On the opening night of Double Decker Arts Festival last April, a single shot was fired into the air inside The Lyric, sending those in attendance at the Jersey Party hosted by Epic Entertainment into a panic. Only one person was injured by broken glass at the event, and now, nearly a year later, festival organizers are working to increase security this weekend.
A year removed from the shooting at The Lyric, Oxford Police Captain Hildon Sessums said OPD could not have done anything to avoid the situation.
“I don’t think we can prevent something like that, because it happened at a private establishment,” Sessums said. “I think our response to it was outstanding. We had the place locked down, officers knew what to do. Sure, there was panic among some of the Double Decker-goers, but our officers sprang into action and did what they were trained to do.”
Sessums said that the security for Double Decker is taken very seriously, as OPD works with the fire department, emergency services, Visit Oxford and outside groups to ensure that attendees are safe. It also employs additional temporary officers and investigators in plain clothes spread strategically across the Square.
“It’s paramount that Double Decker goes off smoothly,” Sessums said. “It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions for Oxford. We feel personally responsible for everybody that’s going to be on the Square on Friday and Saturday.”
Double Decker coordinator Lee Ann Stubbs also stressed the importance of security in creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere for everyone in town.
“I think that we try to make a safe place for Double Decker,” she said. “We communicate with OPD Emergency Management throughout the festival and the planning of it, so we do have steps in place to make sure everyone is safe, and we have plans if anything were to take place.”
Stubbs said she expects record crowds of 60,000-65,000 people on the Square this weekend, which she said makes safety even more of a concern.
In addition to Double Decker, the Ole Miss baseball and softball teams are hosting home series this weekend, which are expected to increase turnout at the festival. Stubbs and Sessums said Double Decker weekend is a huge economic driver for the city.
“Double Decker is awesome for the city, for the economic impact of the city,” Stubbs said. “It’s bringing so many people here for the weekend to fill up our restaurants, fill our hotels, shop in our stores. We collect art vendor taxes and food vendor taxes for the weekend, and we consider this weekend to be as impactful as a football weekend or graduation weekend.”
Now in its 24th year, Stubbs said Double Decker is continuing to grow in size and scope, cementing Oxford as a cultural hub in Mississippi. Stubbs said approximately 300 art vendors applied for a spot at the festival this year, and though they had to turn many away, she said this aptly demonstrates the growing reputation of the festival.
“Double Decker has become one of the premier festivals across the Southeast and earned a great reputation,” Stubbs said. “It has grown from the bed of a pickup truck, playing music, to bringing so many people and renowned musicians to the town.”