Editor’s Note: Welcome StyleBlueprint friend and today’s guest writer, Elizabeth Pounders. In addition to being the founder of Elizabeth Pounders Communications in Memphis, Elizabeth was an April 2013 StyleBlueprint Face of Memphis, and she is also a huge Ole Miss fan! Here is her first-hand account of Oxford getting ready for the famous game day, on-campus Grove celebration.
Who hasn’t heard about the fabled tailgating at the Grove at Ole Miss and how it’s the best college football pre-game party in the South, nay, in the whole country?! It is hard to imagine the magnitude of the event if you have never been to Oxford, Mississippi, on game day. It is sensory overload meets sheer, unadulterated fun.
There are no actual tailgates present anymore for this ginormous picnic (though in the old days, families just pulled their cars right onto the grass and opened their trunks). No, now it’s an orchestrated tent city as far as the eye can see, built out of red, white and navy banners, coolers, tables, chairs, flat screen televisions and food. It is fair to say that all devoted SEC fans know how to support their teams, but the Rebels simply have it down to a fine art. This is the real deal and worth an entry on your bucket list, no matter whose fan you are!
The Grove itself is smack dab in the middle of the University of Mississippi campus and, on any given day, is a rolling, green, tree-filled park with walkways and benches–a beautiful oasis nestled among the various old and new school buildings in the heart of campus activity. Yet, it is transformed for every home football game—from the night before when a legion of spot savers and tent builders bring in their wares (sleeping bags and rolling carts loaded with yards of nylon and poles) to the day-of delivery of flowers, cookies, chicken fingers and bourbon. What makes it so special? What makes it unique? Other colleges certainly get their tents and flags set up before football games too, right?
So What Goes Into a Perfect Grove Experience?
Great weather always helps and is easy to find this time of year. Other than that, this photo essay showcases the legendary pre-kickoff party, both behind the scenes and center stage. But truly, you have to experience the full, legitimate “Hotty Toddy” in person to believe it!
The main advantage Ole Miss has is that the party is located in and around one single location. Between the Grove area and the adjacent Lyceum loop, all fans congregate in a single area and can therefore mix and mingle freely from one tent to the next without necessarily leaving their own home base (and cooler!). At the Grove, there is ample opportunity to visit and make all the rounds from end to end. The Rebels are a unified, hospitable bunch, y’all!
The Rebel Is In The Details
Monograms, baubles, the right shoes, stitched logos and, of course, red or navy from head to toe. Check your ticket to confirm which color to wear, but the mannequin knows what’s even more important than the fashion: Protect the cooler!
Location, Location, Location
While prime real estate is certainly staked out and battled for in order to gain the best spot IN the Grove, the benefit is the proximity of the Grove to the main event, the stadium. This is a huge bonus. Fans can hang out at the Grove until just a few minutes prior to kickoff and still get to their seats with time to spare. No long walks down busy thoroughfares in the heat or the cold are required. The Vaught Hemingway stadium is literally next door to the party site. Sometimes more relaxed fans find it just as comfortable to stay put in their tents for one half or another and watch the games on TV from their folding chairs.
If You Build It, They Will Come
It’s a race that starts at 9:00 p.m. on Friday nights and is ruled by “squatters rights.” The space savers, many of whom are paid to stand guard and claim the best tent location, actually start gathering midday. It looks like a different planet come to life. Behind the tents you have mission control and the sea of trash cans strewn throughout aren’t much different than alien pods. But don’t get too eager! Campus police won’t allow tape to define and secure a location; our subjects were asked to remove their sizable square shortly after we came upon them.
All Are Invited
The Grove is a party for young and old alike. One can find grandparents alongside their college-aged grandchildren. Young parents let their toddlers roam free with stickers on their backs that read “Hi! I’m Edward. If found call 662.234.5678!” There is a sense of safety, camaraderie and trust, which is unique in a college environment with tens of thousands of people in attendance. Being in the Grove really does feel like attending a huge family reunion!
Signage And Decals And Potties … Oh My!
Taking a modest college town of 19,000 and quadrupling its size in a 24-hour period requires some serious logistics planning. There are parking directions, tent set-up guidelines, loading zone signs, etc. almost everywhere. In addition, school spirit abounds from face tatoos to customized classic red Solo™ cups. And no one could enjoy the day to its fullest without the very clean, very amenable, nicest Johnny-on-the-Jobs you’ll EVER find—the famous Hotty Toddy Potties (HTPs)! Speaking of famous, or rather infamous, there are the colorful stories of Grove life that make their way to the Internet on occasion. The particular opponent at this game decided to highlight the Ole Miss student who is currently enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame from the viral video extolling her love of alcohol and disdain for academics. (She probably wishes her notoriety was lasting only about fifteen seconds!)
Cookies, Caviar, Catering and Candelabra
The pictures say it all, including that of Oxford’s very own Celebrity Chef, John Currence. (Two of John’s four restaurants, City Grocery and the Snackbar, were on StyleBlueprint Memphis’ recent post about Small Town Dining in the Mississippi Delta.) On any given football Saturday, his catering kitchen cranks out over 1000 chicken tenders, 1300 sausage balls and 500 pork sliders, on top of catering a private event at the Grove for 500 guests. Try John’s recipes in his new cookbook Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some. From the professional catering team to the amateur tent stylist, all food tastes better in the Grove!
Fellowship Drives Loyalty
Ole Miss football and its alum following is truly a culture. It seems, sometimes, that parents are going to college WITH their students as they return every weekend to campus, but this is a school that engenders that sense of loyalty. Ole Miss is a place where people want to come home. The Grove is the spot where you see old and new friends hugging and greeting. There is a spirit of youth there, and who doesn’t want to erase a few years anyway? There may not be an actual fountain of youth bubbling up under the stately oak trees, but lifelong friendships do seem to grow and prosper in this sanctuary. The experience lends itself to common interests, indelible memories and a collection of good friends out of the Grove as well.
It’s Greek To Me
Pledges and actives of Ole Miss Sororities and Fraternities are not allowed to miss a Grove party; it’s in their by-laws, isn’t it?! Jackets, ties, boots, dresses and heels rule the day, but sometimes a devoted fan takes the extra step up to display his Rebel Pride. For the sentimental: The red jacket originally belonged to the young man’s grandfather! For the truly fashion forward: Argyle is IN and better than ever! Who knew?
Thank you to photographer Trey Clark for documenting downtown Oxford and the Ole Miss Grove in this amazing gallery of images. See Trey’s online portfolio at www.treyclark.com.
Elizabeth and StyleBlueprint would also like to thank the following people and organizations for their enthusiastic assistance and support in creating this article and photo essay: Andy Howorth, Stewart Howorth, Nathan Locke, Bodie Martin, Reed Knight, John Walker, Kara Giles, Mary Katherine Perry, Louise Lee, Chandler Lee, Eric Briscoe, Catherine Cromeans, Nicole Vander Kolk and Kim, Michelle Coppage, Square Books, The J. E. Neilson Company, The Nest, Lulu, Miss Behavin, Katherine Beck, Hernando Rebels, Early Morning Grove Security Detail, Fly’n Blind Bluegrass Group from Memphis, Adam Griffith, Angie Sicurezza, Sarah Abell, Ann-Hayden Rogers, John Currence and countless, hospitable Grove attendees, Ole Miss students and Rebel fans!
Be sure to visit our featured contributors:
Elizabeth Pounders at www.facebook.com/epcomm
Katherine Beck Gifts at www.facebook.com/katherinebeckgifts
Lulu’s Shoes and Accessories at www.lulusoxford.com
Square Books at www.squarebooks.com
The Nest Paper Studio at www.nestpaperstudio.com
Miss Behavin at www.missbehavinonline.com
The J.E. Neilson Company at www.neilsons1839.com
City Grocery Restaurant Group at www.citygroceryonline.com
Fly’n Blind at www.facebook.com/flynblindmusic
John Currence’s cookbook: Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some at citygroceryonline.com