Lubbock, Texas: Welcome to the Wild West
Once you see the skies of West Texas, you’ll be forever ruined for any other. Golden tones that wash the landscape will make you believe that Midas lives in Lubbock. The stars are stuff of songs and the horizon seems to stretch forever. Despite having its roots based largely in agriculture, Lubbock has expanded by leaps and bounds. It’s no longer just a producer of cotton. The Hub City has the second largest population in the Big XII behind Austin.
Texas Tech University
Jones AT&T Stadium
Texas Tech was described by author James Michener as ““the most beautiful west of the Mississippi until you get to Stanford.” With its Spanish Renaissance architecture, it’s easy to see how Michener came to his conclusion. Many of the campus’ buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the new buildings remain consistent with the Spanish architecture. Tech’s campus is ranked #16 of most beautiful campuses by the Daily Beast. Art lovers will be pleased to find pieces scattered throughout the campus. In fact, their art collection was rated by Public Art Review as one of the ten best university public art collections in the country.
Probably Lubbock’s greatest asset is her people; West Texas hospitality is legendary. Hellos, how-are-yous, and smiles are genuine; there’s a special breed of person who lives in Lubbock. A sense of community is evident, even with 220,000 people. With all the conveniences of a city, yet the advantages of a small town, Lubbock is many people’s idea of Texas. Cowboys, cotton, and college football…it doesn’t get more quintessentially Texas than that.
When to go?
Lubbock is notorious for its changing weather. One hour coeds are walking around campus in shorts, and the next, the temperature has dropped 30 degrees. Wind is always a pretty safe bet, as is very little humidity. Late September and October usually make for the best football weather. But who knows? It could be sunny and 75 degrees in November. If you don’t like the day’s weather in West Texas, just wait for the next because it’s sure to be different.
Game day at Texas Tech is always an occasion. But when Oklahoma and Texas roll into town, it becomes an event. Hotels are scarce and red and black apparel is wiped clean off store shelves. Students camp outside of the stadium in a tent city known as Raiderville up to a week for the biggest games of the season. Raiderville even has a mayor and population sign. Night games at Jones Stadium are legendary. It’s even prompted Dan Ackman of The Wall Street Journal to write, “Football after dark in West Texas is mythic stuff.” And he doesn’t know the half of it.
It’s hard to believe that the tailgating tradition only started at Texas Tech in 1983. They certainly have made up for lost time. Tech has the second largest contiguous campus in the United States, sitting on 1,939 acres. That means there’s plenty of room for tents, campers, smokers, buses, grills, and trucks to set up. The lots on campus closest to Jones Stadium are reserved for donors. The more you donate, the better your tailgating spot. Fortunately, there are also places located around 4th Street and University Avenue that are privately owned. You better get there early because those places aren’t available for long.
Tailgating at Tech is a carnivore’s dream. It’s like eating at a Brazilian churrascaria, except these gauchos won’t take “no more” for an answer. You’ll be stuffed silly with brisket, pork tenderloin, beef and chicken fajitas, sausages of all varieties, wild boar, goat, and bacon used in ways never imagined. You’re not going to find any plain old Weber grills here. Nope. Grills in Lubbock are works of art, and on top of that, make some damn fine food. In fact, when one such double-barrel smoker was stolen, it prompted a facebook page, a message board plea, and a newspaper article, all hoping to find the game-day staple.
As mentioned before, West Texans are famous for their hospitality. They will welcome you into their fold and you’ll be eating a cabrito taco, drinking a beer, and turning two-syllable words into three before you know it. They’re also famous for not tolerating disrespect for their beloved Red Raiders, university, and city. It’s best to mind your manners in Lubbock.
There are also two university-sponsored tailgating events. Raider Alley starts three hours prior to kick-off and is one of the nation’s largest pre-game tailgates. It offers live music, food, activities for kids, autograph sessions, and a pre-game pep rally led by the Tech Cheerleaders and Pom Squad. RaiderGate welcomes about 10,000 students. It’s sponsored by the Student Government Association and features a different live band each home game. Gates open four hours prior to kickoff, but you have to be a Tech student to attend.
What you need to know:
Individual tickets can be purchased online, but it’s best to buy them early for conference games. You might be able to find tickets at Raider Trader too. The Overton Hotel is a short two minute walk to the stadium and is fun before or after the game. Pick up your Texas Tech gear at Red Raider Outfitter. You’ll want to be wearing red or black, lest stick out like a sore thumb.
Pregame: Besides tailgating, there are other traditions and events to be seen. On Thursday evening before a home game, a spirit organization called the Saddle Tramps swathe the campus in red and black streamers. You can’t miss seeing Will Rogers and his trusty steed, Soapsuds, wrapped in red crepe paper at the university’s entrance. On a side note, the rear end of the horse was placed in such a way as to point to College Station, home of Texas A&M, a former bitter conference foe.
At over 400 members strong, the Goin’ Band from Raiderland, named for being the first college band to travel to an away game, marches from the music building, in front of the library, and through the engineering key before making its way to Jones Stadium. The Raider Walk was brought to Tech by former Coach Tuberville. Two hours and fifteen minutes prior to kickoff, the coaching staff, Raider Red, and cheerleaders lead the football team down the Drive of Champions to the training facility. This is your opportunity to show support and cheer on the Red Raiders. The Masked Rider and his horse, Midnight Matador, are normally available for photographs in front of the Frazier Alumni Center prior to the game.
At the game: Get in your seats early, because the pageantry won’t want to be missed. The Goin’ Band comes out in its signature run-on and the Masked Rider leads the Red Raiders into the stadium with theatrics that rival a Steven Spielberg movie. Cheerleaders follow the team with giant flags spelling “Texas Tech.” The Saddle Tramps take the field for the traditional bell circle with Raider Red in the middle ready to fire his shot guns. Shouts of “Raider” on one side and “Power” on the other echo throughout the stadium as Bangin’ Bertha, a bell donated by the Santa Fe Railroad, rings on the field. All of this excitement with not a single tick off the game clock.
Throughout the game, you’ll hear the familiar “Raider Power” chant. You’ll also hear shouts of “Wreck ‘em Tech” and see the guns up hand signal. You might see the stadium’s benches being passed down onto the field from the student section. No, they’re not intentionally breaking them. This is a result of thousands of rabid fans standing and jumping on the benches the entire game. Student sections are reserved for students. If you’re not one, don’t sit there, and certainly don’t sit there wearing the opposing team’s colors.
It’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago it became legal to sell packaged alcohol within the city limits of Lubbock. Previously you either had to buy drinks by the glass in restaurants and bars or travel just beyond the city limit signs to buy beer, wine, and liquor. Those days are over. Grocery and convenience stores now are able to sell alcohol.
The Depot District, originally the Fort Worth & Denver South Plains Railway Depot, is the epicenter of Lubbock’s social scene. Visit Triple J Chophouse & Brew Co for a variety of food and craft beers. La Diosa Cellars offers a large selection of wine along with coffees, tapas, and desserts. Lounge and restaurant, Melt, is good place to have a cocktail and perhaps a bite to eat. If you’re a music lover, a trip to the Buddy Holly Center is a must. There you’ll find not only artifacts from Lubbock’s favorite son and other West Texas musicians, but also a contemporary collection of visual arts.
Closer to campus is Spanky’s, a Texas Tech institution. The burgers, fries, and onion rings are delicious, but it’s the fried cheese that keeps people coming back. One Guy From Italy makes an excellent calzone. Cricket’s is a campus-area sports bar and has over 100 beers on tap, pool tables, and lots of TVs for watching football. Head to Chimy’s for a Gut Rocket and cold beer or margarita. Happy hour is Monday – Friday, 4:00pm – 7:00pm and features $1.50 drafts, $2.00 wells, $0.99 crispy beef tacos, and $4.50 margaritas. Bash Riprock’s is Lubbock’s oldest college bar and has two locations: one near campus and one in the Depot District.
For Mexican food, Abuelo’s is a nice place for dinner. Get there early; it gets really crowded. Ruby Tequila’s is located just across from the stadium and convenient for some pre or post-game munchies. If you want something quick, Rosa’s and MamaRita’s are good places to try. You can’t beat Josie’s for breakfast burritos. If you can imagine it, they’ll make it. An old-school breakfast can be found at the Pancake House. If you’re craving some home cooking, River Smith’s Chicken and Catfish is the place to go. Cagle Steaks and the 50 Yard Line are the best places for a steak.
Not only is Lubbock prime a prime cotton growing region, but it also produces award-winning wine grapes. There are three main wineries in Lubbock: Pheasant Ridge, Llano Estacado, and Caprock. Llano Estacado is the largest premium winery in Texas and produces a number of red and white varieties, including the Raider Cabernet Sauvignon, Raider Viognier, and the Raider White Zinfadel, all of which benefit the Texas Tech Alumni Association. All three vineyards gladly welcome folks to their tasting rooms.
Visit the National Ranching Heritage Center to learn the history of Ranching in North America. It has preserved 48 structures dating from the late 1700s through the 1950s and is located on 16-acres. There are special exhibits, a reading room, and virtual exhibits to help visitors learn more about the history of ranching life.
Texas Tech may not be the oldest or biggest university in Texas, but it might very well have the most dedicated fans. The heart and soul of West Texas is Texas Tech, and with that, comes a fierce loyalty. The very fabric of this community is woven in the scarlet and black, and it’s evident the moment you drive into the Lubbock city limits.
Watching any Texas Tech football game is a unique experience, but watching a night game at Jones Stadium is down-right awe inspiring. It’s impossible to imagine only 60,000+ fans create the noise and environment it does. Like Chris Fowler said, “There’s no place crazier than West Texas.” And if you’re coming to Lubbock, you best saddle up and hold on to your hat, because at Texas Tech, you’re in for one wild ride.
I am a proud graduate of Texas Tech University and grew up on the South Plains. I am fortunate to have watched countless football games under the Friday night lights of West Texas and from the stands of Jones Stadium.