FANCY FARM, Ky. — It’s often considered poor manners to talk politics at the dinner table. But at one tiny church in a thriving little village in Graves County, talking politics over dozens of picnic tables is a time-honored tradition.

Politicians and voters will converge at the historic St. Jerome Catholic Church on Saturday for the 142nd Fancy Farm Picnic where, in addition to several thousand pounds of smoked chicken, pork and mutton, political jabs and jeers are on the menu.

What You Need To Know

  • The 142nd Fancy Farm Picnic is being held Aug. 6

  • Held on the first Saturday in August, the annual political picnic in western Kentucky is seen as a rite of passage for statewide candidates in Kentucky

  • Besides pointed political speeches, the picnic features bingo, 5k runs and thousands of pounds of barbecue

  • Political speaking at the event dates back to the early 1900s

The annual picnic in rural western Kentucky is seen as a rite of passage for statewide politicians in the commonwealth. Amid the day packed with 5k runs, bingo and family-friendly fair games, both parties come together for political speeches that often resemble open mic night at a comedy club.

But what exactly is Fancy Farm, why is it such a big deal, and what should we expect this year?

History of the bipartisan barbecue

Smokemasters prepare some barbecue at the 141st Fancy Farm Picnic. (Spectrum News 1/Jonathon Gregg)

The first known iteration of the Fancy Farm Picnic was held in 1880, and has been held every single year since then, although political speeches were absent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Jerome Catholic Church, the historic host site of the event, was built first as a log structure in 1836 by a tight-knit Catholic community putting down roots in western Kentucky.

Political speaking dates back to the early 1900s, when politicians would visit for informal campaign events. Fancy Farm quickly grew into something more, now known far and wide as the kickoff to Kentucky's political season.

Today, the Fancy Farm Picnic is primarily a charitable fundraiser for the sponsor, St. Jerome Catholic Church. But what was once a folksy stage for politicians to stump in rural Kentucky has become something of a spectacle where statewide candidates and local officials exchange zingers and jabs to a crowd of mixed political affiliations.

While each of the 142 picnics has been markedly different, the proverbial heat, both weather and political-related, persists each time.

What are the rules?

Each speaker is alloted two to eight minutes for their speech by the predetermined emcee, which will be House Speaker David Osborne this year. When there are two speakers running against one another, a coin flip determines who takes the stage first.

Republicans and Democrats alike are invited to the annual affair, although recent picnics have been dominated by the former. No Democrats spoke at the Fancy Farm Picnic in 2021, and just three are slated to attend this year.

Who's coming this year?

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles speaks during the 141st Fancy Farm Picnic. (Spectrum News 1/Joe Ragusa)

Republicans will dominate the stage at St. Jerome this year by a ratio of 3:1. Nine Republicans have confirmed their attendance compared to three Democrats. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, Kentucky's U.S. Senators, are currently "maybes," pending the recess schedule in Washington.

Gov. Andy Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman aren't among the three Democrats attending this year. Former state representative Charles Booker, who is running for U.S. Senate against Rand Paul, is slated to speak alongside 1st District Congressional candidate Jimmy Ausbrooks and Kentucky Democratic Chair Colmon Elridge, who is said to be speaking "on behalf of the Democratic party."

Here's a full list of political speakers for the 142nd Fancy Farm Picnic:

  • Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles (R) 
  • Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) 
  • Auditor Mike Harmon (R) 
  • Rep. Savannah Maddox (R) 
  • State Sen. Jason Howell (R)
  • State Rep. Richard Heath (R)
  • U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) (pending)
  • Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge (D)
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R) (pending)
  • U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker (D)
  • U.S. Congressman James Comer, 1st District (R)
  • Congressional Candidate Jimmy Ausbrooks, 1st District (D)
  • Treasurer Allison Ball (R) 
  • Secretary of State Michael Adams (R)

Cameron, Quarles, Harmon and Maddox are four of the nine Republicans vying to unseat Beshear in the 2023 gubernatorial election. Beshear took a lot of jabs during his absence in 2021, and it's looking like that trend will return this weekend.