Swift fans party in Central Arkansas

Super Bowl get-togethers this year have a little fun with Taylor mania

Julie Pollard (left) and Naty Doris sing a Taylor Swift karaoke song during a Taylor Swift-themed Super Bowl watch party at the River Bottom Winery near Roland on Sunday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)
Julie Pollard (left) and Naty Doris sing a Taylor Swift karaoke song during a Taylor Swift-themed Super Bowl watch party at the River Bottom Winery near Roland on Sunday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

While fans of the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers crowded around TV screens Sunday to watch Super Bowl LVIII, two groups of Taylor Swift fans in Central Arkansas used the occasion to celebrate their favorite pop star with Swift-themed Super Bowl events.

At one event at River Bottom Winery -- a cozy spot tucked in the hills of Roland -- participants sang Swift's songs on karaoke, held a Swift lookalike contest, and took part in a trivia contest focused on the singer-songwriter.

"It's all family and friends that work here," the winery's owner and event organizer Karen Bradford said as Swift's song, "Love Story," played over the loudspeakers. "It's kind of like Cheers."

"It's like the joke of the Super Bowl right now," she added. "Everybody's focused on her, and so I thought, 'Well, we'll do the same thing.'"

The event's festivities kicked off when Bradford and members of her staff took to the winery's patio stage to sing some "Taylor-oke."

She and two winery employees -- Judy Forrest and Laura Headington -- were dressed as Swift, wearing long, blond wigs, cowgirl boots, and red lipstick. As they made their way to the stage, Bradford joked that they were "Taylor when she's headed right to the nursing home."

Halfway through their rendition of Swift's "Tim McGraw," the singers convinced attendees Julie Pollard and Naty Doris to help them sing along.

Doris, a frequent visitor at River Bottom Winery, brought Pollard to the event, although neither of them identify as Taylor Swift superfans, or "Swifties."

"I was a fan of Taylor Swift when her first album came out," Naty said over a glass of red wine that matched her Swift-red lipstick. "I don't necessarily know the present stuff, but it's nostalgic, you know?"

The pair sang one of Swift's biggest hits, "You Belong With Me," before returning to their seats for the trivia contest.

Many of the questions tested the attendees' knowledge of Swift's music and career, although other questions focused on the Chiefs and 49ers.

"Even if you're not a Taylor Swift fan, you know a lot about her, because she's everywhere," Bradford said. "And so, I feel like people will be surprised that they wind up knowing more about Taylor than football."

Pollard won the trivia contest and received a $50 gift certificate to the winery.

She believes Swift's personality is one of the key reasons the pop star brings people together. "I think it's just her overall -- like she just has such a positive personality," Pollard said. "Even when she is hated on, she keeps coming back, keeps being herself and is very authentic. I think people are drawn to that."

Doris, on the other hand, described Swift as "palatable, commercial feminism, that has mass appeal because it's not super controversial."

Later, Bradford and the two winery staff members who dressed up as Swift went head-to-head in a lookalike contest. After the audience's votes were tallied, Bradford announced Judy Forrest as the contest winner.

"Your prize is ... you get to work [here] next weekend!" Forrest joked after being declared the winner, prompting thunderous laughter from all in attendance.

Later in the day, Catering Arkansas hosted Super Bowl Party (Taylor's Version) at Taziki's 8200 Cantrell Rd location, which brought out Swifties as well as their friends and family members.

At a table by the entrance, Lucy Behr sat with her daughters, Reece and Harper, while making friendship bracelets and applying Swift-themed temporary tattoos. Reece Behr wore a beanie that read "Taylor Swift's boyfriend," a nod to Taylor's highly public relationship with Kansas City Chief's tight end Travis Kelce.

Lucy Behr learned of the event on Facebook through the Swifties of Arkansas, a local community of Swift fans who connect online and in person at various Swift-themed events.

In January, Behr and her friend, Tyler Platt, attended Taylor Fest at The Hall in Little Rock, where they "made a ton of new friends" who shared their love of Swift.

For Platt, Swift is a great example of female solidarity and mutual support. "I feel like if any Swifty were getting an award, [Swift] would be supporting them," Platt said. "I think that she is a true 'girl's girl.' Why not support her?"

While no one in attendance paid much attention to the Super Bowl itself, many attendees, including Lucy Behr, stated that Swift's relationship with Kelce has led them to follow football.

"Taylor has now made me a football fan as I was previously not, and I still don't know what anything means, but that's OK," Behr joked.

Another attendee, Parisa Kiani, became a Swift fan after seeing the "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" movie in the theater earlier this year. Kiani said she had not "watched the Super Bowl since Troy Aikman was on it" in the 1990s.

"Because of her, I started watching the podcast with the Kelces, and they just seem so great," Kiani said. "So I've gotten more into football because of their podcast."

Melissa Atkins, the director of Catering Arkansas, expressed a similar sentiment.

"I think she gets people excited about football in a different way," Atkins said. "And I think little girls are taking notice, and it's a good way for them to spend time with their dads if they're into football. It's a good excuse for them to do that."


Julie Pollard (from left), Naty Doris, Savannah Forrest and Judy Forrest sing a Taylor Swift karaoke song during a Taylor Swift-themed Super Bowl watch party at the River Bottom Winery near Roland on Sunday.(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)