If you have never been to the Fancy Farm picnic this is the year to go. The old-fashioned event at St. Jerome Catholic Church on the first Saturday in August each year should be on every Kentuckian's "bucket list."
Fancy Farm 2014 will be especially interesting because of the hot U. S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, the primaries for governor shaping up in each party for next May, and the slates of candidates for constitutional offices that still need filling.
Political doings begin earlier in the week as candidates and their entourages migrate westward toward the tiny Graves County hamlet at the intersection of Highways 80 and 339 in the Jackson Purchase region of far western Kentucky. During the run-up to the main event, politicians may eat cake and sip iced tea at a garden party in Princeton, hunt or shoot sporting clays to solidify those all-important Second Amendment credentials, or attend a labor luncheon in Paducah.
On Friday night, Republicans gather in Marshall County to sample delicious home-cooked food, fresh garden vegetables, and delectable desserts while politicians mix, mingle, and make speeches. Democrats do a bean dinner at Kentucky Lake that evening (which may explain the noxious gas they emit from the speakers' platform the next day).
Savvy politicians can grab early media attention and set the tone for Saturday by saying something funny or noteworthy at these preliminaries. Folks from across Kentucky preparing to head to Fancy Farm for the following day's festivities want to know who said what and get up to speed on the state of the latest gossip before embarking.
You can also have some fun in Fancy Farm that night. Kentucky Educational Television's show Comment on Kentucky often airs before a live audience at the picnic grounds at 7 o'clock local time. This broadcast sometimes features memorable unscripted moments, like the year when a yellow dog (symbolic of ultra-loyal Democrats) trotted across the set mid-show.
It is a good opportunity for Kentucky's political junkies to connect with some of the state's premier political journalists, often over the incomparable fish dinners at the Knights of Columbus hall behind the picnic grounds.
Politicos and the press corps (such as it is) usually make the Drury Inn (a/k/a "Dreary Inn") near I-24 in Paducah their unofficial headquarters. Packs of them are sometimes seen swapping stories over adult beverages at the nearby Applebee's, Outback Steakhouse, or similar oases. Their exaggerations and prognostications continue over the complimentary hotel breakfast the next morning.
Then it is off to each party's big pep rallies. The Democrats do theirs at Mayfield High School, best known as a perennial high school football powerhouse. Republicans gather at Graves County High School. The breakfast speeches are often a rehearsal of remarks for the picnic.
A few years ago, soon-to-be-former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia headlined the Republican breakfast. He is now free to attend again, but this time his seat would be at the back of the cafeteria instead of at the head table.
There is time to kill between the end of the breakfasts and the beginning of the afternoon speaking in Fancy Farm. Check out the remarkable Wooldridge monuments in Mayfield's Maplewood Cemetery. These 18 remarkable statues from 1892 are on the National Register of Historic Places and commemorate the family and pets of Colonel Henry G. Wooldridge.
The drive from Mayfield to Fancy Farm on picnic day is a memorable one. Political signs line the roadway against a beautiful backdrop of verdant fields.
Once in Fancy Farm, find the picturesque St. Jerome Church. Its lovely sanctuary used to be open so visitors could pray for the politicians' souls before the picnic, but, sadly, in recent years its doors have been locked.
About an hour before the speaking begins, perspiring politicians (except for Senator McConnell, who is not much of a mingler) emerge from their air conditioned motor homes to stroll the crowded grounds, shaking hands. People playing traditional picnic games carry on, oblivious to the politicking.
Be bipartisan -- at least to the extent of sampling both pork and mutton barbecue sandwiches. Buy some to take home to friends and don't forget the sauce. As you devour your lunch, you can either sit at a table and make new friends or stroll around the booths of various groups.
One of Kentucky's most interesting men, state Supreme Court justice Bill Cunningham of Lyon County, will emcee the political speaking this year. The barbs, heckling, jokes, raucous partisan crowds, and occasional gaffes that characterize the stump-style speaking make at least one trip to this annual political ritual mandatory for anyone calling themselves a Kentuckian.
Drive carefully after the long, hot day. A fast-moving eastbound parade of Kentuckians who otherwise support law and order will go speeding past you on the Western Kentucky Parkway headed home.
Fancy Farm simply must be experienced firsthand. So make your plans now to be there.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.