Editor’s note: The Fancy Farm Picnic & Bar-B-Cue in Graves County in far western Kentucky serves up a “political speaking” event that dates back to 1880 and is considered by many to be Kentucky’s most important political event other than Election Day. This year’s speaking promises to be one of the most publicized ever with the attention being paid to the race for U.S. Senate between incumbent Mitch McConnell and challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. For anyone thinking of making the seven-hour, 420-mile trip from Letcher County to Fancy Farm, former Mountain Eagle/Tri- City News writer Deborah Yetter offers this guide for politicians and guests alike. The column appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal, where Yetter is now an editorial writer.
Fancy Farm’s political extravaganza Saturday promises to be among the best ever, given the food, festivities and unprecedented national attention to what has become the traditional kickoff to Kentucky’s fall election season.
The marquee event is the clash of candidates in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race, five-term incumbent Mitch McConnell, as Senate minority leader, one of Washington’s most powerful Republicans, and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Kentucky’s junior Sen. Rand Paul also is attracting a fair share of national attention for his highprofi le but undeclared Republican presidential campaign.
So near record crowds of press and spectators are expected at the annual St. Jerome Roman Catholic parish picnic, which hosts the state’s premiere political event in the Western Kentucky hamlet of Fancy Farm.
With that in mind, here is some advice to those planning to attend, starting with the politicians who will speak Saturday afternoon.
• Leave ‘em laughing. Be funny. If you can’t be funny, be interest- ing. At Fancy Farm, huge groups organized by various candidates or causes try to drown out the speakers with chants and jeers.
But even hard-core hecklers like a good line and will stop heckling long enough to laugh or listen if you make it worth their while. Believe it or not, it happens.
• Don’t be evil. Or at least, don’t appear that way on camera. Politicians on the stump must remember that opponents are shooting video in hopes of capturing unflattering images to use in opposition ads with a backdrop of apocalyptic music, say Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”
Yes, that’s evil, too. But it happens. Just ask Scotty Baesler whose 2008 Senate loss to Jim Bunning was blamed in part on his frenzied speech that showed up in an attack ad. With Wagner.
• Keep it clean. By now, we all know about Jack Conway’s unfortunate incident, while running for U.S. Senate, where he used a mild profanity to describe how tough he was. ( Think son-of-a-gun.) Political opponents erupted in sanctimonious outrage and picnic organizers protested (it is, after all, a church sponsored event).
Besides, this year, along with St. Jerome parish priest, Rev. Darrell Venters, and Owensboro Bishop William Medley, Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will attend, joining other elected officials on the speaker’s platform. Anyone who curses risks a whack on the knuckles from the penguin.
• Do fear the reaper. Costumes, skits and outlandish displays are de rigueur at Fancy Farm.
But it can go too far. Several years ago, two young Republicans said to be supporters of Rand Paul, decided to have someone dressed as the Grim Reaper, wearing a skeleton mask and wielding a scythe, stalk the crowd decrying the “death tax” — GOP-speak for inheritance tax.
The reaper got bounced.
“It’s scaring the kids,” explained the parish picnic chairman.
Really, costumes — especially furry animal costumes with pullon heads — should be avoided at the August event where temperatures approach 100 and heat and humidity are stupefying. No need to lose any supporters so early in the campaign.
But enough for the politicians. Here’s some advice to the hundreds, if not thousands, of others who will attend, many for the first time.
• Bring your own — chair. No, this is not about alcohol, though for informational purposes only, St. Jerome parish is in a dry county. Therefore, there will be no, repeat NO cold beer people might expect at the typical Catholic parish picnic.
Bingo? You bet. Dunking booths, wheels of chance? Of course. Beer? No.
Bring a folding chair. Seating is limited and most people bring collapsible canvas chairs. Many bring coolers. Contents are up to you but discretion is advised.
Once empty, the cooler serves another purpose (more on that later).
• Go to the Friday night fish fry. St. Jerome parish is in a remote corner of Kentucky, so many will arrive Friday for Saturday’s picnic and its legendary barbecue lunch. But the parish has an awesome fish fry on Friday night and it’s fun to wander the grounds and watch volunteers setting up.
As a bonus, you can watch KET’s “Comment on Kentucky” broadcast live from the speaker’s pavilion Friday night. Just remember, fish but no beer.
• About that cooler. Keep enough ice and plenty of room to buy some of St. Jerome’s fabulous barbecued meat to take home. They sell it by the pound. The barbecued mutton and pork are some of the best you will ever eat and you can’t eat enough on the premises to do it justice.
• Don’t miss the meal. Sample the Saturday lunch. The lines become very long as the day goes on but St. Jerome sets out a downhome feast that’s worth waiting for.
In addition to barbecued meat and fried chicken, the bounty of vegetables, side dishes and desserts is staggering.
One item represents the sheer bliss of the spread St. Jerome puts forth. Tomatoes. Vine-ripened, grownin dirt, deep red, Western Kentucky tomatoes.
Try them. They might be the most memorable thing from the whole event.