Mr. Wuf Crowd Surfs

Mr. Wuf crowd surfs during the Parmalee concert at Packapalooza on Saturday, August 25. Packapalooza is an annual event that takes place on Hillsborough Street and caps off Wolfpack Welcome Week.

NC State’s Packapalooza, Wolfpack Welcome Week’s biggest event, returns after a two-year hiatus, welcoming back students and bringing life to Hillsborough Street — and the greater Raleigh community — for the event’s 10th anniversary.

To students new and old, Packapalooza is a familiar, yet foreign, concept; it’s one of the many traditions postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite having assisted in organizing Packapalooza since the first event in 2012, Assistant Vice Chancellor Justine Hollingshead defines the event as indescribable, saying people need to actually attend and experience it to understand what Packapalooza is. 

“There is literally something for everyone, whether you're a new student or returning students, a parent, alumni [or] member of the community,” Hollingshead said. “We've always prided ourselves in having something there for everyone, and you can't really describe it until you experience it because it's a little overwhelming.”

Hollingshead described the unexpected success of the first Packapalooza as ultimately leading to the continued, now renowned tradition.

“We just thought it was a one and done,” Hollingshead said. “And then it went well. When you do something that goes well, then everybody is like, ‘Yeah, we should do this again,’ and the chancellor was like, ‘Yes, we should definitely do this again.’ And so it's probably one of the best examples of collaboration across the University.”

Harrison Andrews, a fourth-year studying communication and political science, recalls his own experience at Packapalooza as a first-year, as well as the buzz and excitement surrounding it. As student body treasurer and a member of the planning committee, Andrews has gotten hands-on experience behind the scenes of this year’s Packapalooza.

“I heard a lot about [Packapalooza] 2018 … and how excited [everyone] was to see the band, the fireworks, to walk up and down Hillsborough Street and just go to all the vendor booths and interact with the different organizations,” Andrews said. “And that’s what’s making me excited about this year. Just seeing all the folks going around, interacting with the local businesses and the other vendors on the street and watching folks perform and listening to people make their music on stage.”

The excitement of a return from hiatus alongside the 10th anniversary is sure to result in an incredible turnout. Andrews expects it to be one of the largest Packapaloozas yet.

Despite widespread boosters and immunizations, the threat of COVID-19 is still a consideration. Hollingshead describes the preparations from the beginning of the planning process. 

“For folks that are uneasy or worried, we can't put a barrier up for COVID, unfortunately,” Hollingshead said. “But we're being extra mindful about vendor placement and how close tables are. … We're also encouraging folks to … operate at their comfort level. So if you feel like you need to wear masks, absolutely wear a mask. The good part is where it will be: outside.”

Andrews also described the importance of how individuals can help to keep the event cautious of COVID-19.

“The best thing we can do is just be respectful of each other and support one another and just to take responsibility for our own actions,” Andrews said. “So by now most people should know the symptoms of COVID-19. So if you don't feel well, you don't need to come to Packapalooza. There'll be other events throughout the year.”

COVID-19 isn’t the only difficulty impacting planning. The inflation following the pandemic caused prices for every aspect of the event to increase dramatically.  Even so, Hollingshead maintains the event has remained reasonably priced.

Despite the difficulties that inevitably come with planning, Andrews is focused on the positives that have accompanied the big return.

“We've also seen more involvement from the local community,” Andrews said. “We've seen more vendor registrations [and] more sponsors. Our sponsorship revenue is up compared to 2019. … So even though things are costing more, we have more additional revenue coming in. In terms of planning across the University, we're fortunate to receive a lot of board financial support.” 

The featured sponsors of the event include the Division of Academic and Student Affairs and Student Government, which has been a longtime supporter of Packapalooza. From the beginning, students have been involved in bringing this event together, with the name itself coming from a prior University Activities Board president.

“We have hundreds of vendors, tons of organizations … community partners [and] local businesses coming out,” Andrews said. “I think it's gonna be a great day for not only NC State, but the local community.”

According to Hollingshead, vendors at Packapalooza range from student organizations and campus departments to food trucks and local businesses. These sponsors, alongside NC State alumni and musical guests will come together to fill Hillsborough Street with endless sights to see. This year’s headliner is American Aquarium, an alternative country band whose lead singer BJ Barham graduated from NC State.

Hollingshead brought attention to other special guests who have proved to gather large crowds in the past. 

Abby Lampe is kind of an international phenom herself,” Hollingshead said. “We have bands, student performers and external music groups that will be performing. And then almost all of our music groups, a cappella groups and student dance groups will be performing.”

Other alumni contributing their time and efforts to the festival include business owner Cody Williams and event planner Angela Caraway. The Henry family, who helped to complete the Belltower project that illuminates the Belltower, will also be in attendance. The Belltower will be lit red Saturday evening, marking a transition to the end of the day’s festivities.

Ultimately, it’s not just the prestigious alumni and showcased headliners that make Packapalooza the remarkable success it is. It’s the people like Hollingshead and Andrews who come together to create something that could never be done alone. The passion Andrews describes for hoping to make this year’s Packapalooza impactful for everyone reflects that it’s not just any street fair — it’s an event organized by, and created for, an incredible community.