For the first time in many years, Santa will not be leaving four-day passes to Jamboree In The Hills in my family’s stockings, and for this reason, I feel certain that LiveNation is near the top of Santa’s Naughty List.
Any JITH fan will tell you that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill country music festival. Part concert, but more a patriotic friends and family reunion, it truly was the Superbowl of Country Music. Since1977, fans have gathered together the third weekend in July for an event that held traditions as beloved as those of any holiday. Folks who only got to see one another that one weekend each year donned their cowboy boots, lugged their custom coolers up the hill and joined together in a celebration like no other. Political squabbles and other differences no longer separated us; we were all simply Americans who loved our nation, our armed forces and country music. Our Jambo family bonded over beer and bands with very few fights or other issues and enjoyed performances by first-rate artists and possibly the best fireworks display of the summer.
My family came late to the Jambo party — we’ve only been attending for a mere 15 years, while there are many fans who have attended all40+ festivals.
For most of the years our family has attended, we’ve planted our chairs near Red D where we set up Camp McCroskey, also known as the “Dog Pound” in a nod to my husband’s profession. Our friends and family knew they could find us under our camo canopies, and without fail, next to our canopies would be the giant red one belonging to Bill and Tammy and their crew. We never even learned their last names — all we knew was that they lived near Erie, Pa., But for four days each summer, they were our favorite neighbors, and we would raise a toast together before parting ways again for another year.
I could count on the fact that my adult children and their significant others would always be there. All mamas know how hard it is to get the entire brood together once the kids become adults with jobs and families of their own. But for four days each summer, I knew all my chicks would be in the nest, so to speak. That was the appeal of Jambo — it brought generations offamilies together and turned strangers into friends.
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But now the future of Jamboree In The Hills is uncertain, as a post on the festival’s website notes that they will be “on hiatus” in 2019. Longtime fans, however, believe the break will likely be permanent. Since LiveNation’s failed attempt two years ago to rebrand the popular festival as “Jambo Country” complete with new rules, rumors have swirled regarding the festival’s fate. One thing that differentiated JITH from other summer concerts was the fact that fans could bring in their own beer and food. This policy was one of several things that LiveNation attempted to change in 2016, announcing new regulations regarding cooler size and what could be brought into the venue. When fans revolted at this news, LiveNation relented for 2017 and 2018. However, fans noticed that the entertainment lineup for the past two years seemed to lack the usual big-name performers that we were accustomed to seeing at Jamboree In The Hills.
Word began to spread that LiveNation was purposely allowing JITH to wane in quality while they plotted a rebrand that could possibly include a move outside the local area. With the announcement of the coming year’s “hiatus,” such a plan seems like it could become reality. A quick internet search reveals this article about LiveNation’s “new country music festival” to be held in the summer of 2019 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. As far as I’m concerned, all signs point to the loss of Jamboree In The Hills for Belmont County.
This loss will have a serious negative impact on local major retailers and mom-and-pop stores alike. Some families living near the Morristown venue have come to depend upon the thousands of dollars they earn each July by renting out space for camping and parking on their properties. Not only is the end of Jambo heartbreaking for us loyal attendees, but it’s financially devastating to Belmont County’s economy.
It just proves that what they say is true — all good things must come to an end. Farewell, Red D … thanks for the memories! Bill and Tammy, we will miss you — sorry we didn’t get the chance to say a proper goodbye. My family won’t be getting JITH passes in their stockings this year, but those of us who loved Jamboree In The Hills hope that the LiveNation executives who made this decision will be getting lumps of coal in theirs.
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.