Editor’s note: Here in the Ohio Valley, the third weekend in July has meant an annual pilgrimage to Jamboree In The Hills for a lot of local country music fans. But for the first time in over 40 years, Jamboree In The Hills will not be held in 2019. If you’re one of the folks longing for your yearly JITH fix, Weelunk has you covered. Over the next few days, take a walk down memory lane with us as we share some tales of “ghosts of Jambos past” in our Jambo Reboot series.
“The expected is what keeps us steady. It’s the unexpected that changes our lives forever.” — Shonda Rhimes
Patty McAbee Bailey wasn’t sure what to expect when she decided to attend her first Jamboree In The Hills in July 2005. Country music? A given. Good times fueled by plenty of cold beer? Without a doubt. But finding the love of her life in that redneck crowd of thousands? She absolutely did not see that one coming.
THAT FATEFUL KARAOKE CONTEST
Patty grew up in Wheeling, the youngest of seven children. She graduated from Wheeling Park High School in 1986. In the years that followed, she found herself falling into the role of caregiver to her aging parents and her intellectually disabled brother Donnie “Boo” McAbee. Patty spent her days working in various capacities for the Ohio County Commission and devoting her time outside of the office to caring for her family. Her parents eventually passed away, and she moved into their home to take over full-time care of Boo. Patty’s devotion to her family kept her from enjoying much of a social life or ever really finding that “special someone” as many of her friends were doing.
However, on a rare night out in 2004, Patty won a karaoke contest at the former Silver Rail bar on 29th Street in Wheeling. Her prize? A pair of four-day passes to Jamboree In The Hills, which she had never really felt any desire to attend. Country music wasn’t Patty’s favorite genre, and besides, she really couldn’t understand the attraction of spending four days in the heat with a rowdy crowd of drunken revelers. So she decided to sell the passes she won and take a hard pass on Jambo.
Over the next few months, though, her curiosity was piqued by what she might have missed. Acquaintances touted JITH as so much more than just a party and couldn’t believe that she had given up the tickets she won. Patty was told this festival was a one-of-a-kind event known for its “one big family” vibe and its ability to morph strangers into friends. FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” was just becoming a popular catchphrase, and it certainly applied to Patty in this case. When July 2005 approached, she and her sister, Tina Gebrosky, decided to attend their very first Jambo. “We thought we’d go see what all the fuss was about!” Patty laughed.
The sisters arrived at the Morristown, Ohio, venue early on Thursday and found themselves a prime spot with a nice view of the stage and big screens. They strategically positioned their chairs and cooler and settled in to people-watch and savor an icy beverage before the acts got underway. While Patty and Tina were still congratulating themselves on the terrific location they’d managed to score, along came two men dragging their coolers and tarp. The pair paused to gaze around the site and of all the grassy hillside still available, they chose to plop themselves right in front of Patty and Tina.
“I had never seen anyone drink like these two ying-yangs,” Patty remembers. “They would pop open a beer, chug it, and it was gone in two guzzles. Then they’d toss their cans aside. Chug, chug, toss — chug, chug, toss. This went on and on, and I remember thinking how obnoxious these rednecks were,” she smiles.
Patty thought she detected an accent and remembers thinking, “Oh, great … drunk, obnoxious New Yorkers.” Covered in tattoos and wearing dew rags, to boot. But sometime after Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” stirred up the crowd, and the party got underway, those boys from New York started chatting up the girls from West Virginia. Patty learned that their names were Todd Bailey and John Reid.
Then the special magic that was unique to Jamboree In The Hills cast its spell. By the end of the evening, Patty was shocked that she and Todd were talking like old friends. She was not surprised, however, to find out that he was from Buffalo, New York. That much she knew all along!
“We’ll see you tomorrow!” Todd promised as they parted ways at the end of Thursday’s show. “Sure you will,” thought Patty with a roll of her eyes. She headed home, figuring they would never see each other again. After all, what were the chances of Todd remembering her after all that beer and then finding her again in that sea of humanity the following day?
But Todd was determined, and, as a wise man once said, where there’s a will, there’s a way. To Patty’s surprise, he did find her again on Friday, and every day the rest of the weekend as well.
“By Saturday afternoon, I knew this was the man I was going to marry,” recalls Patty.
IF IT’S MEANT TO BE, IT’LL BE, IT’LL BE …
“I believe in love at first sight. I believe that there’s someone for everyone. And I definitely believe that God sat me in the right spot at the right time,” Patty shares. “Either of us could have sat anywhere that year.”
Those seats with the great view turned out to be even better than Patty could have imagined. After Jambo 2005 ended, Patty and Todd stayed in touch and started dating long-distance as best they could given the miles and circumstances that separated them. Todd was a divorced dad of two children, Ryan and Courtney. Patty was still caring for her brother. When time allowed, they would meet halfway in Erie, Pennsylvania, for a weekend date. By 2007, the pair were committed and knew that they wanted to be together, but Patty and Todd each had deep roots in their respective hometowns that would make moving difficult for either of them. Patty had her brother to think of, and Todd didn’t want to uproot his kids or leave his job as lead project manager at Ingram Micro.
During this period, Patty’s sister Tina moved back home to Wheeling from Florida after her husband’s death and began helping Patty care for their brother. When Todd invited Patty to move to Buffalo, Tina gave Patty the gift of a lifetime — she offered to take on the care of Boo so that Patty could make the move.
“Tina said, ‘You’ve spent your life taking care of everyone else,'” says Patty. “She gave me her blessing and told me to go and start living my own life.”
With her brother in the best of hands, Patty joined Todd and his family in Buffalo. In December 2008 he proposed to her, and they set a date for a big wedding the following summer.
“But there were conflicts with various dates, and life kept getting in the way,” recalls Patty. So they changed their plans and were married in a small ceremony by a local judge in February 2009 and are now living out their happily-ever-after. Patty retired from full-time work after her marriage and now has a part-time job she loves at Panera Bread.
LIVIN’ OUR LOVE SONG
In the summer of 2011, Patty and Todd returned to the place where they met to enjoy Jamboree In The Hills as husband and wife.
“We had such a great time together that year,” Patty remembers fondly. They tried to get back to the Hills every summer, but Patty’s battle with breast cancer kept them from attending for a couple of years. Then the lineup of artists started to become less and less attractive, and the Baileys didn’t think the show was worth the travel and expense. The family planned to return this year after their daughter Courtney turned 21 and could legally drink and enjoy herself at JITH, but Live Nation’s 2019 “hiatus” has rendered that dream impossible.
For Patty and many other longtime fans, alternate concerts being offered will never hold the same appeal. The draw of Jamboree In The Hills was something you had to experience to understand — it was so much more than simply a music festival. It united people of all backgrounds and beliefs in a truly extraordinary way. It was never so much about the music as it was about the magic.
And even if Jamboree never returns from hiatus, folks like Patty and Todd Bailey will be eternally thankful for the lifelong bonds created by its 42 years of existence.
• 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.