Kentucky’s Fancy Farm, explained

It's time for the 134th annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Kentucky! In fact, as we pointed out Thursday, it is time for many of the big Southern summer festivals that happen to involve politics. Legislators are returning home for August recess, which means making speeches and shaking hands with voters and eating thousands of pounds of barbecue.


This teaser trailer from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for Fancy Farm -- yes, it is that epic that it gets teaser trailers -- sums up the main themes of the event: guns, freedom and coal. They forgot the barbecue and the mutton, but we'll forgive them.

McConnell's Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, did not make a Fancy Farm teaser trailer, but she has been on a rock-star-esque "Road to Fancy Farm" tour on her way to Fancy Farm.

In 2011, local reporter Joe Gerth made a video explainer for Fancy Farm. The Courier-Journal reposted it this year, adding, "Not much has changed over the years, so Joe's primer remains relevant today." Behold:

Fake Senate candidate Gil Fulbright, who is running as performance art for a group against excessive money in politics and plans to announce his candidacy at Fancy Farm, gets at the heart of what Fancy Farm is all about in this tweet:

Everyone in Kentucky will be there -- don't forget Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is attracting 2016-related attention -- and everyone will be hoping to win votes, or at least get some national attention from all the reporters who will be there.

Or at least play some bingo. There's something for everyone at Fancy Farm.

The Fancy Farm Picnic, hosted by St. Jerome's Catholic Church, is held annually in the town of Fancy Farm, Ky., which will swell far beyond its normal size of 500 residents this weekend. The event usually draws around 10,000 visitors. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that organizers expect 15,000 attendees this year, still falling short of the record set in 1992, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore drew nearly 20,000 to the event. Organizers say not to expect Clinton at this year's picnic.

The biggest political draw this year will be the aforementioned Senate candidates, McConnell and Grimes. As The Fix pointed out last year, the race is an expensive doozy, and is the narrative epicenter of the fight over the Senate majority. It's basically written in the Kentucky constitution that both candidates have to speak, but it seems unlikely that they'll have much of any opportunity to change people's minds. Columnist David Hawpe wrote this week, "In recent years the jeers and the taunts have made it increasingly difficult to hear what the politicians are saying, but nobody seems to mind." The relative volume of the jeers Grimes and McConnell receive might work as a questionable straw poll, but showing up is 99 percent of the battle as far as Fancy Farm goes.

People won't remember what you said, but they'll remember if you weren't there. As Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield (R) told a public radio station in Kentucky this year of his speech in 2013, "I don’t even remember being there. It’s so interesting: I sit up there and I just remove myself from being there. I don’t remember anything anybody says or even when they’re talking. I don’t know what they are saying.”

Much of the "mocking" thousands in the crowd will be bused in by the Democratic and Republican parties in Kentucky, who aren't about to cede the metaphorical cacophony trophy to the opposition.

A 2007 New York Times article described the scene.

Republicans sent a man dressed as Moses into the audience looking for the Ten Commandments, which they said Democrats took out of the schools and courthouses. Democrats started a chain gang marching alongside the stage to poke fun at a hiring scandal and a series of indictments that clouded much of the Republican governor’s first term.

Last year, the Daily Beast published an article blaming McConnell for the heckling. Whatever the cause, it won't be any different on Saturday. Even in the 1980s, candidates were complaining about the times changing at Fancy Farm. Former Kentucky governor Happy Chandler (D) reminisced about the good old days to the Paducah Sun in 1980 -- on the picnic's 100th anniversary. A local postmaster remembered the time Chandler campaigned at the 1935 picnic. “Happy danced with every girl in the place, and everybody thought that was great. When the dance was all over, he was sopping wet.” Even 34 years ago, Chandler said, “People used to listen to what you had to say back then, and what you said at a place like Fancy Farm was important to your campaign." He thought the event's timing was at fault -- noting that the fair used to be held before the primary.

In case you think what happens will have any real impact on the race ahead, check out this preview from the Courier-Journal.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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