By Robbie Ward/Special to the Daily Journal
NEW YORK – With plates of fried catfish and hush puppies, hoddy toddy stickers and cowbells, sweet tea and caramel cake, bluegrass and the blues, Mississippians with Southern drawl took over part of Central Park on Saturday.
The only state in the nation with permission to host a picnic in picturesque Central Park each summer, native Mississippians and those just adopting the state for the afternoon made the most of it.
For Jean Ann Casey and six church friends from Calhoun County, the women shared the picnic experience for the first time, something they said was worthy of their “bucket list.” Most of them wore orange Vardaman sweet potato queen T-shirts as they sipped McAlister’s sweet tea and sat on the grass, enjoying good company.
“It’s good to hear Southern voices in Central Park,” Casey said.
People from all over the world visit New York City, and a slice of the United Nations seemed to migrate to the Mississippi event.
Some people plan to attend the celebration of all things Mississippi months ahead of time, while others stumble upon the picnic.
Tupelo, Clarksdale, Hattiesburg, the Gulf Coast were all represented Saturday. At booths lining the picnic area people sold art, books and other reminders of home. And politicians from the Magnolia State worked the New York crowd, slapping backs and shaking hands.
With people wrapped up in good conversation, catching up on gossip and other happenings while musicians performed, it had the feel of a festival that might happen in Mississippi.
“You can feel it texturally in the air,” said Rachel McPherson, one of the current festival organizers who also helped start it 33 years ago with four friends.
As Mississippi bluesman Grady Champion performed on a stage at one end of the picnic area, McPherson explained why she keeps organizing the event.
“We wanted an event that tells the world what a great place Mississippi is,” she said.
Bob Drake and his Maltese, Harley, took a break from their walk in the park to listen to the blues music.
“It’s a good way to introduce the state,” said Drake, a New York City resident.