To anyone who's ever been a student of the Zagat Food Guide, there is a category the creators use called a "Transporting Experience." The description is a good one and, fittingly, there are rarely many restaurants listed in that section because a truly transporting experience is hard to come by these days –- whether in a restaurant or anywhere else. Unless, of course, you happen to live down the road from the Turner property in Gravel Springs, Mississippi. That's where, for the last 50 years, an annual event called the Turner Family picnic has taken place near the end of the summer.
Now the Turner Family Picnic is called a picnic. And they've got plenty of goat barbecue for the goat barbecue lovers of the world. But what really sets the event apart is a singular style of music that one can hear there -– and only there -- called "Black Fife & Drum." It's a style of music derived from traditional West African music that features a fife player (basically playing a handmade flute carved out of bamboo) plus two or more drummers WAILING away on their drums in a fairly improvisational manner. The band can play from the stage, but really they're better when they weave their way through the crowd at various points in a show filled with a variety of Mississippi musical acts.
But let us take a step back to say that words alone cannot tell this story. The music and the crowd are what make the Turner Family Picnic so special. The fact that the picnic was begun by Sharde Thomas's legendary grandfather, Otha Turner, makes it better yet. And the fact that she may be the last purveyor of this iconic musical style; descended from West African music and on the verge of dying out completely, makes it both exciting and a tad bittersweet. But for you, dear viewer, it can be a glimpse into something rare and extraordinary.