Get Gaudy for a Good CauseOutrageous holiday spirit meets honest community outreach at Oxford’s Tackie Townie Christmas Party.
BY REBECCA LAUCK CLEARY
ILLUSTRATION BY JAKE THRASHER
PHOTOS COURTESY OF OXFORD’S TACKIEST TOWNIES
You may find yourself scouring the aisles of a store in search of a Christmas tree skirt to use as an actual skirt, or sparkly foil tinsel to use as a necklace or a belt. It may occur to you that those bright red and green ornaments on the tree would also look fantastic as earrings. This means that you are putting your tackiest skills to good use for the annual Tackie Townie Christmas party at Proud Larry’s.
The bar and the stage are decorated with Christmas lights and plastic Santas, and everyone is in the holiday spirit. Besides the ever-rotating lineup of bands, everyone brings their spare or borrowed decorations like corny singing dancing robot elves.
“I would say it’s the most fun local party you can go to. It’s like a big family reunion where everybody is out supporting the same cause and everybody has a great time, it’s just an excellent, no-stress, really fun party where you get to hear a lot of live music that you might not have heard before,” said Nathan Robbins, who serves as organizer of the event and as bassist for Rocket 88, who always participate. “Lots of times the bands will bring surprises—they’ll do their own take on Christmas songs, like we do James Brown’s ‘Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto,’ so it gives the bands a chance to do something different and play in front of people and get their sound out there as well.”
This year’s Tackie Townie is set for Friday, December 15th, including a set of Jimbo Mathus’ Mosquitoville (an original, historical musical review), a reunion set of Pithecanfunkus Erectus (a great local favorite supergroup) and many more musical acts. The original Tackie Townie party was the brainchild of Robbins, Austin Marshall, and Tim Burkhead as a way to honor volunteers at the first Oxford Music Festival, but it quickly morphed into an event everyone gets excited about. Robbins collaborates with Proud Larry’s owner Scott Caradine on some aspects of the party.
“It can be some of the same folks on different arrangements, but we just try to keep it to local bands and also have some participation by some of the founding acts that were part of the original Tackie Townie,” Robbins said. “I try to introduce new acts in there as we can, and we obviously want to have acts who have a following and will bring people out to the show, and we also want to keep it fresh. I try to shuffle it around, because some people come early and they don’t stay late, and so we try to get different folks in front of different crowds, but still give them the opportunity to play. We want to draw as much as we can to help the charity.”
Anne Scott Barrett, who has attended Tackie Townie for several years, says the event is a mix of local people you see every day, ones you hardly get to see, and the friends who come back to town to visit family, with everyone carrying on and catching up.
“The best way I can describe it is that it’s like a feel-good holiday homecoming movie—part romantic comedy, part National Lampoon.”
“Everyone wears some sort of holiday gear, from tacky sweaters to evening gowns and hand made holiday get-ups. There’s an overwhelming sense of belonging and goofiness. It’s just loads of fun and a great mess of silliness. Nothing is overly planned in advance. There have been years where I’ve gone all out and made an outfit to wear and years where I snatched ornaments off my tree and pinned them in my hair on the way to the party.”
There are lots of hugs and people exclaiming, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in forever,” and, “Are you staying here for Christmas or going somewhere fun?” mingled in with the sounds of Christmas music and blinking lights. Every year is different, but there’s always some kind of flair involved, and soon it turns into dancing and singing and jumping up and down. It seems like anyone can get on stage and belt out a song, but the most important part is the camaraderie.
“It’s the time to get loose and have some fun being silly with your friends and acquaintances and making new friends and being silly with them as well,” Barrett said.
In addition to the tackiness, there is a serious aspect. The event is not only a party; all of the proceeds benefit the Interfaith Compassion Ministry, a collaborative effort among local churches to provide assistance for those in Lafayette County with basic needs, such as rent and utilities. In 2016, Tackie Townie raised $1,600 for ICM, but they can also use clothes and non-perishable food.
“Seeing the local people that ICM helps, and how they struggle to do the things that they need to do, it’s very rewarding when we give them that money and they are very appreciative, so as far as I’m concerned it’s a great charity,” Robbins said.
Kristen Phillips, an Atlanta native who moved to Oxford in 2013, is already looking forward to Tackie Townie this year, and she says she loves seeing all the locals come out dressed up in crazy Christmas costumes.
“This is the most over-the-top, fantastic Christmas party you will ever attend in your best Griswold family attire,” Phillips said. “I love seeing the townies out in their best holiday cheer. I go all out for my costume, and I even buy things throughout the year for my costume. If it lights up, I’m wearing it. You can never be too festive or tacky for this party!”
Phillips usually helps Robbins with the decorations on the afternoon of the event, and she enjoys seeing how tacky Proud Larry’s can become, with white Christmas trees and plastic light-up statues.
“I ask for volunteers every year, but it’s always me and Kristen usually helps and whoever else that can, but we just find the tackiest things,” Robbins said. “Betsy Chapman has been very helpful, she gave us the vintage plastic light up Santa and Three Wise Men. So whatever we can round up and find—just Dollar Tree stuff and obnoxious tinsel.”
“If it lights up, I’m wearing it.”
Rocket 88 vocalist and lead guitarist Jamie Posey says his favorite Tackie Townie memory is from about five years ago, when Jimbo Mathus wore his vintage lime green tuxedo and played “Feliz Navidad,” as well as when Mathus, Rocket 88, and Mayhem String Band all took the stage for a rendition of “We Are The World.” Posey himself usually gets into the festivities by wearing a Western style shirt with reindeers.
“One time I did dress up in exactly the same outfit that Bruce Springsteen wore in ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ with the little puffs around the cowboy hat and everything,” Posey said. “Everybody tries to put on their tackiest sweater or whatever it might be and you know, show up in their true Christmas spirit and the spirit of giving, which is the most important part. It puts the star on top of the Christmas tree for me.”
Robbins also enjoys seeing the tacky sweaters, as well as the general creativity of the crowd.
“You know, tacky parties have kind of caught on now and I like to think maybe Tackie Townie had something to do with that,” he laughed. “But I’ve seen anything you can imagine, one year we had someone come as Santa and you could sit on Santa’s lap and get your picture made, in this ridiculously tacky Elvis Santa outfit—the costumes that people come up with are excellent.”
But the best part isn’t about sparkles, it’s about coming together for the community.
“My favorite part about Tackie Townie is the end when we deliver the Interfaith Compassion Ministry check because it makes all the work and all the stress of putting it together worth it,” Robbins said. “I’ve kind of been the guy to put it all together for the last several years and be the MC, stage manager and I record it, and it makes all that worthwhile when you give those guys the check and you know it’s going to go to help someone who really needs it.”
So spread the word, grab your tackiest Christmas sweater, and support a great local cause. More information and a full lineup will follow on the Oxford Music Festival Facebook page.
Rebecca Lauck Cleary is senior staff assistant and website administrator at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and enjoys taking life advice from fortune cookies.