Now in its 26th year, Oxford’s award-winning arts festival is ready to roll with art, music, food and fun.
Written by Leslie Criss
The spring season in Mississippi means many things, and the start of festival season is certainly near the top of the list. In Oxford, thoughts turn to the big event inspired by the bright-red, two-tiered British bus that’s been a part of the city since 1994. That’s right. It’s time once again for the Double Decker Arts Festival. The 26th annual award-winning event is slated for April 28 and 29 on the historic Square.
The festival was named the 2022 Best Large Festival by the Mississippi Tourism Association and a Top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society, to name only two of its more than 25 awards. The weekendlong gathering celebrates music, the arts and food.
Since its inaugural event in 1996, the festival has grown tremendously in participation and in attendance, now attracting more than 75,000 festivalgoers.
Music will kick off Double Decker weekend on Friday and continue through Saturday. Friday night music starts at 6:15 p.m. with The Stews, followed by Chapel Hart (7:45 p.m.) and Ashley McBryde (9 p.m.). Saturday’s live music starts at 11 a.m. with The Mississippians Jazz Ensemble and continues throughout the day and into the night with Vieux Farka Touré, Sensational Barnes Brothers, Southern Avenue, Lissie, Blackberry Smoke and Marcus King.
Local food vendors have offerings unique to the festival throughout the day Saturday, in addition to beloved eats like pizza, fried catfish, Oxsicles and more. Saturday morning also includes 5K and 10K races and children’s fun run.
The juried art vendor showcase, on Saturday only from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., covers the creative spectrum, including drawings, glass, painting, jewelry, sculpture, photography, mixed media and printmaking. A preview takes place Friday in the Boles Wiley Alley on the Square, hosted by the Oxford Artist Guild.
2023 Featured Artist | Blake Gore
In 2005, the Double Decker Arts Festival began choosing, from many submissions, a piece of artwork to be printed on T-shirts, posters and signs. It would be considered the official art for that year. It’s now a tradition that’s been continued annually since that initial year.
The 2023 featured artist is no stranger to Mississippi or to Double Decker. Though he now lives in Virginia, Blake Gore grew up in Houston, Mississippi; attended Tupelo High School; and met his wife, Lori, while he was studying English and political science at Ole Miss.
The 42-year-old did not become a creator of art until 2017, when he accepted a Twitter challenge to produce and share a 1-inch-by-1-inch drawing daily for a month. He figured he could do anything for a month, and he did. People noticed and wanted to purchase his tiny drawings, which was a big surprise to Gore.
When he created his submission for the Double Decker poster, Gore stepped outside his typical style.
“Miniatures don’t make for effective posters,” he said. “So, I stepped outside my typical style. It’s actually one of the very few times I’ve drawn anything other than miniatures, but being a part of Double Decker is too much of an honor to miss.”
Gore originally drew the poster art in miniature before converting it to poster size. He chose a mosaic style for the poster because he said he imagines Double Decker as a wonderful collection of culture coming together on the Oxford Square.
“Like the pieces in a mosaic, each artist and musician is unique and brings something special to the festival,” he said.
The father of four has been producing art ever since his monthlong challenge, still small and usually done with a .15mm pen nib. His first time to show and sell his art at Double Decker was in 2019. Though he now does about 20 to 30 art shows a year across the United States, his favorite is Double Decker.
“When I heard my art had been selected, it was hard for me to really believe,” Gore said. “Throughout the years, I’ve collected various T-shirts and posters from the festival, so it was pretty surreal imagining my own work on those. This art journey has been a wild and unexpected ride, and it’s fun to see things come full circle back to Double Decker where I first showed my work.”