Return to the Neshoba County Fair after the COVID shutdown wonderful, yet strange

Published 10:52 am Wednesday, August 4, 2021

With no active political races and a fairgrounds population returning after a 2020 hiatus caused by the global COVID pandemic, this summer’s return to the Neshoba County Fairgrounds was wonderful but there was an underlying tone that things had not quite returned to normal.

The largest crowd of the week was undeniably the Tuesday night grandstand concert presented by rising Nashville country music singer/songwriter Hardy – but Michael Hardy is after all a Philadelphia native son whose family owns one of the cabins. He’s the son of Mike and Sarah Hardy and the grandson of Bobby and Joyce Hardy.

While Hardy and veteran Nashville star Trace Adkins packed the racetrack grandstand, it was college football – not politics – that packed this year’s Founder’s Square Pavilion as University of Southern Mississippi Head Coach Will Hall, Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin, and Mississippi State Head Coach Mike Leach participated in a first-ever fairgrounds roundtable to talk about their upcoming seasons.

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Hall was impressive and Golden Eagle fans have a lot to look forward to in their future with this young man. But the crowd under the tin roof was clearly there to see the exchanges between Leach and Kiffin – and neither disappointed. The bottom line is that for the first time in many years, the two coaches battling each other in the Egg Bowl seem to genuinely like and respect each other.

That doesn’t mean that they each aren’t dead set no winning that contest, but it does mean that the two respective fan bases can learn a lot from watching this pair interact. The same can be said for how baseball fans from across the state – regardless of their individual allegiances – clamored to see and get selfies with MSU’s 2021 NCAA Baseball National Championship trophy while it was briefly on display at Neshoba.

On the political front, the rise of the COVID “Delta Variant” and accompanying debates over mask requirements, vaccines, and the prospects of possible returns to some form of societal closures or interruptions were active and lively.

I left the fairgrounds convinced that the next month to six weeks will determine the answers to those questions and concerns. Will folks, even the vaccinated, return to wearing masks as a deterrent to the Delta Variant? Will concern over rising Delta Variant numbers fuel an uptick in voluntary vaccinations?

Without question, there is a public health stream and there is a political stream. The public health stream is offering information regarding the rapid, almost uncontrolled spread of the Delta Variant even among the vaccinated.

But the political stream – at the federal and state level – sees politicians avoiding any serious discussion of vaccine requirements and at least public scoffing at mask requirements. That in spite of concern about a simultaneous increase in Delta Variant infections and cases of another virus known as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a highly contagious flu-like illness that is generally more likely to affect children and older adults.

As in the old “Ghostbusters” movie, the warning – at least for politicians navigating conflicting public opinion on COVID, is “don’t cross the streams.”

Finally, this writer joins so many Mississippians this week in mourning the passing of talk radio personality JT Williamson, who died Saturday hours after the close of the 2021 Fair. Prior to his cancer battle, JT was a frequent visitor at our cabin and we will long miss him.

We did not always agree on politics, but I enjoyed JT’s company immensely and he was always kind, generous and ready to help others through his statewide platform.

His unselfish work on behalf of autistic children and raising funds for Palmer Home are his monuments – along with his own outstanding children. Rest in peace, brother.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at