Kentucky Fans Feeling at Home in Nashville

In order to provide fans with additional coverage for the 2016 postseason, and will be sharing stories throughout tournament play to help feed the never-ending appetite the Big Blue Nation has for all things Kentucky basketball.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The streets and sidewalks were filled with UK fans walking around, while workers at local bars were constantly rushing to fill the order of everyone wearing a blue shirt. It was the typical sight of game day for Kentucky basketball.

But there was just one thing that was different about it: All of this was taking place in Nashville, Tenn.

“We feel at home,” said Lexington, Ky., native Eric Curtis. “We could be in Lexington right now. It’s just a better bar scene down here.”

It’s easy to see why Curtis and his girlfriend, Amber Clem, felt comfortable in a city that was over 200 miles away from their home. For every foot they walked down on Broadway in Nashville, they were met with at least 10 fellow UK fans.

If it wasn’t for the Tennessee state border they remember crossing over during their drive down, they might have thought they were on South Broadway near Rupp Arena on any given day.

“We know that it’s going to be like Lexington when we’re here,” Clem said. “So it’s a comforting feeling, and it’s exciting to be a part of something so great.”

While Clem and Curtis had tickets to Friday’s SEC Tournament quarterfinals matchup against Alabama, many other UK fans traversed to the Music City with no tickets in hand.

Justin Murphy, a lifelong Wildcat fan from Louisville, Ky., said he got in his car hoping he would find someone who would sell him tickets to one of UK’s games over the weekend once he arrived in Nashville. Murphy works as an insurance agent back home and added that he would rather buy tickets from a friendly UK fan than a scalper on the streets.

But even if he doesn’t attend a game while the Cats are in Nashville, Murphy doesn’t care. Like many fans who were strolling the downtown streets just an hour before UK tipped off in Bridgestone Arena, Murphy was just happy to be a part of the atmosphere. To him, it’s what being a UK fan is all about.

“We (would) follow them to California, so we’ll definitely follow them to Nashville,” Murphy said. “Nashville is a party town, so a lot of younger fans love to come to Nashville even if they don’t go to the games, just to hang out and watch them at the bars. It’s just the atmosphere out here on the street, not even in the gym. It’s pretty cool to be down here, even if you don’t go to the game. It’s pretty neat.”

Fans like Murphy are always welcome to enjoy themselves at the many bar and food establishments on Broadway. Terry Weakley, manager of Rippy’s Bar and Grill, said he always looks forward to when the SEC Tournament comes to Nashville. He knows that business will spike exponentially that weekend when the 14 teams of the league come to the city and their respective fans visit what Nashville has to offer.

But for as many teams that are in the conference, none have a bigger and more loyal fanbase than UK does.

“They travel better than anybody in the country, ain’t no doubt about it,” Weakley said. “Kentucky basketball is the number one travelers. They fill the place up. They’re here from opening to close. Some of them go to the game, the rest of them stay here. They have more fans than they do tickets.”

Weakley grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., rooting for the Tennessee Volunteers as a kid. But as an adult and manager of a bar, he doesn’t mind seeing what were once the archrival fans of his favorite team. But even if he was to root against Kentucky and the Cats were to lose before Sunday’s SEC Championship game, Weakley said it wouldn’t matter. The UK fans would still take up at least 75 percent of his bar and the two other bars that are partnered with Rippy’s.

“It don’t make no difference if they’re winning or losing, they’re still going to come and they’re still going to fill this town up,” Weakley said. “They’re not going to leave if they get beat. They’ll stay here and party. They always do. It’s amazing. I respect what they’re doing and what Kentucky does.”

The UK fans liven up the area. They bring excitement and heighten the culture of the Music City, just like they did in 2015 when the Wildcats were undefeated entering the postseason. But with every year that the SEC Tournament is in Nashville, it grows. More UK fans travel with the team, more streets are crowded and more businesses rise. And with Nashville hosting seven of the next nine SEC Tournaments, local city residents expect the area to keep booming, mostly thanks to the traveling UK fans.

“The people really latch on to it and really get into the spirit of it,” said Matt Campbell, an employee of Robert’s Honky Tonk Grill and a two-year resident of Nashville. “Especially with Kentucky fans. When you walk down Broadway or you’re parking, you come down here and you just see a sea of blue shirts. That’s definitely a good thing. It’s obviously growing and a continued trend here in Nashville, and it’s great for business. They want to come here and have a good time, and we’re happy to help them do that.”

UK basketball may be away from home for the weekend, but the environment of it all is certainly no different. Whether attending a game or walking along the streets of Nashville all weekend, Kentucky fans feel a familiarity in the atmosphere.

It’s an array of blue shirts chanting “Go Big Blue” at every corner, just like it would be back home.

“They’re everywhere,” said Cora Byrd from Edgewood, Ky. “Kentucky definitely travels well every year. They’re a dedicated fanbase and the environment is anything, even if you’re not inside the arena.”