Wake County

Packapalooza makes the case to be Raleigh’s block party

Stiltwalker and aerial artist Liz Bliss of Cirque de Vol of Raleigh was decked out in her best red, white and black N.C. State Wolfpack colors as she moves above the crowds of students on Hillsborough Street at N.C. State University in the opening hour of the 2016 Packapalooza street festival to mark the return of N.C. State students to campus for the fall 2016 semester.
Stiltwalker and aerial artist Liz Bliss of Cirque de Vol of Raleigh was decked out in her best red, white and black N.C. State Wolfpack colors as she moves above the crowds of students on Hillsborough Street at N.C. State University in the opening hour of the 2016 Packapalooza street festival to mark the return of N.C. State students to campus for the fall 2016 semester. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Hillsborough Street runs from the front door of the state capital building right through the campus of North Carolina State University. Two miles west of downtown, the street that connects two of Raleigh’s greatest forces was packed Saturday by 60,000 people, dancing, sweating and sipping on drinks in hollowed-out pineapples.

It’s going to take a while for the Triangle to cool down, but it’s time to go back to school. For N.C. State students, Packapalooza has become a rite of passage, like learning to press a ring and middle finger to a thumb and point an index finger and a pinky into the air. Started five years ago as part of the university’s 125th anniversary, the all-day festival has morphed into one of the city’s biggest block parties.

“This is a perfect example of the school’s place in the city,” said Justine Hollingshead, Packapalooza organizer and chief of staff in N.C. State’s Division of Academic and Student Affairs. “You have the main street coming from downtown Raleigh right through campus. It involves the city, it’s an open event and allows everyone to celebrate what N.C. State is about ... It’s not just for students. It encompasses everyone.”

While it may be open to everyone, Packapalooza is the kind of festival where mascots Mr. and Mrs. Wuf are sought after for selfies and Tuffy and Tuffy II are bona fide celebrities. N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson played lead guitar for the opening act on the main stage, Rode Hard the band, whose opening rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” seemed to bring the afternoon’s only raindrops. Throughout the day, bands played on three stages leading up to headliner We the Kings’ 8 p.m. performance.

N.C. State students started classes on Wednesday, and for them Packapalooza served as the bookend to a week making peace with summer and getting back into the swing of things. Many of the festival’s 326 booths were for restaurants, apartment complexes and other businesses catering to college students. A diversity of swag, including Frisbees and coveted T-shirts, was up for grabs, all in the hopes the students might remember the businesses in some desperate, hungry hour or when it’s time to sign a lease.

“Everyone talked about Packapalooza since orientation,” freshman Chris Caruso said. “It’s one of the biggest events of the year.”

Even in their first few days of their first year, some students appreciated that they were in a city and had joined a community that’s bigger than the block they live on.

“I don’t really feel like other colleges are incorporated into their cities like N.C. State,” freshman pre-vet major Andrew Ratchford said. “This is Raleigh accepting 5,000 or 8,000 or however many students we’ve brought with us into a community. It’s an event that marks the integration of a whole entire class. Now we’ll be Raleighians.”

Others believe Packapalooza is something to come back for. Now living in High Point, N.C. State graduate Anna Cromer and her husband, Matt, have attended four of the five festivals. The brought their kids Emory and Weant and collected autographs from the gymnastics team.

“It’s gotten a lot bigger,” Matt said.

“We just enjoy coming out. The kids love coming with us,” Anna said.

N.C. State, even calling the state capital home and with the biggest student population, can sometimes get overlooked in the Triangle by the likes of UNC and Duke fans. Anna Cromer had a few words for what makes an N.C. State graduate stand out.

“We’re dedicated, we’re passionate,” she said, adding with a smile, “We’re well-educated.”

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