By Alyssa Schnugg
If only going by the number of people attending the 25th anniversary of the Double Decker Arts Festival this weekend, it would be easy to say the whole event was a success.
However, filling the downtown Square with bodies was just one measure of its success, according to the festival organizers, city officials and first responders.
“We saw possibly the largest crowd ever,” said Oxford Police Chief Jeff McCutchen. “Our top priority for Double Decker is the safety of everyone at the festival. I thought everyone at the city of Oxford did an incredible job to ensure that everyone that attended felt protected. All of our city services worked long hours to provide a great atmosphere.”
OPD officers started locking down the Square at 4 a.m. On Friday and kept a strong presence at the festival for two days and did not leave the downtown area until about 3 a.m. On Sunday, according to McCutchen.
“These events are an opportunity for us to put our skills to the test and I thought we responded well,” he said. “We did not have any major incidents this weekend and that is in large part to the dedication and teamwork of all the employees at the city.”
The event started Friday night concert featuring The Wilkins Sisters, 49 Winchester and headliner, country crooner, and former Ole Miss baseball pitcher, Brett Young.
On Saturday, the Spring Run 5K and 10K runs and the Kids Fun Run, presented by Oxford Orthopedics Sports Medicine and the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, had a total of 1,546 runners, according to race organizer Pam Swain, senior vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.
“The crowd was buzzing with excitement Saturday with so many people happy to be back out and about running together again,” Swain said. “The morning weather was perfect and all of us at the Chamber of Commerce were thrilled with a successful fundraiser. We appreciate all of our sponsors who helped make the event possible. And we are especially grateful to our presenting sponsor Oxford Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.”
Visit Oxford, the city-run organization aimed at promoting tourism and economic growth, has been organizing the Double Decker Arts Festival for many of its 25 years. The festival was originally the vision of now-Mayor Robyn Tannehill when she served on the Oxford Tourism Council.
“Now, Double Decker Arts Festival makes an amazing economic contribution to our city but it takes a lot of support to make it happen,” said Kinney Ferris, director of Visit Oxford. “Closing down neighborhood streets, cutting off parking in front of businesses, street closures and so much more hard work and sacrifices take support from our Mayor and Board of Alderman, merchants, Oxford Police Department, Engineering Department, Oxford Fire Department, Environmental Services, Building and Grounds, Oxford Utilities and Oxford Emergency Management. It’s hard work and long hours, but it’s more than a job, it’s a love for our town. The number of hands that touch this festival is countless and I wish I could personally say ‘Thank You’ to all who sacrificed for the success of this weekend.
Ferris said it’s difficult to determine the exact number of people attending the festival, but that Visit Oxford will use data collected throughout the weekend to get an estimate completed.
“Based on previous years, as well as the addition of a major headliner on Friday night, I believe overall attendance was well into the six-figure range for the weekend.”
Ferris also credited the hard work of Lee Ann Stubbs, the festival coordinator and Scott Caradine who books the bands for the event.
“Lee Ann is a visionary,” Ferris said. “She works so closely with the 180 artists who travel from all over the country, the 20-plus local food vendors. We work closely with Scott who works to find the most diverse lineup of bands …There are very few free festivals with this high caliber of talented music headliners.
“At the end of the weekend, seeing the largest crowds ever as well as all of the smiles fills me with gratitude for a place that is so very special, a backdrop like nowhere else for an amazing arts festival. This weekend really does celebrate what Oxford does best: food, music, art, but most importantly: the people.”
Mayor Robyn Tannehill said she was overwhelmed and grateful while at the festival this weekend – not only about the number of people involved in putting it on, or the number of people enjoying themselves but for the chance for the community to come together once again.
“I’m not much of a crier but I cried Friday night standing and watching Brett Young perform and seeing the crowds packed in and loving every minute,” Tannehill wrote on her Facebook Sunday. “I cried thinking about our very first festival. I cried thinking about how incredibly grateful I am that Visit Oxford directors have loved this festival and grown it into the amazing event it is today. I cried seeing what a beautiful community we live in and call home…and how many people were there to celebrate.
“I walked around Saturday morning before the festival started and thanked the art vendors and told them, ‘Happy Double Decker!’ I realized that it is my very favorite holiday.”
For Carla Johnson, this was her family’s first time attending the Double Decker Festival since moving to Oxford two years ago.
“What a well-planned and wonderful event,” she said “We love live music, so we really enjoyed the performances on Friday night and Saturday. We did the fun run and were very impressed with how well-planned it was and all the goodies afterward. The food and variety of art vendors around the Square was fabulous too! Last but not least, OPD and the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department did a wonderful job of traffic control and keeping everyone safe. I can’t wait for next year!”