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143rd Fancy Farm Picnic to be emceed by Kentucky Venues president David Beck

Lily Burris

Fancy Farm Picnic organizers announced Thursday the emcee for the 143rd edition of the western Kentucky political tradition that draws around 10,000 people annually to hear political jabs and enjoy barbeque every August.

Kentucky Venues CEO/president David Beck – formerly the CEO and president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau – will preside over the stage at the Aug. 5 event at St. Jerome Church in Graves County.

Beck currently heads the group that manages the Kentucky State Fair, the Kentucky Exposition Center and the Kentucky International Convention Center.

The Fancy Farm Picnic usually has Democratic or Republican politicians serve as the master of ceremonies, but event political chairman Steven Elder said they try to have a neutral party “every third year” or so.

“To have somebody with his stature, his leadership style, his ability of what he's done in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, we thought it would be appropriate to ask him and he accepted to be this year's emcee,” Elder said. “[Beck] will do a great job of building that collaboration and making sure that everyone plays by the rules, and certainly that folks are fair.”

Elder noted Beck’s western Kentucky roots. The emcee grew up in Lyon County and attended Murray State University.

Picnic organizers are expecting “a big and robust” year for speakers as the campaign for Kentucky governor heats up between incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear and the GOP nominee Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

“This year, certainly, I think, will be a big big year compared to maybe others in the past where it might have been all one-sided or on both sides. But this is an opportunity to bring together folks, and then also have a lot of fun,” Elder said. “Where else in the state of Kentucky do you have the ability to have these types of leaders on a single stage?”

Elder’s attendee wish list for the year includes both gubernatorial candidates, nominees in other statewide races for attorney general, treasurer, auditor and commissioner of agriculture and Kentucky’s U.S. congressional delegation. The organizer said invitations will be sent to speakers in the coming days.

If Beshear attends, it would be the first time he attends Fancy Farm as governor. Political speeches were canceled at the event in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s Democrats all declined to attend in 2021 over continued concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus. In 2022, Beshear had initially planned a trip to Israel before canceling that trip to aid in coordinating a response to the historic flooding that impacted eastern Kentucky.

Cameron was among last year’s speakers, many of whom were his competitors for the Republican nomination for governor.

Recently released data from a poll conducted by theRepublican firm Cygnal in the days after May’s primary election in Kentucky indicated that Beshear and Cameron are in a “dead heat” with 47% of those polled siding with each of the candidates and only 7% undecided.

Democrats once dominated western Kentucky, but recent decades have seen it flip red with the party struggling to even field candidates.

This political drift hasn’t impacted the spirit and tradition of the Fancy Farm Picnic in Elder’s eyes. He thinks the tradition of the Fancy Farm Picnic is as strong as ever.

“I think for a long time, we did have a situation where you had mostly Democrat leaders within the state [and] that it was kind of a Democratic gathering,” Elder said. “That obviously has changed over the past several years, and now it's more and more holders of the offices tend to be Republican. But [we have] a Democrat governor who has very high approval ratings throughout the state and I think he has a lot to say, and that would be a good message to have at the picnic.”

Regardless of political leanings, Elder views the yearly event as a community staple and a cause worth supporting – with money raised going towards the St. Jerome Church.

“Some people don't come to Fancy Farm for the politics at all. They come to have a great time at the barbecue or run in the fun run or play bingo,” Elder said. “I think that tradition continues to be there, but it's also continued to grow. Everybody should experience a few things in Kentucky. One being in the Derby, the other being the Fancy Farm Picnic.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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