“Change your leaves; keep your roots intact.” — Victor HugoIt’s been said that everything has roots in the past, and that is certainly true of the new Blame My Roots country music festival set for Thursday, July 18, through Saturday, July 20, at Valleyview Campgrounds in Belmont, Ohio.
The inaugural festival, scheduled to fill the third-weekend-in-July void left by the Jamboree In The Hills 2019 hiatus, is the brainchild of a local farm kid with deep connections to Valleyview.
FAMILY ROOTS …
Chris Dutton and his sister Nina grew up in Flushing, Ohio, on the family’s cattle farm. Dutton, a graduate of Union Local High School and Ohio University, is the son of John and Rita Dutton. Rita, along with her siblings Bob and Tom Gentile and Anita Rice, owns the farm property currently known as Valleyview Campgrounds. In 1990, when Jamboree In The Hills moved from its original Brush Run location to the bigger venue in Belmont, the Gentile family decided to open a small piece of their farm property for Jamboree parking.
The following year, the family prepped 100 lots for camping and continued to expand. Chris says that by the mid-1990s, the campground had about 400 lots available for rent. Around 1998, Valleyview doubled in size to 800 lots and has grown and expanded ever since. The campground now covers 65 acres of land and had become one of the largest private campgrounds for JITH, accommodating about half as many campers as Jamboree’s own onsite campgrounds.
Chris Dutton has worked at Valleyview every summer since he was 10 years old, cutting grass, building walls and fencing, and piloting campers up the hill in a golf cart. As the Duttons grew older, Chris and Nina also handled many other duties of managing the campgrounds, including marketing, social media and security. They also were involved in helping to schedule performers for nightly after-parties for those campers returning from the Jambo show who weren’t yet ready to kick off their boots and call it a night.
Chris and Nina’s roots and connections in the hospitality and entertainment business prepared them to tackle the challenges of bringing the BMR festival to life.
… LEAD TO NEW BEGINNINGS
“Like other Belmont County businesses, Valleyview was blindsided by the loss of Jamboree this year,” Chris says. “And not just from a business perspective, but also from a personal one. I enjoyed attending Jamboree myself and have so many great memories of time spent there.”
Once Chris’ disappointment at the news waned a bit, he was struck by an idea. What if his family tried to pull together a smaller-scale festival of their own at Valleyview?
“I immediately put out feelers to some contacts in the industry,” says Chris. He didn’t even tell his family what he was contemplating until those contacts confirmed that his plan was doable — if he worked quickly.
Once he got the green light, Chris approached his parents and his mom’s family about his plan. Some of the older generation weren’t sure they were ready to start fresh with a major new project so close to their retirement years. But Chris enlisted Nina’s help, and the second generation stepped up to the plate and ran with the idea. The siblings are actually renting the campground venue for the festival from their mom and her sister and brothers.
“It’s been a process for sure,” laughs Chris. “But an exciting one! My biggest fear was that we wouldn’t be able to get a decent lineup together. I didn’t want performers who people could see at the state fair for five bucks the following month.”
He says that it was a challenge to get Nashville agents to return his calls. “They wanted to be sure we were serious and that we were legitimate,” he says. “It felt like we were rubbing two sticks together, trying to get it started and make it interesting.”
It took months for Chris to hear from anyone, and he later learned that was because they were doing a little background checking on his team and his venue. Once the powers-that-be in Nashville determined that they would be dealing with an experienced group with the means and know-how to put on a show of this size, they were finally willing to sit down to discuss potential performers.
Chris worked with RMA Presents booking agency in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and also with Dino Giovannone of local agency Atomic Cowboy Productions to get the entertainers scheduled.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I’m doing what I know and leaving the rest to professionals,” says Chris. He secured Bud Light/Muxie Distributing from Bellaire, Ohio, as the major corporate sponsor.
“I’ve learned so much about how the booking process works,” shares Chris.
For example, agencies have “radius limits,” which means that artists cannot perform more than once in a given timeframe and/or geographic area. Besides these limits, Chris was working against the clock, because it was now early 2019, and many artists were already booked elsewhere in July.
But the stars aligned, so to speak, and Chris was able to snag headliner Trace Adkins as well as Tyler Farr, Joe Diffie, Lindsay Ell, Ryan Hurd and Whiskey Myers. Chris promises that attendees will be impressed with Whiskey Myers.
“They’re a great new up-and-coming band,” he says, noting that they are known for their musical work on the Paramount Network television show Yellowstone.
In addition to the well-known headliners, several local entertainers will be performing, including the 11/70 Band, Joe Zelek and Tim Ullom. “I love these local guys,” says Chris. “They are part of the fabric of the Jamboree community.” Tim Ullom has played at Valleyview after-parties for more than 15 years, and Chris is excited to welcome him back for BMR.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Names are important, as every new parent knows. Naming this newly hatched festival was no exception to this rule. Chris came up with several possible options, but he knew from the beginning that he wanted to pay homage to Jamboree In The Hills while allowing long-standing Jambo traditions to be laid to rest. The concept of “roots” took hold in his mind, and Chris decided that “Blame My Roots” made perfect sense. He says it’s a nod to Garth Brooks and the legacy of Jambos past, yet it conveys a current sense of action and tongue-in-cheek fun. “If I drink too much at the festival, well blame my roots!” laughs Chris.
While BMR’s roots are forever entwined with JITH’s, Chris says that Jamboree traditions such as the Redneck Run will not take place at BMR. He would love to see the spirit of Jambo remain intact at the new festival, while at the same time watching it spark new traditions and memories all its own.
Once the name, the new logo and the lineup were all established, the rest of the festival prep fell into place with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work. Chris says he created BMR for the fans, for his family and also for the Valleyview staff who have been with the campground for years in many cases. He is proud of the fact that, this year, BMR will be employing more than 100 workers. That’s double the number who’ve worked there in years past.
2020 AND BEYOND
Will BMR be a permanent summer festival fixture at Valleyview in the coming years?
Chris says that depends on Live Nation and its decision regarding the fate of JITH. If Jamboree does not return to Belmont next year, BMR will keep the party going in 2020 and beyond. Should Jamboree return to the Belmont site next year in some new form, Chris says that he will not hold BMR the same weekend.
If that does happen, however, Chris may continue to hold BMR as a fundraiser for a charitable foundation close to his heart.
iBELIEVE IN HELPING OTHERS
Chris, who now lives in Columbus where he works as a Realtor, tells Weelunk that, although he enjoys his day job, his real passion lies in helping rural high school students through the iBelieve Foundation. The foundation holds local leadership camps for Appalachian high school students who are headed to college. The camps help to prepare more than 1,000 students annually for the challenges they will face when they get to campus and realize that more suburban students have educational advantages that they may not have had.
“This work means more to me than anything else I do,” says Chris. If at any point in the future JITH returns, he would consider holding a concert some other weekend during the year to raise money for this cause he’s supported for several years now.
But this week, Chris’s mind is on BMR.
“Jamboree held us all together,” he says. “But this is going to be exciting. I’m excited to enjoy BMR myself and to see everyone else enjoy it as well.”
There are still tickets available, but Chris is capping the number of attendees at 6,500 this year. He and Nina want to be sure that they are prepared with adequate infrastructure and security to enable everyone to have a terrific time while maintaining a safe and pleasant atmosphere for all.
Now the only thing missing is country music fans who are stoked for the one-of-a-kind party they expect the third weekend each July. For more information on BMR tickets and camping, click here. In 2019, the show will go on — the party has just moved a few yards down National Road.
(Photos provided by Chris Dutton)
• 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.