Another record Jamboree

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

With nearly ideal weather, a new layout and a star-studded line-up, the Oregon Jamboree appeared to set new attendance records over the weekend.

The numbers were still being finalized early this week, but the Jamboree officials unofficially estimated crowds at 12,000 to 13,000 each day, Friday through Sunday, surpassing the old record daily attendance of just over 10,000 per day in the past.

It was the best Jamboree to date, according to Event Manager Peter LaPonte, not just in terms of attendance, but in terms of quality.

After some cool temperatures and light sprinkles Friday afternoon, the weather warmed up Saturday and Sunday, but never got above the low 80s and fans crowded the additional seating area made available by the removal of the Sweet Home High School tennis courts earlier in the year. The removal of the courts also opened up space for booths and pedestrians along the midway area of the festival complex.

This year’s line-up produced some cutting-edge entertainment. Whether it was Sugarland’s extensive and groundbreaking fusion of video into its live performance, Randy Owen’s spine-tingling performances of Alabama’s classics or Trace Akins’ powerful, low-pitched voice echoing across Sweet Home, it was a weekend of highlights for the annual event.

“There so many (highlights),” LaPonte said. “Every show had its magical moments.”

“I think people really liked Glen Campbell,” LaPonte said.

Marilyn Saether of Lebanon, making her second trip to the Jamboree, was there to see Campbell, she said.

Saether said her first visit was 16 years ago, with her granddaughter.

“She was 3 and now she’s 19, coming by herself with her friends,” she said.

Neal McCoy, returning for his fourth show in five years, amazed LaPonte.

“It’s one of the few times an artist gets announced and people start to clap (like it was late in the show),” LaPonte said. “They went wild just when he was announced.”

Kathy and Bill Hauck of Hillsboro, both were sporting Neal McCoy beer goggles Sunday afternoon as they enjoyd the entertainment.

“It’s an annual event for us,” Kathy said.

Debi Ling, of Portland, and her husband Alan were making their first visit to the Jamboree.

“We’ll be back next year and we’re bringing the kids,” Debi predicted.

Alan Ling said he what he saw.

“The set-up is nice,” he said. “There’s a good view from everywhere and the sound is great.”

LaPonte said Owen, the former lead singer of the now-disbanded Alabama, lived up to his expectations, and Owen’s performance of his old band’s hit “Angels Among Us” was one of those magical moments. It was among the most amazing ballads he has heard performed.

Sugarland took light and video production to a whole new level, LaPonte said. “They’re developing a new kind of stage-video presentation. They’re pushing the envelope.”

He also praised Rissi Palmer and Phil Stacey’s acts.

Audience appreciation also was high, he said. “We had earlier crowds because we had all national acts this year.”

It doesn’t stop with just the artists and the shows.

“We always get lots of positive feedback,” LaPonte said. So far, it appears the festival is receiving even fewer negative comments than in the past.

Event staff made a few changes this year, he said, and it made a difference. The Jamboree brought in a bunch of new camp hosts, many from Thousand Trails, a new sponsor. They were provided with more resources than in the past, including more training and protocols.

The Jamboree hired additional security for the campgrounds, and Police Chief Bob Burford said that made a difference in the number of reported thefts at the campgrounds. The department did not receive a single complaint of thefts in the campgrounds this year.

Other changes included shuttle routes and times as well as streamlining the new entrance area for banding and getting the audience into the event, he said. The Jamboree spent more money to elevate the festival’s level of service.

“The only real hitch we had was we had such a big response our merchandise started selling out earlier,” LaPonte said.

Some items suddenly became hot commodities in the cool weather, said George Sieveking, a supervisor in the Jamboree merchandising tent. He said the rainy, cool weather on Friday afternoon prompted a run on Jamboree sweatshirts, which normally don’t sell that well on hotter days.

“We sold out of our sweatshirts on the first afternoon,” he said, though staffers later discovered another box – which went almost as quickly.

Some patrons said they appreciated the changes.

“I like the security this year a lot better,” said Chuck Rush of Jefferson, on his fourth visit to the festival. “The lineup is good and the price is very reasonable so you can’t beat it. I think everything’s handled very well.”

From a law enforcement perspective, “Friday night was busy,” Burford said. “The other nights weren’t so bad, nothing significant. There were a significant number of DUII arrests, but we haven’t compiled those numbers yet.”

The department arrested at least eight drivers in town for drunken driving over the weekend, but the department didn’t have final figures for the area.

Oregon State Police, Albany Police Department and Linn County Sheriff’s Office assisted with patrols in Sweet Home.

Friday night, police responded to calls inside and outside the Jamboree grounds, Burford said. Two calls in the campgrounds resulted in two going to jail.

“We didn’t have anything like we had last year,” Fire Chief Mike Beaver said. Last year, hot weather kept paramedics running.

This year, they were busy, but the early rain and cooler weather kept that in check, he said. Paramedics responded to 32 calls over the weekend. On site, they had a few alcohol-related issues, including people fallen to the ground because they were “snockered,” and some traumas, including a broken ankle.

Friday evening, after 7 p.m., firefighters responded to a fire at The Point Restaurant. A convection oven, enclosed in a small space, caught fire. Employees used fire extinguishers on it.

The fire burned into the wall and destroyed a couple of studs, Beaver said, but the restaurant did not have to shut down.

Jamboree artists did more than sing. Sugarland met Tristan Varner, 9, who was suffering from terminal brain cancer, on Friday before its show. Varner died the next day.

And up the street from the Jamboree, some young entrepreneurs got a thrill when a giant bus rolled up and Joe Nichols and his band got out to buy some lemonade at their stand in front of the Community Center and presented them with some autographed photos.

Laure Fowler said her children, Ben and Melissa, had planned all summer for the stand, which is on a section of street that is closed to non-Jamboree traffic. She said her children did good business with National Guard soldiers responsible for guarding the entrance, winding up their efforts with $140.

“They were all good friends by the end of the weekend,” she said. “(The Guardsmen) were also very good tippers.”

Scott Swanson and Jessica Lewis also contributed to this story.