Fancy Farm

Ryland Barton

After decades of Democratic-dominated Fancy Farm events, in a historically Democrat-dominated state, Republicans have found themselves in the catbird seat ahead of the annual political speaking event.

Democratic speakers will be outnumbered by more than two-to-one at this year’s Fancy Farm. That’s partly because last November, Republicans made history by taking the statewide offices of Governor, Auditor, Agriculture Commissioner and Secretary of State.

Only those who represent the citizens of Graves County are allowed to speak at the event. Though Democrats did win two statewide offices last year, neither Attorney General Andy Beshear nor Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes will be in attendance.

During Friday’s GOP “Night Before Fancy Farm” event, Republicans chided Democratic officials who declined invitations to the event on Saturday.

Paul (photo provided) Gray (Jim Gray for US Senate)

Kentucky's U.S. Senate candidates will make their first appearance together at the rowdy Fancy Farm political picnic amid a turbulent national election year.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic Lexington Mayor Jim Gray are both scheduled to face the raucous crowds in Fancy Farm, where thousands of people have gathered every year since 1880 at St. Jerome Parish to eat pork, play Bingo and watch to see how politicians deliver a speech while being peppered with boos and insults from at least half the crowd.

It will be Gray's first appearance in the shaded pavilion as the mayor of Kentucky's second largest city is making his first bid for statewide office. Paul, who is finishing up his first term in the U.S. Senate, is a Fancy Farm veteran.

J. Tyler Franklin

In videos of Fancy Farm, the annual political throwdown in southwestern Kentucky, you’ll usually see little white ceiling fans spinning furiously above the speakers, who are all shouting and sweating profusely with their sleeves rolled up.

It’s one of the few events in U.S. politics where speakers address an audience made up of both supporters and opponents.

Unlike a debate, Fancy Farm attendees are allowed to heckle or cheer those on the stage — a practice that organizers, politicians and beyond have tried to limit, to little effect.

But two days before the annual Fancy Farm picnic, it’s peaceful in Graves County.

Members of St. Jerome’s Catholic Church are readying the Knights of Columbus fairgrounds for bingo and barbeque, and it’s hard to imagine the racket that will soon arrive.

Mark Wilson, organizer of the event’s political speaking portion, says he depends on each year’s Fancy Farm emcee to at least try to control the crowd.

Fancy Farm 2015

Aug 3, 2015
Emil Moffatt

For some in Western Kentucky, the Fancy Farm Picnic is about chopped mutton and pork, bingo and music. But for the rest of the state it’s that weekend in August when politicians roll up their shirt sleeves and yell into a sea of cheers and boos.  This year’s Fancy Farm continued that tradition—after getting over one plea for civility.

The annual Fancy Farm picnic at St. Jerome's Parish is...a little bit different from the rest of the events most politicians attend during a campaign.

These days, in an increasingly tweeted, snapped and streamed world, politicians prefer to deliver their messages in carefully-scripted commercials or well-rehearsed sound bites for the press.
But Fancy Farm is noisy. Chaotic. Rude. The crowd shouts over the candidates.
This year, Republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin attempted to diffuse the bedlam by leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance

WKYU PBS

U.S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell says he will be at the Fancy Farm picnic next month.

Kentucky’s senior senator talked about the event during a stop in Bullitt County Monday.

McConnell said he plans to attend---and take part---in Kentucky’s biggest political event of the year.

"I'm looking forward to being there," McConnell commented.

Other years, he’s missed it, but McConnell explained that’s only when there isn’t a big state race in play that year.  This year, Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway are squaring off for the Governor’s office. So, McConnell says he will be making a speech at the picnic.

McConnell—who is one of the most prominent Republicans in the state and country—says he will also help craft the message for other members of his party making a speech that day.

"We are talking to other people that are participating and hope to make it interesting," McConnell added.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul recently announced he won’t attend Fancy Farm and will be campaigning for president in New Hampshire instead.

The much-anticipated 134th Fancy Farm Picnic has come and gone, setting an attendance record in the process, according to organizers. But while the caustic stump speeches get national media attention, many forget its original purpose: raising funds for St. Jerome Catholic Church.

Emil Moffatt

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.”

Joseph Lord, Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer officially announced his bid for governor at the 134th annual Fancy Farm political picnic, becoming the third candidate to do so in the 2015 race and setting the stage for a Republican primary battle against a former Louisville Metro councilman in the process.

"It's been my dream come true to be your commissioner of agriculture. And I view the people of Western Kentucky as our family. So T.J. and I have chosen this time, and this place, to say to all of you, I will be a candidate for governor in 2015," Comer said.

The anticipated announcement now pits Comer, a Republican who succeeded Richie Farmer in 2012, against Hal Heiner, a Republican who narrowly lost to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in a 2010 election.

Comer says he’s yet to select a running mate, but will do so once he officially files his candidacy papers on Sept. 9.

The annual Fancy Farm picnic in Kentucky is the place to see and be seen for political candidates. The event has drawn many national figures in its 80-year history, including Al Gore and George Wallace. But the picnic has a reputation for being a raucous event.

As Phillip Bailey of Here & Now contributing station WFPL reports, organizers are trying to tamp down what they call “the scream fest,” as the event promises to attract a bigger audience then ever.

It’s Fancy Farm, 2011. Gatewood Galbraith, clad in his trademark fedora, takes the stage. 

“Thank you very much folks," he tells the applauding crowd. "Gatewood Galbraith here. First of all, I’m gonna go away from my regular speech for just a second and tell you Gov. Beshear, that was the worst darn speech I ever heard anybody give!”

The audience cheers.

Dubbed by many Kentucky political observers as one of the best stump speakers in recent history, Galbraith’s populist oratory style and steely resolve was a perfect match for the event.

Organizers expect a larger than usual crowd at this weekend's Fancy Farm Picnic in Graves County. The 134 year-old event has evolved from old-timey political stump speeches to a shout-fest as spectators try to overpower the speaker.

In 1975 the Fancy Farm Picnic was a little more refined. In fact, it was quiet enough to hear a flash bulb pop during then-Presidential Candidate George Wallace’s speech. Wallace survived an assassination attempt in 1972 that left him paralyzed below the waist.

The Fancy Farm Picnic’s political chair Mark Wilson says Democrats and Republicans offered positive feedback following a conference call to encourage a more civil atmosphere at this year's picnic.

On the road to this weekend's Fancy Farm political picnic, there are detours.

One is the Dainty contest, a unique annual sports event in Louisville’s Schnitzelburg neighborhood that draws local and statewide politicians.

In the run up to Fancy Farm, the Dainty has served as a kind of roadside attraction. Candidates rub elbows with prospective voters in an attempt to energize the base in one of Kentucky's most solidly working-class Democratic strongholds.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

This Saturday the 134th annual Fancy Farm political picnic will feature thousands of pounds of barbecue, and even spicier political rhetoric. In addition, the event’s chairman anticipates this year’s political gathering to be the largest ever.

Mark Wilson and his wife, Lori, have directed the political happenings at the Fancy Farm picnic for the past eight years. Mark anticipates this year’s crowd will be the largest since 1992, when Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Al Gore spoke at the event. 

“It’s a ballpark, 15 to 20,000. And that’s what we anticipate this year, the same type of crowd. 

A lifelong congregant of the stump speech mecca’s St. Jerome Catholic parish, where the event is held alongside raffles and bingo, Wilson says local and state officeholders, as well as both of Kentucky’s U.S. Senators, will be present at Fancy Farm.

He says he anticipates Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner James Comer to keep with a tried and true Fancy Farm tradition and announce his rumored gubernatorial candidacy. 

“There’s speculation that he’s going to announce his intentions to run for governor on the Republican side of the aisle, and we think there’s a very good possibility he will make that announcement on our political platform on Saturday.”

Wilson says the event will also feature its other signature offering: Several thousand pounds of barbeque mutton, chicken, and pork to aid the digestion of what could be the biggest Fancy Farm ever.

WKMS

The 134th Fancy Farm Picnic is now just a little more than two weeks away and the line-up of speakers is almost complete.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his challenger, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, are expected to face off for the second time in as many years on August 2. Fancy Farm political chair Mark Wilson says, unlike Grimes, McConnell has yet to confirm his appearance, but expects the five-term Senator will make the trip.

Wilson said the picnic’s attendance could swell to as many as 20,000 people.

“Normally we’ll do 10-12,000 or so," Wilson said. "But with all the heightened interest in the McConnell/Grimes race and then you’ve got U.S. Sen. Rand Paul with some presidential aspirations and then we’ve got Jack Conway and James Comer, both sitting state officials who have gubernatorial aspirations.”

Comer has yet to actually declare himself a candidate for governor. The lone Republican to officially enter the race, Hal Heiner, will not be invited to speak, according to Wilson, because he’s not a sitting public official. McConnell's primary challenger, Matt Bevin, ran into the same problem at last year's event, but was eventually invited to speak.

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