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DURHAM DOES OKTOBERFEST

The biggest sports day of the year at Durham Bulls Ballpark took place long after the home team had cleared out their lockers for the season.

Countless vendors. More than 300 beers. Unlimited samples. If conquering that playing field isn't a sport, then what is?

"This is like Christmas for adults," shouts senior Adam Jaffe in between 2-ounce shots of international brew.

At the 2008 World Beer Festival the first weekend of October, even Alpha Epsilon Pi brothers like Jaffe can get away with those sorts of holiday comparisons-after a few samples, of course.

The 13th-annual festival is a study in collegiate contrasts. For an event held in a downtown ballpark within easy driving distance of no fewer than a dozen major institutions of higher learning, there is a decidedly mature atmosphere. Saturday football tailgates it is not.

Yes, there was a keggerator, but to be fair, it was being raffled off for charity.

For the $40 entrance fee, the 21-and-up crowd gets unlimited beer samples and live entertainment, as if the former weren't enough of the latter. Sitting back and watching the frenzied line at the porta-pottys 90 minutes in was worth the price of admission alone.

It's good clean fun for at least the first half. Toward the end, though, there's a fair amount of awkward moshing in front of the band. And unless this reporter was extremely mistaken, at least one bachelorette party was treating the event like a four-hour pregame.

Sounds like a great place to get blitzed, right?

Don't say that to Julie Johnson, who runs the festival as editor of All About Beer magazine. She bills the event as "building a beer community," as well as a fundraiser for Durham's Carolina Theater.

"We don't want people who are so sloppy they can't appreciate the pour," she says in the conveniently named Miller Lite Bullpen area, where she's taking part in open education seminars.

Notably, attendance is lighter at that pavilion than downstairs at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory booth. Or at the stand handing out free samples of Skoal, the ultimate flavor shot in a frosty brew.

Upstairs in the VIP section-Towerview swiped a badge-spectators can sip beer out of champagne-like bottles (really) and take in the view of 4,000 revelers below in the beer tents.

What you won't see, however, are a lot of Duke undergraduates.

"Where are all the students?" asks senior Megan Clair colorfully, just an hour into the festival. "This is awesome!"

Well there was Joe College Day 2008 competing for attention. And a certain Greek group's seafood festival occupied some of the more stereotypical imbibers on campus.

Plus there were showings of Wall-E in Griffith Film Theater.

To take nothing away from the Waste Allocation Load-Lifter Earth class, any of-age student who wasn't downtown trying to sneak into the festival (tickets sold out in less than an hour in advance, mostly to magazine subscribers) was wasting their college experience.

In just a few hours at the festival-and with the aid of the ultimate social lubricant-you have the opportunity to meet, as I did:

  • A Trinity '08 graduate working in a smoking cessation clinic. Beer, he says, is far preferable to tobacco. Duly noted.

  • A graduate of Washington State University who became progressively more red as the minutes ticked by.

  • At least a dozen graduate students in various disciplines, though all in the same state.

  • A dreadlocked "brewery assistant" from Raleigh.

  • The guys from Sitar in the Great Hall, serving Indian food to a clientele older, though not necessarily more intoxicated, than those they are used to at Duke.

The Durham Beer Fest is the ultimate town-gown relations success, at least for the over-21 set. Everyone is equal inside the gates. It's impossible to pay for more beer, and since the food starts at $3 per item, there's virtually no socioeconomic stratification at the feeding tents.

Everybody likes beer, or at least can stand it.

Imagine if, instead of the ludicrous and ineffective "Devils Walk" activities on the quad before football games, the administration swallowed its pride and allowed itself a different sort of inspiration. The World Beer Fest.

After all, says senior Daniel Klein: "This is like Tailgate without the costumes and the shitty beer."

Since we're not bringing Tailgate to the Fest, let's bring the Fest to Tailgate. A request: Give us beer. Give it to us for four hours. Give it to us from good North Carolina breweries, like Natty Greene's brewing company of Greensboro.

There's a reason why no undergraduates mingle with the community at football games and elsewhere. If you were a reasonable, sane Durham resident, would you want to spend four hours in a parking lot with warm Busch Light?

I asked Johnson, the beer expert, to give me her professional opinion on the campus' preferred brew. She gave a half laugh, and then realized I was serious and swallowed hard.

"They're students, and they're drinking like students," Johnson says. "They're calculating how much alcohol they can buy for a dollar."

So let's come together over decent, well-priced beer. We can learn to love it. Admins: push some students to form a locally grown beer movement. Print off some T-shirts.

Give us good beer. If Durham can do it, so can Duke.

With reporting by Alexandra Brown.


Rob Copeland is a Trinity senior.

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