Oxford Mississippi’s official population is just over 19,000. But come Saturdays in the fall, what some might affectionately call a sleepy college town wakes up with a buzz of excitement and activity as the population explodes to more than triple, with college football fans eager to cheer on their Ole Miss Rebels. They prepare to do that in one of the most inviting and unique tailgating spots in the country.
“The Grove is unlike any other place on earth, especially [during] big games such as Texas vs. Ole Miss. The feeling and experience are indescribable,” Ole Miss senior Margaret Anderson says. The Grove is a place Longhorns fans have been excited to go since the announcement UT would face Ole Miss in a series of games starting in 2012. The first of those games happens this Saturday in Oxford.
The closer you get to Ole Miss, the greener the grass and the taller the trees. The campus of The University of Mississippi, which welcomed its first class in 1848, has been ranked by many publications as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country.
Its roads and walkways are lined with vibrant oak, elm, magnolia and pine trees. Its old stone and brick buildings are accented with classic details quintessential of a traditional southern university. And on Saturdays every fall, the largest green space on campus, known as The Grove, is dotted with hundreds of red, white and blue tents and young adults dressed to the nines, ready for a good time.
“It's the biggest and most well dressed party in the USA that happens six times a year,” Ole Miss junior and Attorney General of the Student Body Matthew Kiefer says.
Inside the 10-acre Grove, you’ll be greeted by unparalleled southern hospitality and enjoy some of the best food and fixin's you'll find at any college tailgating. And don't worry if you don't know anyone. If you're friendly, you will have dozens of people calling you by your first name in no time and you will be satisfied with a tummy full of homemade pimento cheese, fried chicken, deviled eggs and decadent finger sandwiches.
“There's a sense of hospitality that you can only experience when walking through the brick arch of the Walk of Champions. We welcome and offer shelter and refreshments to both opponent and friend and win or lose, there's always a party,” explains Ole Miss Student Body Vice President Emmalee Rainey.
Besides the great food and the lush setting, something else that makes The Grove unique is the dress code. While you can wear whatever you want, you will find students dressed in their Sunday best or something you might see at a cocktail party. You'll see girls in dressy sun dresses or knee length evening gowns and heels, boys in khakis and long-sleeved button downs, ties and perhaps seersucker blazers. The formal game day dress adds to the excitement, giving it a sense of being even more of a special occasion than it already is.
Matthew Kiefer describes the uniqueness of The Grove, “It’s the feeling of 30,000 people walking around in their Easter best, where a ‘hello’ and a ‘y'all’ can make acquaintances into friends, and friends into family.”
The tents are also more formal than what you might see in the parking lots around Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on game day. Many have chandeliers, living room lamps, flower arrangements and sterling silver platters and cutlery, making it feel more like a backyard party than tailgating. In fact, to call it tailgating is both inadequate and inaccurate, as vehicles aren’t allowed in The Grove.
Between the delicious food and friendly faces, you can spend hours just wandering between the tents catching up with old friends, making new ones and sharing your thoughts on what you think might be in store for the Ole Miss Rebels when that first whistle blows.
University of Texas Longhorns fans were able to scoop up about four thousand tickets to this Saturday’s game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, but thousands more UT fans are expected to stampede into the Grove to get a taste of a different type of tailgating. Regardless of who wins, Longhorns fans will undoubtedly be charmed by the small Mississippi city home to one of the most beautiful college campuses and best tailgating in the country. Hotty Toddy!
In the interest of full disclosure, Emmalee Rainey who is quoted in this article is my stepdaughter.