Jamboree a great draw for regular folks

My favorite memory of the six Oregon Jamborees I’ve experienced didn’t even happen at the Jamboree, really.

It occurred a few years ago as I walked back to The New Era office on Main Street to take a break from covering the festival. As I recall, it was just around noon when I rounded the corner from the Rio parking lot and saw the station wagon.

It was one of those 1970s-vintage 10-passenger boats, the kind my parents had when I was a kid, which probably was why it attracted my attention. Not that the old ’69 yellow Mercury Marquis is a particularly warm memory or anything, but it did survive a lot of fender-bending six-kids-learning-to-drive crises. In fact, I think it actually did survive until my youngest brother came along. But I digress.

I arrived just in time to see this wagon pull into the last remaining parking space, right in front of The New Era, and the family spill out. They reminded me of my family, not well-endowed financially but eager for any adventure.

They all looked a little scruffy, just like their vehicle, but they made up for style points with enthusiasm. The four or five kids ranged from pre-school age to 12 or so. The dad was barking orders, telling them to get on the sidewalk, what to carry, etc. They were all excited.

I understood. I’m guessing those tickets were a big investment for them and they were gonna make sure it paid off. I spotted them later at the festival, happily walking around, munching on vendors’ offerings and taking in the general excitement. I noticed their car again the next day, this time parked in the Rio lot.

I appreciated the fact that they were there.

OK, so maybe I’m getting a little sappy here. There’s nothing really significant about that story except that these were just a few of the kind of people I particularly enjoy seeing at the Jamobree – the individuals for whom this is a big deal and who show up for every show, drinking it all in.

There were plenty of those people this year. It was a great Jamboree in terms of turnout – a record crowd on Saturday night for Lady Antebellum. That was good for Sweet Home.

Judging by what I and our reporters heard from people, the artists were appreciated and the level of enthusiams was high.

That’s nice to see, particularly since the Jamboree staff has made a real effort to take it to the next level in the face of a strong challenge from corporate dollars backing the show down the road.

The Jamboree had some really great wrinkles this year. Thanks to some wise planning by event organizers, a lot of visitors arrived in town early. I saw a lot of people walking around town on Wednesday who were pretty clearly Jamboree folks. I’m guessing the pre-Jamboree party on Thursday probably had a lot to do with that.

I’m also guessing that local merchants could see the opportunity there and, if they weren’t quite prepared to take full advantage this year, they’ll know what to do next time around.

Lining up Neal McCoy, who seems to have a genuine liking for us here in Sweet Home, to emcee next year’s festival was a great move.

I think Neal gets what the Jamboree is all about. How many other stars park their buses on the curb on Long Street and hang out for an extra day? Neal did that last year, after getting here a day early for his concert. Just sat in his lawn chair and chatted it up with folks walking by.

To me, one of the selling points of the Jamboree is that it is here, in Sweet Home, a place where a lot of folks do get it. Even in the short six years I’ve been here, I see growth. People are reaching out to make visitors feel welcome here. That’s important.

Personally, I think the challenge for all of us now is to really make an effort to talk the Jamboree up. With the economy in its present state, this festival is a major shot in the arm for Sweet Home.

Tens of thousands of dollars will come to the school district at a time when programs are being cut or defunded. Local merchants had big days with the population about double the size it usually is on a summer weekend.

We need to not take this for granted and I believe promoting the Jamboree needs to start on the ground – with each of us. With aggressive advertising pushing the competition, we need to use what we have – our connections.

Sweet Home is a unique place and the Jamboree is a unique event. We need to make sure a lot of people know what a great festival Sweet Home has built.