Tuesday, August 16, 2016


This year’s Jamboree In The Hills took place on July 14-17, 2016. This was my 15th consecutive year in attendance. It is located just outside of Wheeling, WV in St. Clairsville, Ohio on county road route 40. This is a top 5 country music festival in the USA and a live nation event. This was also the 40th anniversary as it was founded in 1977. For the first 15 years or so it was at another local site about two miles away, and has been at the current sight since the early 90’s.

I had arrived with my group to an offsite location on Sunday July 10th . The on site campgrounds officially open on Monday at 8am that week. We had made the few miles trek and got in around noon that day. There are about 2,500 on site campsites on the JITH grounds. We were camped about a half mile from the venue in campground C. A, B, and C are all relatively close to the venue but D & E are located just under two miles from the venue and require a bus ride to the venue (those are usually the folks who arrive to camp on Wednesday or Thursday.)

Wednesday July 13th

This is the unofficial start of the festival as they have a free show every year that has been sponsored by a local company called Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration. The on site show that was free this year was singer/ songwriter Phil Vassar. This show has gotten bigger and better every year with the size of it, as well as the number of folks who have showed up. I caught perhaps half his set this day. The major hits that he wrote that were performed that day were “Little Red Rodeo” “Bye, Bye” and “For A Little While” and “My Next Thirty Years.” He also did an excellent rendition on a cover of “Piano Man.” The hits that I heard him sing from his catalogue were “Carlene”, “Just Another Day in Paradise” and “Bobby With An I.” The reason I only attended half of the Phil show was because I was at my friend’s campsite party. This is the seventh year I believe that he has brought his friends Matt Mason and Cliff Cody to perform. It’s a general invite only event with the artists playing for free, but accepting tips. Both are stellar performers but I’m a little more partial to Matt Mason out of the two, although you really can’t go wrong with either. Matt Mason was on Nashville Star the same year that Chris Young won and finished a very respectable 4th place. After that, he went on to compete in 2011 for CMT Next Superstar, in which he was the winner. That came with a record deal to Warner Brothers. He has recently signed a management deal with FOUR17 Entertainment, and is currently being booked by Buddy Lee Attractions. I would describe his style and sound as a mix between Eric Church and Gary Alan. Favorites of mine from Matt are “Mason Jar” “E” and “Reason to ride.” Cliff Cody is definitely top notch also and has performed on ABC Rising Star in its only year of existence- megastar Brad Paisley was the host. Matt had opened the party around 8pm that night playing in total for about an hour, with Cliff going on next and doing the same. For the last few
hours they both performed together doing many notable covers such as “Mama Tried” and “I Saw the

Thursday July 14th

Opening ceremonies took place this day at 3:50pm. The national anthem is sung live every day to start it off, as well as having balloons usually filling the sky from the stage. There are two penned festival songs that are played daily- the original was performed by May F. Nutter, and the newer version is by local Joe Zelek. I prefer the original but both are excellent. Just describes some of the artists that performed through the years, and some of the customs that go along with the festival (Redneck Run and custom coolers)

4:05pm - Joe Zelek

Joe is a local from Mount Pleasant, Ohio and has been performing for most of the last 8 years or so on the main stage, or in between acts some years. The opener will get a handful of songs in their time slot and usually do a few covers. He did sing a new song called "Arizola” that is going to the name of an upcoming album called Arazola Jones. He closed with his biggest one locally and that is the “Jamboree In The Hills” theme song. I happened to catch this one in the camper on the radio as the weather was poor at the time. It is broadcast on WOVK 98.7 which is an iHeartRadio station. It is also on the tv on WOTV channel 9. 

5pm- High Valley

 I was fairly excited for this band as “Make you mine” has been rising the charts, and is quite different from anything else out there currently. Canadian based band that has had a number of hits over there. They certainly didn’t disappoint at all. Notable covers included John Michael Montgomery “Be my baby tonight” and the classic “I’ll Fly Away” as well as “Fishing in the dark.” 

6pm- Colt Ford

 I really appreciate Colt as a person in music but I’ll just say he isn’t exactly my style of country music. I have friends who really like him a lot. He certainly is talented. I had the chance to meet him the last time he performed at JITH in 2014. His most popular songs are duets with other artists. The skies really opened up for this one as I remember being inside the venue and huddling with my friends under a tarp numerous times. Colt played right through it and was as wet as everyone else there. 

7:30pm- Trace Adkins

One note I had was that he didn’t play my favorite song which is “more” this time around. He didn’t seem quite as enthused about this show as I think he should have been. He put in a decent effort. He could have gotten the crowd involved a little more. He was the one I was most excited for on this day. Your laugh for the day is going to check out Trace Adkins meets Trace Adkins on YouTube. Every time I see him it is what I think of. 

Set List:

Ain’t No Thinking Thing, Dangerous Man, Songs About Me, Lit, Love Song,  Marry For Money, You're Gonna Miss This, Jesus And Jones, There’s A Girl In Texas, Every Light In The House Is On, Big Time Hot Mama, Watered Down, Ladies Love Country Boys, Honky Tonk Badonkadonk 

9:30pm- Brantley Gilbert

The bigger venues I have seen him in seem to have a little issue with sound. This was no different as it was just OK. Perhaps it is his more rock sound. That is the only issue I had heard in his performance that I noted. He did not sing my favorite song of his which is “My Kind of Crazy.” The major hits he had were covered though as well as doing a rendition of Hank Jr. “Outlaw Women.” He did bring out Colt Ford for “Dirt Road Anthem.” 

Friday July 15th

4:05pm - Seth Ennis

 This is a name I hadn’t heard of previously to the festival or knew anything about. He had the unfortunate issue of getting only a couple songs played since there was a rain delay. I did note he is signed to Sony and will have a single released in August to country radio. 

4:50pm - William Michael Morgan

 Highly excited for this show and he didn’t disappoint at all. He is such a young promise and a quality traditionalist while keeping the genre moving forward. Entering perhaps I was the only one who seemed to know it but he did a cover of a Rhett Akins song off his Down South album called “People like me.” His 5recent single written by Sam Hunt is edging higher up the charts and nearing the low 20’s called “I met a girl.” He did perform his next single as well called “Vinyl.” Look out for this guy in the future and he was probably my favorite act that wasn’t well known to the masses previously. If radio shifts like I hope it does with the recent success of Chris Stapleton then he is a guy that is primed to be a star. 

5:50pm  - Billy Currington

I had missed most of his set as I was walking back into the venue. They had more security measures this year than ever before, and many of the lines were much longer than normal at times. This is also a festival where you can bring in your own beer or malt based beverages so each cooler has to be checked. 

7:20pm - Alan Jackson 

The second artist of the week I was most excited about. He doesn’t need to dance around the stage to bring in the crowd. He just gets up there and plays hit after hit superbly. He may not be for everybody there but he certainly is for me. He performed in blue jeans, cowboy boots, black shirt that was long sleeve and rolled up to his elbow, along with his signature white cowboy hat. 

Set List: 

Montage of Gone Country/ Don’t Even Know Your Name, Living on Love, Good Time Down (perhaps was the name of the new song), Who’s Cheating Who, Little Bitty, Country Boy, Drive, Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning (could hear a pin drop, with USA chants after), Don’t Rock the Jukebox, Walk Right Through That Door (perhaps another new one), Chasing That Neon Rainbow, As She’s Walking Away, Remember When,  5 O'Clock Somewhere, Chattahoochee, Where I Come from and an encore of Mercury Blues and Dixie Highway.

 9:25pm - Kid Rock

 I will say again he isn’t exactly my type of music or my exact choice for the festival. He did a good job but he wasn’t able to be put on the radio with the excessive language from the songs and himself.

Except a small section of VIP reserved seats in the side corner in the back the whole place is general admission.The redneck run in the morning and putting a tarp down is how you reserve your spot. I have never seen so many folks there before on the hill. Rumors of close to six figures in attendance that day- which cannot be confirmed as they don’t release attendance numbers. It was mentioned that they did sell so many tickets that they ran out of printed tickets on that day. It may have been an excellent choice for the festival.

Saturday July 16th

12:55pm- Tara Thompson

I can’t say I knew much about her coming into the festival. I still don’t know all that much about her. She is from east Tennessee and has performed at Tootsie’s orchid Lounge and clubs within the ownership group on Broadway in Nashville. She is signed to the Valory Music Company. She is more of a pop country singer and did sing some original tunes like “Jail” and “WTF.” Enjoyed her set and she seemed to fit right in with the rowdy, beer drinking, and festival crowd. I know she has a big social media following as I sent her a pic I took that day on twitter- it received about 12 favorites and 9 retweets. 

1:55pm - John Berry

90’s country is my favorite era of country music and for the most part this was the show I was most excited for on this day. He may have gotten a little greyer and aged a few years since then, but his vocals are still top notch. Until you see a guy like this in concert most would forget his star power in that era. He just has quality and classic song after song. His wife Robyn was also there with him singing background vocals on stage. He has also recently released a new album on June 3rd called What I love the most.”

Set list

Get That All the Time, Standing on the Edge of Goodbye, She’s Mine, Make These Broken Dreams Come True, Got a Lot of Love, She’s Taken a Shine, Your Love Amazes Me, What’s In It For Me, 
Kiss Me in the Car, Heart of Gold, I Think About It All the Time

4:10pm - Maddie & Tae

These young girls are really coming into their own. They have so much to learn about themselves and the music business, but that has not stopped them one bit. Give a really nice stage presence and show their goofy side. Excellent instrumentation and reminiscent of The Dixie Chicks with their blend of traditional/Bluegrass/Country mix. I can’t ever remember a song like “girl in a country song” just coming out of nowhere and get so much press from a relatively unknown at the time. “Fly” didn’t do as well as well on the charts, but hopefully the new single “Sierra” will fare better for them. They are part of the Brad Paisley tour and most likely the major reason they were there. Played all three singles on this day. I can’t say I know much more of their catalogue. This did make me a little anxious to see in what direction their music is headed.

5:25pm- Easton Corbin

He may be the least known mid major star out there. It could be because of his traditional sound and it isn’t what is as popular with the current trend of country music. He did a little montage to open the show of 90’s songs which were “John Deere Green” “Should’ve been a cowboy” and “Where I come from.” Most people say he has the sound and mannerisms of George Strait which I can totally see in his music. Looking up his info he has 8 charting singles in the top 40 with “Are you with me” currently just outside. He played them all. It was an enjoyable performance.
8:10pm- Jake Owen

He changed around the stage in the back for his performance to put a tiki bar as well different beach gear. Came out in red jeans and a grey shirt. He wasn’t wearing any shoes for his performance that day. If you told me I could hang out with any guy in country music on a major label for the day it would be him or Brett Eldredge. Jake is just so open with his fans. A few weeks ago he took someone from twitter on the bus with him out of the blue to a festival in Wisconsin for the weekend. He has been known to show up on people’s boats. His road trip with a restored Volkswagon bus you should also check out. I thought maybe he would be out walking the campgrounds and perhaps come to our sight at some point which didn’t happen. He is on the verge of headlining his own tour in the future I would think. Currently headlining some mid major festivals. I’m really a fan of a lot of his work and the new single “American country love song” as well as “8 second ride” and “starting with me” may still be my favorite of his. They were all played and highlights for me. 

9:40pm - Brad Paisley

This was the first time since 2006 that he performed on the stage. Little history for you as this is probably the place where he was put on the map. He is from Glendale, West Virginia about a half hour away. He had started playing the place when he was 12. A local band 1170 that were the openers pf the day (named for the local am frequency) was who taught him how to play music, and showed him the ropes of show business. Ron Retzler is the lead singer of 1170. He didn’t forget it on stage either. He stopped his performance mid set and kicked his regular band out. He brought out 1170 for a cover of “guitars and Cadillacs” and mentioned these guys are the reason I know music. This is the most passionate performance I have ever seen from Brad. It is sort of a place where he belongs and should at the least be welcomed back every other year. Side note- I did see his dad Doug earlier in the day just walking around the photo aisle in the middle of the festival during John Berry’s performance. He didn’t have any press credentials on or anything and was just chatting with everyone there like a regular guy. The moment and song I was waiting for leading up to JITH was Brad doing “Take me home country roads” since I knew what it meant to him as well as the people there. He certainly didn’t disappoint at all when he played it. It was the most moving of the week of any performance. A little while later he brought out The Gatlin Brothers for “Houston” as they were scheduled to play the next day, and arrived a little early. He also brought out Tyler Farr who had played a little earlier in the day and on tour with him to sing “I’m still a guy.” He brought out Maddie & Tae to sing the Alison Krauss part on “Whiskey Lullaby.” My second favorite performance of the night from him is when he played solo acoustic to “Then” towards the end of his set.

Sunday July 16th

10:10 am- Opening Ceremonies

The Gaitlin Brothers opened up by singing the national anthem and took the place of the usual Joanne Jones. She wasn’t forgotten though as she was able so sing “Amazing Grace” to also open the show. The local announcer had mentioned he knew we were not in church so this is a usual Sunday tradition.

10:30am- Craig Wilkins

This is one of my very best friends who got his chance to perform that day. It really meant a lot to me that he was able to take the stage. Craig is from Akron, NY which is about twenty minutes from me. We had traveled to Nashville together numerous times. We have also had some memorable moments together in country music. Two of his sons had stayed with me all week Cody and Orrie. His other daughter Pauline and son Shaun had come up as well to see him perform. His wife Sandy made the trip and was able to make the trip and be on the side of the stage for his performance. It was a whole family affair and rightfully so. Craig may be one of the only people I know who loves Jamboree in the Hills more than me. He has been in attendance since ‘79. He won a local singing contest and it included a few prizes and tickets to the show. He hasn’t missed one since. He has been highly involved in the place for as long as I can remember whether it was being the head photographer pf the festival or getting the chance to perform in between acts. He performed as a side stage act perhaps a handful of times over the years but never made the official lineup. Craig is a traditional country act who like myself lives and breathes country music. His nickname is “The Golden Voice.” He has twice been inducted into the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame as a singer and also for his work in radio. His band is called the Western New Yorkers. Craig got a half hour set and was able to fit in six songs. I was able to Facebook Live two of them for the friends at home who were not able to make the show that day. He did a Johnny Cash cover and his most known cover that goes over the best there is from Johnny Russell called “Rednecks, white socks, and blue ribbon beer.” He even made sock cozies that his family gave away to keep their beer cold. They had made a whole bunch but actually ran out. He made sure to stop the show to say how thankful he was for his wife, and how he owes everything he’s done to her sacrifices.  Few more notes from his performance was that Ron Retzler was able to play with him from 1170 on this day. The day before he did a tv interview with WTOV9 at the old sight with the old barn stage being his backdrop. The person who started Jamboree in the Hills was Virginia Alderman and she was able to be on the back of the stage for his performance. It was quite a moment and a day for him.

I had left not too long after my friends performance. I had to pack up our camp sight and head home later in the day. It is about a six hour drive for me to get home. I was halfway home and my phone was going crazy. His son Cody had texted me, and also another friend on Facebook tagged me that during Neal McCoy’s performance later in the day, he had brought Craig Wilkins back out to sing with him on a Charley Pride cover “Kiss An Angel Good Morning.” I’m sure he will forever be grateful for the opportunity given to him.

This is my favorite week of the year and the best festival I go to. It is extremely well run and all the folks are so courteous. There really is never any problems, and everyone is so happy when they are in attendance. If you can mark it on your calendar for next year July 13th-16th 2017 I would definitely do it. I have been to numerous ones before including CMA Fest but this is always at the top of my list.

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