Next Saturday, on what we hope is a sunny and inviting Kentucky summer afternoon, our state will be host to an annual political tradition we call Fancy Farm.
Fancy Farm is Kentucky’s political equivalent of the ancient legal practice of trial by ordeal–where the accused is set on fire or tied up and thrown into a river to determine guilt or innocence. If the accused survives, they would be presumed innocent. In Kentucky’s political version, a politician who survives Fancy Farm, is presumed politically viable and allowed to continue to pursue their political aspirations. But like the survivors of the ancient legal trial, the Fancy Farm politician will never forget the ordeal endured.
Fancy Farm is probably America’s last vestige of pre-modern political theater. To succeed you need two parts talent; three parts ambition; one part courage; and two and a half parts temporary insanity.
Beyond all the tales about Fancy Farm, and beyond the sound and fury that occur during each year’s big political event, Fancy Farm does signify something. But what exactly that is, no one is quite sure.
So we keep coming back in hopes of finding out.
Maybe we will unravel the Fancy Farm mystery this year. Or maybe not. Most likely Fancy Farm 2014 will again be another irresistible spectacle combining good will and good cheer; characters and charisma; courage and calculation; pleasing food and harsh partisanship; high political drama and low brow political tactics all swirling simultaneously within the context of nothing less than a political orgy sponsored by St Jerome’s Catholic church. All located In the deep recesses of Western Kentucky where real politicians picnicking and politicking face to face with real constituents still matters. At least for a short weekend.
Fancy Farm was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s largest picnic.” Fancy Farm is worthy of Guinness status, no doubt about it. For something. But calling Fancy Farm merely an annual picnic is like calling Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls an annual tour through the city of Pamplona. Perhaps the main attraction of both events is getting to see the people who participate –voluntarily– in these curious historic events that attempt to test and celebrate the human spirit.
Fancy Farm is something to see and should be seen at least once in the lifetime of every Kentuckian. And at least once by every American who is a non-Kentuckian but is a political junkie. Because vestiges of former times don’t last for long. And are painfully missed when finally gone.
So…Happy Fancy Farm 2014!!
May 2014’s political picnic live up to its grand and gaudy tradition –.and just a little bit more than usual this year. Because this year, the nation’s most defining political race may well hang in the balance. Making 2014’s Fancy Farm even fancier than usual. And that is saying a lot.
(Note: This link is to a piece I wrote last year about my political trial by ordeal in 1995, listed by the C-J as one of the more memorable Fancy Farm moments. It not really about me as much as my attempt to capture, the best I could, the essence of experiencing Fancy Farm. It is a flawed human attempt, I might add, to describe a near mythic event. But I tried. Which, in the end, is all that any of the participants at Fancy Farm can do.)