Country music tells touching stories. It hits you in the heart. It’s really not hard to fathom why country music is always current – it’s about heartbreak and how old habits die hard, love lost and freedom found. Country singers aren’t showy, they don’t have a gimmick to get to the top. It’s real, it’s relevant, it’s relatable. Which is why when the 35th annual Jamboree in the Hills kicked off, it was a country song that was unselfishly sitting at number one in the nation. Justin Moore’s “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” was number one, the alpha album at the time.
Jamboree in the Hills, often referred to as “the Super Bowl of country music,” began in 1977 as an outdoor festival in fruition for two days. It is now an annual, four day festival, bringing in more than 100,000 faithful fans yearly. It has it’s very own post office and some people even get married on the grounds. It is also known for what is commonly called the “Redneck Run”: each morning fearless fans messily stampede through mud for the best, closest spots to see the stage.
At first I was frightened by what I would find at the festival. I listen to country music on occasion. I respect Reba and got chills when she sang “Fancy” at the show I saw her at. I have been a consistent fan of Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. Mr. McGraw has always been an artist I’ve enjoyed, and he had a set at the show. I love Loretta Lynn and I love, love, LOVE Miranda Lambert (both of whom performed)! However, I’m a liberal lady and country music tends to be conservative and sometimes uncomfortable for me. Sure, The Dixie Chicks were political and proud a few years ago. Sure, Chely Wright came out and gave the scene a progressive push, but I was hesitant about what would happen in the Hills.
The number one thing I noticed about Jamboree in the Hills, which takes place in Morristown, Ohio, was that it’s not just a weekend wonder. Weeks prior to the gates being opened cars were parked many miles along the highway, people were packed alongside the road, getting rowdy and ready, leading the way to the legendary summer show. Once inside, Jambo was packed with people who were popping tents and tabs. You couldn’t find a spare spot in the full field. Campers were clustered with tents tucked in between them. There weren’t just camping chairs and coolers, chicken on a stick, but one concert go-er had a beer coffin for his beverages!
Gigs like this give the artists an opportunity to get off the bus and be in thick of things, which is just what Justin Moore did. He set up an Arkansas Razorbacks tent and didn’t take the gig for granted. The mood was mellow on Thursday evening when Mr. Moore, the man of the moment, took the stage as the sun began to set. The heat didn’t have an effect on the frisky fans as bare chested boys in bandanas and baseball caps sang along with his set.
Justin courteously complimented the girls in camouflage bikinis in his adorable Arkansas accent. Justin’s set was really a give and take and enjoyable to experience. Fans threw him beer and he retaliated and returned the favor by graciously giving away drumsticks. In case you’re wondering, he likes “a girl who knows how to drive a stick,” and he drinks “Jack Daniels, Bud Light, and sweet tea!”
The thing that I found most pleasing in the performances, though, was that country singers don’t sound different from their albums. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to see a show, with dancers doing what they do and lights and lots of entertainment, but it’s also disappointing when someone who is supposed to be a singer can’t actually sing their songs so well live. That kind of criticism is something that’s not a concern in country music. What you hear on the radio isn’t radically different from what you see at a show.
I met a lot of people, from New York to Nebraska, California to Cape Cod. Some were first-timers like myself, others were alumni of all the 35 years. A lot of artists were aired, some shows you had to be there to see. I had a fantastic time at the festival – I made new friends and found that there was nothing to fear.
Although the lyrics of some country songs are still unsettling for someone such as myself, anything that boosts local business and brings the community together for a cause I will condone. There was a feeling of frolic and freedom. I saw several same-sex kisses, people puckering up with their pals and I realized that among the Redneck Run and rebel flags it was a celebration – of summer, of singers, of history, and ultimately – of love. That’s why country music has made such a meaningful impact and why Jamboree isn’t just for country fans!