By NATHAN GREGORY
The countdown to the 123rd installment of Mississippi’s Giant House Party is almost over.
The Neshoba County Fair, a traditional week-long event featuring everything from horse racing to carnival rides to speeches from Mississippi politicians, starts Friday.
The event began in 1889 as a two-day agricultural and church camp meeting and has blossomed into the largest campground fair in the country with more than 600 cabins, endless options for entertainment and the state’s only licensed horse racing track.
Rep. C. Scott Bounds Miss. District 44 has served on the fair’s board for 17 years and has spent 11 of those program director of the Neshoba County Fair Association. A lifelong attendee, he said he’s anxious for this year’s edition to be under way.
“The red mud and red dirt runs through my veins. Anything to last 123 years is phenomenal. With all the tradition entrenched with how the fair started, it makes you proud to be associated with it,” he said.
Events happening Friday include agricultural crop exhibits, an art show in the venue’s exhibit hall, musical entertainment provided by Philadelphia and Neshoba County musicians and the Harper Morgan and Smith Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo.
The 32nd Annual Heart O’ Dixie Triathlon will take place Saturday. Attendees can also check out an arts and crafts flea market, the Neshoba County Fair Farmers Market and a free petting zoo. Fans of racing can enjoy mule races at the campground’s grandstand, and fans of music can attend a live broadcast of the Thacker Mountain Radio Show featuring the Yalobushwhackers and Jimbo Mathus.
Sunday’s events will feature a worship service conducted by Rev. Scott Boatner, an antique car show, harness and running horse races, a martial arts demonstration from Sellers Martial Arts Academy and a concert by the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia choir. Kids are encouraged to bring pots and pans for a children’s concert.
Jess Dickinson and the Bluegrass Appeal will perform Monday. Other events include a clothesline art contest, a livestock show, a variety program presented by East Central Community College, the Miss Neshoba County Fair beauty pageant and dance music by Snazz.
The Neshoba County High School Band will perform two concerts on Tuesday. Veterans will be honored in a memorial service. Also on the schedule for Tuesday is a cake walk sponsored by the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Arts Council and musical entertainment from Blackberry Smoke.
Wednesday and Thursday will feature speeches from various politicians in Mississippi, including Attorney General Jim Hood, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman and Gov. Phil Bryant.
The fair’s final day will feature more livestock shows and horse races, musical entertainment from the Vernon Brothers and Trace Adkins as well as a fireworks show if weather permits.
Throughout the week, fans of games, rides and food can go to the Midway.
Bounds said he has many fond recent and childhood memories of the fair. As a child, he said, he was enthralled with the carnival activities offered at the Midway.
“The carnival overall, getting to run around with your buddies and getting into water balloon fights, that’s something I remember from my childhood at the fair,” he said.
Now that he is an eight-year legislator, he said now one of his favorite aspects of the fair is its political nature.
“Political speaking is a big part of the fair to me. The political atmosphere of fair has been a long standing and major component of the fair. It’s one of the ingredients that makes the fair successful over the years. You have political junkies who go there just to see them speak,” he said. It’s Mississippi’s premier political stump.”
Starkville Resident Laura Cole is also a long-time attendee of the fair. She and her husband, Denny, own one of the cabins on the fairgrounds. She says getting to go back there each year is something she and her husband always look forward to.
“I just love sitting on the front porch, swinging, reminiscing and being able to catch up with old friends,” Cole said. “My favorite fair had to be the fair of ‘79 when I first started dating my husband. It was swing night at Founders Square where a big band comes up from Jackson. We stayed up until 5 a.m. swinging on the porch of his aunt and uncle’s cabin. Later they hung a sign over the swing and they called it the Denny and Laura Cole Memorial Swing. It was there until they sold the cabin.”
“It’s awesome to be a part of it. I’m very lucky and privileged to be raised going to the fair every year. I’ve missed very few and I don’t know if Denny has missed any. There are always so many children there so the children can play and have a good time,” she added. “A lot of people have class reunions and parties out there. I’ve heard the tale that some folks, when they divorce, they fight more over the cabin than they do over the children.”