The first weekend in August in western Kentucky means only one thing: Fancy Farm. The small town suddenly transforms into the epicenter of the Kentucky political universe.
And to keep a tradition going for 134 years, it takes some pretty committed volunteers.
“Each family in the church has a responsibility and this family has taken care of the hamburgers and hot dogs for decades,” said Will Hayden, who was working the grill Saturday morning.
Hayden and Brad Page of Fancy Farm spoke to us as they were cooling down after a long morning and afternoon tending to a hot grill. Page says they normally start grilling between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning. Fancy Farm has been a part of their lives as long as they can remember.
“Oh, I’m 45, so 42 [Fancy Farms] that I know of,” said Hayden.
Page also says he started volunteering as a child.
“It’s been handed down generation to generation. I’ve got my kids, and his kids,” said Page pointing to Hayden. “Hopefully they’ll get in there and get at it.”
The setting is the expansive St. Jerome’s Catholic Church picnic grounds. They seem expansive, anyway until 20,000 people show up. Then, it can feel a bit small and those premiums spots in the shade, those are nowhere to be found once the afternoon rolls around. There's food, ice cream, a dunking booth and a continual bingo game throughout the day.
And it’s not just Kentuckians who flock here every August for Fancy Farm. It even attracts people from other states, like Coline Jenkins from Greenwich, Connecticut who was carrying an attention-grabbing sign that read “Republican for Alison”.
Jenkins, who readily acknowledges that Greenwich is sometimes known as the “hedge fund capital of the world”, says she’s been disappointed in the way Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has handled issues related to income inequality. But, there’s another issue, too.
“I think we live in a representative democracy, but somehow 51 percent of the population – women – are not well represented. So there are two reasons – the economy and a gender issue,” said Jenkins.
Another visitor, John Morris from Port Orange Florida, who was attending his first Fancy Farm, paling around with his friend Jerry Sykes of nearby Draffenville, Kentucky.
“I told my good friend Jerry, my UAW brother, that he’s created a monster. I’ll probably be back every year now,” said Morris. “I love it.”
One Kentucky lawmaker who wouldn’t pass up a chance to attend Fancy Farm – Greenville State Rep. Brent Yonts.
“Today is, as someone said, the ‘Super Bowl of Politics’ and it is. It’s [the attendance] maybe approaching 20,000 or better. Someone said 30,000, I don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s so already so thick out here you can’t walk,” said Yonts.
As for the key to a good stump speech:
“Know your facts and be able to articulate ideas and do it instantaneously,” said Yonts. “Sort of like we’re doing right now,” he added with a laugh.
One of the calling cards of Fancy Farm, is that it’s one of the few places in American politics these days, where it’s actually acceptable to vociferously deride a candidate while he – or she – is on stage.
For instance, Alison Lundergan Grimes started her speech with six straight minutes of tearing into McConnell and his record and then said something that drew a hearty laugh and a jeer from those in the crowd supporting the incumbent Senator.
“Now, I want you to put aside the partisan attacks…” exclaimed Grimes on stage.
Two McConnell supporters burst into laughter and one bellowed “then you’d have nothing to say!”
After the speeches were over and the political pavilion began to empty out, we talked to Wayne Youngblood of Mayfield. He said he appreciated the effort to tone down the shouting this year and said he was able to hear the candidates better than in the past.
As for the content of those speeches, Youngblood says he’s a McConnell guy.
“I prefer a more moderate approach, but I support his beliefs,” said Youngblood.
Looking ahead, when the crowds gather again for Fancy Farm 2015, we asked Youngblood if he thinks there will be a presidential candidate taking the stage.
Youngblood says he has his doubts about Kentucky’s other senator, Rand Paul, running for the White House in 2016. But he added: “I’d like to see it in about 8 more or 12 more years.”
And who knows what kind of crowd and media crunch that might draw.