This week OneSouthernMan continued our “Tailgating SEC Style” tour, traveling to Vanderbilt University, in the heart of Music City, Nashville, TN. It was a gorgeous, late-summer Saturday and both fans and food were flavorful in anticipation of the Commodores securing their first 2-0 start since 2011.
While I’ve attended several football games at Vanderbilt Stadium’s Dudley Field, I had yet to experience their tailgating scene and was impressed by the number of fan’s arriving early to participate in some pre-game socializing. An area along Natchez Trace, just south of the stadium and next to the team’s practice facility is what fans refer to as “Vandyville.” For an annual fee, the University rents tailgate spaces and sets up black tents with tables for each home game. Outdoor cooking is permitted as long as you have a fire extinguisher handy.
In addition to the forty or so tents that line Vandyville lane, some fans set up their own tents in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. This is where you’ll find people literally “tailgating,” from the back of their trucks and SUV’s. And with the advent of large screen TVs with Satellite connections, a number of Vandy fans choose to watch the game in the comfort of a folding chair instead of going into the stadium.
Lady luck shined on us for the second week. Less than thirty minutes after calling a friend and Vandy grad in Nashville early that week to inquire about their tailgate scene, I was connected to Ralph Davis and his band of cohorts known as the “You Had Me at Bacon” crew. This merry group of Commodore supporters consists not only of alumni but a handful within the group that has no connection to the school other than a mutual admiration of food and Vanderbilt football.
The Vandy vs. Alabama A&M game kicked off at 3:00 p.m., which was ideal for my noon arrival. By then the morning shift of Marc Menke, Ken Rebman, and Michael Fenswick were hard at work grilling bratwurst, bacon sausage and bacon wrapped Bulldogs, the game’s specialty item prepared in honor of the visiting mascot.
These guys were terrific! Marc is the grill master and drives up from Huntsville, AL for each home game early enough to have the days grilled items prepared and ready to devour by the time the remainder of the group arrives. Michael is a professional chef and owns a catering company and to top things off, Ken’s home-brew beer was so popular with the group that he decided to open Czann’s, a craft brewery in Nashville. He was kind enough to bring a keg of their Belgian Blonde Ale, a light and refreshing beer with a nice spicy finish, which was perfect for the day.
Michael’s bacon-wrapped Bulldogs paired perfectly with his own concoction of Watermelon Basil Sangria, the recipe he refused to disclose even after being held down and threatened with Marc’s hot grilling tongs.
Vandyland contains both long-term and new fans. One young mom told me they recently moved to Nashville and while not Vandy alum, decided to tailgate at Vanderbilt because they wanted their children to grow up “pulling for their home team.” In other tents, we found three generations of Vandy fans with the granddad demonstrating the proper way to greet the team during their walk to the stadium.
At the North end of Vandyville and in typical Music City fashion was live music. That’s where Adam Dread, a local attorney, and politico, serving liquid refreshments to friends and clients.
Besides predicting play-calling strategy on how to beat Alabama A&M, fans were also talking about the “Save Dudley” campaign. Nashville is on tap for a professional soccer team and the Ingram family, one of the leading benefactors to the City and University, is proposing a new stadium with the idea Vanderbilt Football would vacate their on-campus stadium and relocate to the proposed facility at the fairgrounds. Needless to say, every Vandy fan I encountered was adamant the team remain at Dudley field. My bet is the fans will prevail and keep the Commodores on campus!
Here are my observations on Vanderbilt’s tailgating scene:
First, SEC tailgating doesn’t have to be huge to be fun. Vandy definitely has a strong tailgating scene and visiting fans would find walking through Vandyville to be fun and welcoming. In keeping with the school’s academic reputation, Vanderbilt hospitality receives an A plus in our grading system. I have yet to walk into a SEC tailgate area where the hosts didn’t offer us food and/or drink. Vandy fans were no exception either.
Ample parking is available near the stadium and there are multiple private and public lots where for $20 or less you’ll find a spot within walking distance of the stadium. A word of caution; since Vanderbilt is located just off West End Avenue, you may be tempted to park at a nearby restaurant, business or even in Centennial Park. Avoid this temptation and buy a spot to keep from paying a hefty towing fee and having to Uber to a storage yard.
Tailgating at Vanderbilt University’s Vandyville is an intimate experience where you can meet tons of neat fans before enjoying SEC football at Dudley Field. The season will get a bit tougher starting with Kansas State next week and number one Alabama comes calling after that so make sure you go by and see what the “You Had Me at Bacon is taking off the grill. With seven home games this year, Vandy fans have lots of tailgating to enjoy.