Lest the Old Traditions Fade: Remembering Tubestock

by Sarah Alpert | 7/12/19 2:30am

Picture a Saturday afternoon on the Connecticut River, friends laughing beside you and your toes growing numb in the water. It’s hot, it’s sunny, and you “forgot” to bring your reading for Jews 11. Now picture the river jammed bank to bank with rafts and tubes, your entire class drunkenly drifting downstream in a jumble of swimsuits, abandoned flipflops and floating kegs of beer. That is Tubestock, sophomore summer’s long lost “big weekend” tradition — and you’ll never see anything like it again.

Tubestock began in 1987, when Richard “Boomer” Akerboom ’80 and his band performed from the deck of off-campus house “River Ranch,” and over 200 people watched from the water. From there, the event grew into a wet and boozy party for the sophomore class, although non-Dartmouth students also participated. Tubestock took place every mid-July for almost two decades, drawing up to around 1,000 people at its peak. 

Before the big day, Chi Heorot fraternity used to sell inner tubes to students, while others chose to build make-shift rafts with their Greek houses or friends, according to a 2001 article of The Dartmouth written by Tracy Landers. Once on the river, students unleashed their fraternity-party antics, beach-style, splashing off plastic slides and ripping off clothes. It was “Animal House” on water, Dartmouth’s party spirit let loose.

Despite the obvious risk in floating belligerent 20-year-olds down a quickly-flowing river, Tubestock rarely led to serious injuries. In 1994, Kishan Putta ’96 cut his foot on a motor boat propeller, landing a deep gash and a left-leg cast. Most years, however, reporters and authorities seemed almost surprised by the lack of major crises at Tubestock. In 2000, Julia Levy reported for The Dartmouth that “the weekend greeted Dartmouth with few unusual disturbances or injuries to either sober or inebriated individuals.” In 2003, The Dartmouth published the headline, “Tubestock passes with few incidents.” The same year, Valley News wrote, “While there were some rickety rafts, rambunctious young people, long-range water cannons, and a crowd of maybe 1,000, there were no floating kegs, no hordes of boozing students, and none of the rampant nudity that had colored reports of Tubestocks past.” 

Although Tubestock led to more hangovers than harm, especially in its later years, some considered the event hostile for many participants. In 2004, former sexual awareness program coordinator Abby Tassel told The Dartmouth that by pressuring female students to remove their tops, men may have engaged in sexual harassment on the river.  

“When women go up on the platform, they have only two choices, they can either take their tops off and be considered skanks or be booed off the platform,” one man said to Tassel.

Chants to “take it off” might seem more appalling in 2019 than they did in the early 2000s, but such crude energy was what gave Tubestock its charm, according to the students who participated. In 2002, when the Class of 2004 president urged students to act more responsibly on the river, The Dartmouth editorial board jumped to Tubestock’s defense: “Tubestock is not a cute, tidy event; it is at base a scene of debauchery that has historically never received — or, until recently, even sought — College recognition, and in present form it probably never should … a calmer, safer Tubestock may be inevitable, but it is also one that makes us yearn for a time when fun was not so serious.” 

At that point, Tubestock had only a few more years to scandalize the banks of the Connecticut. By 2003, the police presence at Tubestock had grown to 30 officers from different departments, anxious to rescue anyone who disappeared beneath the surface. But after the summer of 2005, an “open container town ordinance” prevented drinking during Tubestock, and an “outdoor activities town ordinance” required anyone participating in an outdoor event to have a permit. Previously, only the organizers of an outdoor event — not the participants — could be fined for lacking a permit, and since Tubestock lacked a single organizer, it proceeded legally each year. Now, however, the new laws made it inconceivable for the tradition to continue. 

When the town of Hanover voted to terminate Tubestock for good, one student, Robert King ’08, protested vehemently before the Hanover Board of Selectmen. Many students, however, understood the decision, town manager Julia Griffin told The Dartmouth. For years, sophomores had marveled at the fact that Tubestock was allowed to happen, despite the blatant danger and illegality of underage drinking on public waters. In 2003, Anne E. Marbarger wrote, “As I bobbed up and down, shivering in the water and absorbing the action, I couldn’t help but wonder how we could get away with an event like Tubestock.” Though great fun, Marbarger wrote that Tubestock seemed “more like a lesson in local law enforcement gone bad — real bad.”

In 2006, Tubestock made way for Fieldstock, a land-based and ultimately short-lived replacement of the beloved sophomore summer party. The first Fieldstock included a chariot race, previously a Green Key tradition, followed by a barbecue, live music, and sports activities at the Bema. While many students enjoyed participating in the new tradition, others lamented the loss of Tubestock’s more “ragey” fun. 

After its debut, subsequent Fieldstocks offered a week-long Summer Olympics competition, replete with events such as capture the melon, eating contests, a carnival on Frat Row, and the classic chariot races. Although Fieldstock slowly gained support from the student body, Tom Mandel wrote for The Dartmouth in 2009, “It is the College’s attempt to shove a ‘big weekend’ down our throats.” Others must have shared his opinion, as Fieldstock faded from interest and was cancelled within the decade.

Fieldstock may have disappointed, but Tubestock was once a highlight of this sacred time we call sophomore summer. Although the crazy, rowdy, irresponsible event lasted only 19 years, Tubestock deserves our bemused affection as a relic of dear old Dartmouth.