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Weekend kicks off “FinsUp Fanfare” at Lafayette County Arena

By Davis Coen

Saturday morning begins SEC Football.  We all have missed it, but what goes along with football in the South is tailgating.

Arguably the greatest thing about sports is its ability to bring folks together. But in these days of COVID-19 improvising is necessary, not only to keep us connected with each other, but for us to be able to properly show support for our local teams and athletes.

With capacity limitations just about anywhere one would want to enjoy a game, or engage with fellow fans, local businesses relying on the annual revenue football brings have had to be innovative and take different approaches to working through these trying times.

One local business for instance, Take it to the Grove Tailgating & Event Rental, has been exploring new ways to provide a safe and socially distant tailgating experience in order to accommodate the unprecedented circumstances of 2020, and fans seeking alternate options for tailgating.

“FinsUp Fanfare” is the solution that Take it to the Grove owner Brandon Mason feels considers both the safety of the community, and the necessity to celebrate the deep tradition of Ole Miss Football.

Mason credits the idea to an epiphany he had one Saturday afternoon. He considered that, if football will surely be happening, then certainly Rebel pride should follow suit.  “These kids are working their tails off, risking their lives to possibly catch a deadly virus to make sure football goes on–we need to make sure tailgating goes on,” he reflected on the realization.

“At Ole Miss, that’s just as important as a touchdown,” said Mason, of the tailgating tradition. He started his operation back in 2006 when he was still a student, and his company has grown to become a large player at the Grove–where generally at a big game they will set up around 400 tents.

“There’s a heritage with it.  It’s a tradition that needs to go on…so these recruits see how committed we are as a fanbase.”  Mason added, “so this was in my mind, and I said, ‘why don’t we just move the Grove?’  Just need to be smart about it, and safe, and considerate of others.”

He worked closely together on the preparations with catering manager at Taylor Grocery, Butch Scott, who handles all of the outside catering away from the restaurant–and caters many of Mason’s events.  Scott put him in touch with Yoknapatawpha Arts Council Executive Director, Wayne Andrews, about using the new Lafayette County multipurpose arena for the weekly event.

Mason described that the main space inside will be 300 feet long, and about 150 feet wide, to contain the tailgates with the appropriate amount of space between them. Also, that each tailgate would cover roughly about a 20 square-foot area.

He addressed that, although they’re unable to enforce strict rules on attendees who disregard distancing guidelines, much more than in an advisory sense, they will “educate, coach, and coerce these particular people into being in their specific area as much as possible.”

In addition to the tailgates, there will also be bleacher seating, for which you receive a wristband with your ticket for entry, although folks will not be able to go down on the floor where the actual tailgates are. Also, a Kidz Zone will feature inflatable TVs, putt-putt, and interactive games.

Four 60-inch TVs will be present back-to-back, so that the groups in socially distanced tents can see, and if folks want to rent a TV it can be done so by booking in advance online.

There are no outside food or drinks allowed into this family-friendly event, due to the coronavirus–although Taylor Grocery catering, its exclusive food vendor, will be on hand with items including catfish nuggets, chicken tenders, pulled pork sliders, brisket, smoked meat like ribs and pulled pork, some of their most popular dips, fruit trays, sausage and cheese trays, tea, lemonade, even soft drinks and bottled water.  Said Scott, “we’ll have one truck at that event, but we’ll do it a little different because that food will be pre-ordered.”  Orders should be in before Wednesday at noon.

The Fire Marshall, Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department and a security staff will be on hand for the events to assure a safe and fun time for all.  “It’s more about problem prevention,” said Mason, “and how we can educate the folks that are coming to be safe, and to be smart.”

Mason added, “it’s for those that want to still gather with their friends in their normal fall gathering place.

It’ll feel like normal again–as much as we can, and we can show support for our school and the players, and try to move on like normal, in a different way.”

Butch Scott said in closing, “we’re gonna have an ole-fashioned Ole Miss time–not a new Miss time–we’re having an ole-fashioned Ole Miss time.”

For more information and booking, visit www.takeittothegrove.com.