people was a bit rough and overwhelming. Pivoting in place without bumping into someone is nearly impossible at any party. But considering its outside location, Mary Court kept things under control and acted as a nice alternative to the usual confined, sweat-inducing spaces of frat or house parties. As for the next night, the Greenwood Block Party would prove that a balance between a positive atmosphere and controlled chaos is key to a successful social gathering.  

Saturday night at Greenwood

Saturday morning’s tailgating and the afternoon opening football game against Hawaii left many students exhausted and sunburned, but that didn’t stop most from venturing to the Greenwood Block Party later that night. Greenwood was especially hyped up after last year’s blowout got shut down early by the police.

“I wanted it to be bigger than previous years,” wrote Charles Antonelli, a Kinesiology senior and the main organizer of the Greenwood Block Party. In an email interview, Antonelli also remarked that “usually, it’s tradition to have the party on a Thursday but I didn’t put that as an immediate option because more people show up on weekends.”  

More elongated and spacious than Mary Court, the asphalt road of Greenwood Avenue lies between two rows of brick houses, each consisting of brown, yellow, white and blue colors. In order to avoid getting shut down early, the party commenced around 8:15 and was already packed by 9 p.m.

Because of the block’s large capacity, the amount of people this time was even more than Mary Court’s, but comprised of more or less the same kind of people: dudes in long-sleeved Vineyard Vines shirts, short sleeve button downs and polos and girls in loose clothing and tank tops. No crazy costumes or faux hipsters were in sight.

A giddy sensory overload dominated Greenwood’s vibe: beer bottles shattered on the ground, a twin bed mattress being carried around and friend groups screaming with glee as their jam was played from a distance. While hundreds of antsy interactions were happening, the bumping sound waves of Chance the Rapper’s “All Night,” Mike Posner’s ubiquitous “I Took A Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix),” generic trap music and even a live band pulsated throughout the street.

Like the previous night’s rendition of “Unwritten,” the crowd screeched when Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” came on and predictably screamed the obligatory “BUM BUM BUM!” line. The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” — two college party favorites — were also played and sung during the night. On the balcony of one of the Greenwood houses, you could see an entire horde of people there, all huddled together like a colony of penguins in the Arctic, the glow of their phone screens and camera flashes flickering like millennial fireflies.

Similar to Mary Court, the party’s collective attention was once again drawn to people climbing a tall structure in the midst of the block, this time a telephone pole. The reactions were nearly identical, with many cheering and yelling for people to jump and others cowering with uneasiness. Safety, however, is something that Antonelli noted as imperative for a party as huge as Greenwood.

“We always keep an eye out for people who are drinking too much and making sure no damage happens to our neighboring houses,” Antonelli wrote. “The block kind of watches out for each other in that respect. The block party is fun, but not at the expense of someone’s safety.”

Climbing a telephone pole is certainly a cause for danger, but luckily, no one got hurt, and the party resumed in normal fashion. No belligerent drunks instigated a fight, despite some incoherent screaming. Not even the two cars that drove through the avenue could stop Greenwood from collapsing into disarray. A random Greenwood attendee happened to jump on one of the cars, though it was unclear as to whether or not the driver was just passing through or purposefully cruised through the street to show off. The scene certainly wasn’t as frenetic as the climactic Deathmobile sequence in “Animal House,” but it was still just as awesome and rebellious. Greenwood stayed alive until its inevitable end at around 11:15 when the police arrived, which Antonelli hadn’t expected, writing that he anticipated them to come much earlier, at 10:00. Nevertheless, this caused participants to flee in random directions and perhaps venture to another recreational excursion, or South U Pizza for some late-night grub.

Just like Mary Court, Greenwood represented what a large party can offer: solid music, an open space and good vibes. To paraphrase from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” large parties can be intimate and small parties usually don’t have as much privacy. Large parties can definitely feel somewhat daunting, especially if you enter one alone or if you’ve never been to one before. However, with the right attitude and people, they don’t have to feel like they are. Ideally, everyone is there to enjoy themselves and relish in the pleasure of being young and uninhibited from responsibility (at least, in the moment).    

Final thoughts

But what makes a party fun isn’t just the party itself. It’s the people, the friends you’re with who contribute to the overall experience. Most parties in general are mundane and can become routine outings. They can be anxiety-inducing and scary. Many questions may linger in your mind before going out: Am I going to get plastered? Will I make out with someone tonight? Will I meet “the one?” Is a fight going to break out? Will the party get shut down before anything fun or crazy happens?

All of those questions are valid, but remember this: the night is young. Being with your friends makes the most out of your social experience of college and it’s not too late to go out to a party with them, dance like nobody’s watching, kiss a random person (or don’t!) and just live in the moment.

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