Juliette St. Romain
The Double Decker Music and Arts Festival set for April 27-28 is a must do in Oxford. When the weather is warm and the sun is shining, it’s a reminder of how special the small town is.
The inspiration for the festival came from a Double Decker bus sent to Oxford from England in 1994. The year, 2018, marks the 23rd year of the festival with an expected 60,000 people attending. The event brings in tourism dollars for Oxford from all over the country and internationally.
Visit Oxford tourism plan the event throughout the year. Director Mary Allyn Hedges leads the operation. She has worked with the Oxford Tourism Commission for almost 10 years, beginning as the tourism coordinator.
An Ole Miss alumni, Hedges knows the Oxford community well. Her hospitality management degree led her back to Oxford.
“Oxford is such a great place to promote and share with visitors that are coming in from around the world,” she said. “I feel that we have such a unique destination. I feel pretty fortunate that we have an easy product to sell. We just want to make sure that people know about Oxford.
“Football weekends are big, but we want to make sure that people know that Oxford is a year-round destination and that they can come, not just during football season, but on a random spring weekend, and in June and July. We are the marketing arm for the city, but we also put on the Double Decker Arts Festival.”
The festival was created in 1996 by current Mayor Robyn Tannehill. Today, Hedges and Double Decker Coordinator Lee Ann Stubbs work to make sure the event runs smoothly.
“We created that position several years ago because the festival had gotten so large that we were really spreading ourselves thin as a staff,” Hedges said. “We really started spending so much time on one weekend planning the festival, so Lee Anne is really the point person for everything surrounding the festival, which also includes art vendors and food vendors.”
Stubbs said festival planning starts in September and stops in May. “I plan the entire festival from start to finish,” she said. “The office staff and I get to the festival Saturday morning at 4 a.m. until midnight, Saturday night. We make sure everything goes smoothly and also get some downtime throughout the day to enjoy the festival as well.”
Leading up to the festival, it’s all hands on deck. It is a team effort, and the weekend of the festival, each staff member has different roles.
Hedges oversees everything from the vendors to financial and administrative decisions. She also has a hand in who the festival collaborates with throughout the city.
The festival needs help from the police department, environmental services and emergency management. Without these departments, a festival of this scale would not work.
Hedges does not let the pressure get to her. “On the day of the festival, I am doing everything from checking art vendors in, to filling up a cooler with ice,” she said. “Whatever needs to be done, you just jump in feet first and make sure it gets done.”
The festivities kick of Friday, April 27 with Thacker Mountain Radio. There is music before and after the radio show. April 28 is an all-day event from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. full of more than 200 art and food vendors.
“Last year, over 55,000 to 60,000 people came,” said Hedges. “The whole Square is blocked off, and this year, we partnered with the Student Activities Association, and they sponsored our headliner, The Cold War Kids. So, we were able to really expand our music budget due to their sponsorship. We are hoping that the college crowd will be out, and that students will be excited about coming.”
Overall, Hedges’ favorite aspect of the festival and whole weekend is at the end of the day.
“At the end of the day, I like seeing the event all come to fruition,” she said. “It is pretty gratifying to see it all come together and people from all over come into town for it. It is a really neat thing.
“I love how walkable Oxford is. You have the university and the Square so close together. We also always take travel writers to Thacker Mountain Radio, because we always say this is what Oxford is.
“You have the literary component, the musical component, and where else can you see a radio show recorded with a live studio audience in a bookstore? Then, after that, you can get a drink or go to dinner. You have so much in a small area. With the size of a town that we are, there is really something for everybody.”