Double Decker is one of Oxford’s most cherished traditions. The anticipation of the festival is unmatched in the spring months leading up to the event, but what we often overlook is the very foundation of an event like this. A festival that celebrates food, art, music and culture cannot possibly pop up overnight, so how does it become such a magical weekend? Furthermore, how did it even begin? Why do we call it Double Decker? Look no further, Ole Miss community, your answers are here.
In 1996, the Double Decker festival made its Oxford Square debut, but it was nothing compared to the massive display we know and love today. Twenty-one years ago, local artists came together and sold their work out of the bed of a pick-up truck, and that was the start to an unparalleled tradition. Over these past two decades, however, the festival has grown considerably.
Event coordinator Lee Ann Stubbs helped provide a look behind the scenes of this year’s Double Decker weekend. This year’s festival, a major fundraising component for the city of Oxford, was the largest one in history.
“This year we [had] the most artists, more than ever before,” said Stubbs. She explained that the application to be a vending artist at the festival is open to everyone, and noted that over 255 applications poured in this year alone.
“Anyone from anywhere can come and apply, we open it up to everybody! Their art just has to be handmade,” Stubbs added.
With hundreds of artists and vendors present, the event would be impossible to manage without volunteers. A majority of the event volunteers are ROTC students of the University.
“We would not be able to do it without our ROTC volunteers! We get there at 4 a.m., and no one knows that, but it’s filled with art vendors from all over the country; it’s a lot of work to set it all up.”
Once it is all set up you can expect hundreds of interesting art booths, delicious food and riveting performances by musicians ranging from local to national fame. This year Double Decker featured an extraordinary performance by the headlining musician Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and the audience was enormous and enthralled. Rateliff and his band performed hits including “Wasting Time” and “Out on the Weekend.” His combination of country and folk twang was perfect for the Saturday night Mississippi audience. Stubbs also revealed that the first two bands on Saturday morning are always local. So, if you are a member of a local band be sure to apply before Jan. 26, 2018 to reserve your prime performance position!
One of the most elusive facts about Double Decker is the name. Of course, we all recognize the big red buses as a symbol for the festival, but how did those buses come to Oxford?
Several years ago, Oxford Mayor John Leslie was touring Oxford, England, when he was struck by the sight of the two-tiered red buses. He decided that since we were “Oxford” as well, we deserved to have those buses. Not long after, the buses had been shipped to Texas, and University representatives flew to Texas to retrieve them.
“They drove them and [the buses] literally go 30 mph, and they don’t have real brakes…they have pump up brakes!” laughed Stubbs, when explaining the treacherous trek across the country to get the buses to our beloved Square.
There are myths and legends surrounding these buses, that they will bring you good luck for example, but in the end, the best luck you can have is to be front row at any of the incredible concerts brought to the Square during the Double Decker Arts Festival.
This article was originally written for The Ole Miss 2017: “Mississippi Magnolia”. The yearbook will be released on April 24, 2017. Double Decker Bus illustration by Maddie Beck.