Featured Year of the Rural Arts Event: The Otha Turner Memorial Picnic and Goat Roast

Othar Turner’s Rising Star Fife & Drum band playing a picnic at Othar’s farm. Shot by Alan Lomax, John Bishop, and Worth Long in 1978.

One weekend a year, folks from around the world join the Turner family and the Tate County, Mississippi community for the Otha Turner Memorial Picnic and Goat Roast in Como/Senatobia, MS. BBQ, beer and traditional fife-and-drum music have been showcased in late August in the Turner family yard for six decades. The tradition started in the 1950’s when Othar “Otha” Turner started hosting Labor Day picnics behind his house near Como, Mississippi: he’d play fife-and-drum blues and set up a goat roast for family and friends.

A decade after Turner’s passing the party is still going strong. Turner’s granddaughter, musician Shardé Thomas, works with her family and friends to keep the tradition alive year after year. They never know who might show up to play, but attendees can bank on an all-star roster of Mississippi boogie music. Past performers include: T-Model Ford, RL Burnside, Sam Carr, “Big Jack” Johnson, Kenny Brown, Robert Belfour, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Cedric & Duwayne Burnside, Kenny Kimbrough, “Slick” Ballinger, Steve “Lightnin’” Malcolm, Blind Mississippi Morris, The North Mississippi Allstars, Blue Mother Tupelo and Sharde Thomas & The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band.

Photo Credit: Bill Steber

Local Alice Pierotti describes the event as a microcosm of the human experience, with poor farmers, bankers, musicians, family, locals, and guests enjoying the music shoulder to shoulder, with many people returning year after year from four or five states away. Stay tuned to hear more from Alice about the importance of the Otha Turner Family Picnic on Art of the Rural.

Music begins in the evening and continues throughout the night, and both goat and “regular” are served. The Otha Turner Family Picnic takes place August 22nd-23rd in Gravel Springs Rd, Senatobia, MS. For those who can’t attend that weekend, make plans to check out Sharde’s Labor Day Weekend Jam August 29th-30th at LP’s store, Hunter’s Chapel Rd. Como, MS. Both events are open to the public. There’s a nominal parking fee for the Otha Turner Picnic, while Sharde’s Jam is a ticketed event.

Photo Credit: Jamen Berk, Garden and Gun Magazine

Please mark your calendars for this fantastic annual event, check out the Turner Picnic story on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture, and report back to us at Art of the Rural to tell us about your experience! Please use the social media hash tag #ruralarts in any social media posts from the event.

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THE YEAR OF THE RURAL ARTS is a biennial program of events, conversations, and online features celebrating the diverse, vital ways in which rural arts and culture contribute to American life. The Year is coordinated by Art of the Rural and organized by a collective of individuals, organizations, and communities from rural and urban locales across the nation.

The inaugural Year is a collaborative, grassroots effort designed to build steam over the course of 2014. To present a more equitable representation and a more comprehensive narrative of rural arts in culture, all online features will be freely shared across websites and social media. For more information on the Year of the Rural Arts, visit: www.artoftherural.org.

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