by Roman Mitz, Open Spaces
Country artists come and go, and honky tonk venues open and close with some regularity, but one thing in the industry has remained constant for three decades; the Havelock Country Jamboree. This year’s Jamboree is a real mixed bag that offers something for everyone. There are Canadian mainstays such as George Canyon and former Prairie Oyster vocalist Russell deCarle, retro stars from the 90’s including Mark Chesnutt and Confederate Railroad and some of this country’s hottest acts including Meghan Patrick and Aaron Pritchett. But it’s more than just a stellar line-up that keeps the Jamboree such a hot ticket.
“We like to use the phrase (borrowed from a Barbara Mandrell song) we’ve been country before country was cool,” says Jennifer Goheen, Marketing & Event Director for the Jamboree. “We’ve been doing this for 28 years so we’ve seen the cycles in country music. Twenty years ago the genre was booming with Garth Brooks and country was the thing, and then it kind of phased out and pop came in. Now it’s on the upswing and the kids are listening to country again. There’s an influx right now with Canada’s 150th birthday and that’s given us a whole bunch of government-funded shows in small towns. We’ve been running so long we have our fan base that loves the format of our show.
The Jamboree has come a long way since it began in 1990 as a three-day event held on a few acres of farm fields with a semi-truck trailer as the stage. In 2013 new state-of-the-art twin double stages were built and they’re quite remarkable in terms of their size and safety. The million dollar, one-of-a-kind twin stages allow them to flip back and forth so that the audience only has to wait about ten minutes between sets. This seamless transition makes for non-stop entertainment throughout the entire day and is a contributing factor in keeping the Havelock Jamboree the largest attended festival in Southern Ontario. Another factor is size, and in this case it really does matter.
“Our grounds are larger and we have more campsites so we can maintain that platform as far as being the largest,” Jennifer explains. “We last longer so people are here longer. When they do that triage measure we have campers in the area for seven or eight days, not four. They count how many people are here per day and they total that, and that’s how the government uses the numbers for tourism in the area. So if we get, say, 20,000 people per day over seven days, that turns into more in terms of spending in our tourist area and that’s why they keep listing us as the largest.”
When looking at the daily running order of performers one thing stand out as being kind of peculiar. Typically a closing act will be the one with most star power, but the Jamboree opts for lesser known performers to close out the day. For example on Day One you have the unsigned Jordy Jackson Band from Jones Falls Ontario, taking the stage after a who’s who of Canadian country, including The Good Brothers, Patricia Conroy and Aaron Pritchett. One wonders if they drew straws to set the order.
“We get asked that a lot,” Jennifer laughs. “It’s always been that way. We have such a diverse age group in our audience so putting a party band or a fun band at the end of the night keeps the kids in the bowl. The older people go back so it really helps stage the traffic getting back to the campsites. That is, the roads are not over-populated with everyone rushing back.”
While current Top 40 country artists are the main draw, a good portion of the crowd will be there to see vintage performers like Mark Chesnutt trotting out such country staples as “Going Through The Big D” and “Bubba Shot The Jukebox, and Confederate Railroad reviving their massive hit “Queen Of Memphis”. While these performers no longer ride the local airwaves, it’s obvious that their fans have long memories.
“Absolutely. The kids heard them in their household and they sang those songs their entire life as they grew up. When they hear them start singing they know the words and they know the artist. I grew up listening to The Eagles and David Bowie so I know all of their songs word for word because I heard them when I was five or six years old. You never forget. Our 30-50 crowd asks for Mark Chesnutt all the time because they just love him.”
The Havelock Jamboree has won the prestigious Festival of Distinction Award for two years running and the owners are absolutely thrilled. For them, a large part of the reason that they stage the Jamboree is to help grow and develop Canadian country artists, and it’s amazing to look at some of the performers that have come through like Emerson Drive and the Small Town Pistols, and see where they are today. This explains why over 75% of the acts in this year’s line-up are Canadian, and that percentage goes up to 100 on closing day.
“That’s very important to us because we have some phenomenal Canadian acts,” Jennifer begins. “Sometimes artists are unavailable due to tour routing, but we really do try to make the majority of the festival Canadian content. We try not to duplicate the artists from other festivals so we don’t give them the same show. We want to encourage fans to go out and enjoy as many shows as they can because their support of these events is what keeps them going.”
When you bring in 20+ acts over the course of four days you’re bound to have some great memories as well as some nightmares. Jennifer reflects on her favourite and not-so-favourite moments since she came on board in 2010.
“There have been so many special moments but energy-wise, right down to the group that came with him, Dierks Bentley was my all-time favourite. This year I’m really looking forward to the set by The Dead South because they have so much energy. Also, we’ve been trying to get Lee Brice for a few years so he’s going to be another act that I’m really looking forward to seeing.
“Of course, not naming names, there have been some negative situations as well, but you have to take a look at it. The bands are travelling and they get tired. They want the comforts of home and usually it takes a couple of hours to turn them around and make them comfortable and happy. Coming in we’ve had some people with attitudes but going out they’re always smiling and happy, and that’s our goal.”
This year the Jamboree will again be holding their ‘Best Seats in the House’ initiative where, through a foundation called Coast To Coast, they will auction off 10 seats at the edge of the stage in the backstage area. The funds will go toward sponsoring bicyclists who will pedal across Canada in a televised event, with all monies raised going to Kids With Cancer. Find out more about this initiative and how to bid at http://havelockjamboree.com/best-seats-house-auction/ Perhaps it is this sense of community and caring that are the festival’s biggest attributes and it certainly seems to rub off on the campers.
“Yes, the campers certainly do bond and they call themselves the Jambo family that they only see once a year. They’ve made friends even though they don’t necessarily know each other’s last names or where they’re from. They just know that they all camp in that area and they have to be with their friends. It’s just a different show and different experience than people are accustomed to.”
The Havelock Country Jamboree runs from August 17 – 20 and tickets/campsites can be purchased at http://havelockjamboree.com/concert-tickets/ or at the gate. Look for the daily whiteboard schedule to see which performers will be signing autographs at the merchandise table following their set.
Other Canadian country happenings:
- CCMA Award winning Canadian country artist Jason Blaine has just released a brand new single, “Born To Love”. The song will serve as the first track from Blaine’s forthcoming EP, available later this fall.
- Also out with a new single is Chad Brownlee whose “Out Of the Blue” is his fifth release from his Juno-nominated “Hearts On Fire” album. This comes on the heels of the back to back to back hits “Hearts On Fire”, “Somethin’ We Shouldn’t Do” and “Might As Well Be Me”. Chad is up for two Canadian Country Music Association Awards, Male Artist of the Year and Fan’s Choice.