Jamboree appears to be biggest ever

Sean C. Morgan

and Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

The 2005 Oregon Jamboree soared to new heights as it notched a three-day attendance record of roughly 27,000 people who braved the heat to hear a star-studded line-up over the weekend.

“We had the best year ever,” Event Manager Peter LaPonte said, and that means attendence and revenues.

Friday night, during the SheDaisy and Travis Tritt shows, the Jamboree drew approximately 9,000 fans. Merle Haggard and Lonestar drew about 9,500 on Saturday, and Neal McCoy and Sawyer Brown had about 8,500 attending on Sunday, officials said.

Friday night, the Jamboree announced the first of its lineup for 2006, Gretchen Wilson. Wilson is the 2005 Top Female Vocalist for the Academy of Country Music, 2004 CMA Horizon Award winner and winner of the 2004 Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy.

A drawling southern voice advised patrons not to throw quarters, coins or hard objects of any kind before Tritt took the stage. Tritt is known for, “Here’s a quarter. Call Someone Who Cares.” The voice continued, encouraging fans to throw soft money, $10, $20 and even $100 bills.

Tritt added songs, like Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” in an extended encore; and he paid special tribute to “outlaw” country musicians Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, including a little good-natured poke at Nelson’s nasal style.

Haggard took the stage to a standing ovation.

LaPonte was standing on stage looking out across the seated crowd. The band started playing. When Haggard took the stage, the entire crowd stood, applauding.

“It was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life,” LaPonte said. “That was an amazing moment. I will never forget that.”

Lonestar wrapped up the night with a colorfully lit backdrop and set and previews from its upcoming album release.

Neal McCoy told Sunday’s crowd he spent the night before, his birthday, in an emergency room in California, but he took the stage anyway after greeting and shaking hands with every person backstage that he could find.

McCoy let everyone know “The Boys are Back in Town” to open his show.

Mollie’s Bakery personnel presented McCoy with a birthday cake, shared with volunteers, crews and staff backstage. The theme for the cake was “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On,” McCoy’s latest hit.

The singer engaged the crowd like no other this year when he climbed down from the stage. Smiling and laughing, he moved through the audience shaking hands while singing a couple of songs.

Sawyer Brown closed out the Jamboree that night during the band’s first visit in several years. Lead singer Mark Miller charged onto stage singing “Six Days on the Road” to open the high-energy show.

Hot weather played a big role in the Jamboree this year, LaPonte said. “It was so hot, the smart ones stayed away. The people that were out there in the sun shortened their stays because it was so uncomfortable.”

The weather was in the 90s all three days, reaching 96 degrees on Saturday and possibly higher on Sunday.

“Even with all of that we still had a banner year,” LaPonte said. The shows were solid, much like last year’s ? neither had superstars, but both were good bills. He thinks the Alan Jackson show of 2003 has helped take the Jamboree up a notch.

“In 2003, when we hired Alan Jackson, we brought in a lot of new customers,” LaPonte said. Attendance was up by about 1,000. Not all of those patrons returned, but a percentage of them did. When they returned, they had a quality experience.

The demographics of the Jamboree are changing, LaPonte said. The patrons are getting younger, and they’re coming as couples and then telling their friends about it.

The Jamboree also is marketing out of state now through deals with radio stations.

“We’re giving people the best time of their lives,” LaPonte said.

Lindsey Patton, 18, was one out-of-state guest. Patton, who said she is a great-grand-niece of World War I Gen. George Patton, came from Aberdeen, Wash., where her aunt and mother had won tickets from radio station KXXK. She was in line to get Miranda Lambert’s authograph on Saturday afternoon.

“I like Hot Apple Pie best, but I really want to see Lonestar,” she said of her experience up to that point.

LaPonte was especially impressed with the Tritt show, he said, adding that Tritt put on the best personal performance. Lonestar and McCoy put on great “shows,” he said, but “Tritt put on an artistic performance. Nobody elsed matched that.”

Many concert-goers were in the mood for more.

“I just bought tickets for next year,” said Carter Chess, 54, of Roseburg, who attended her first Jamboree with friend Ruth Brady, 64, also of Roseburg.

“(Chess has only been in Oregon a couple of years, so I convinced her to come,” Brady said.

Most reserve seats will be gone by mid-August, LaPonte said. “I’m pretty sure we’re looking at a sellout or around sellout for the first time ever (next year).”

LaPonte said he heard comments from a lot of people, both negative and positive; but he and his staff heard most often “this is the best-run festival” from a variety of visitors, including suppliers and people who did not know who he was.

That was the verdict from Joyce Dunn, 52, of Springfield, who was at her third Jamboree.

“I’m coming back next year,” she said. “Where else could you put this much talent together in three days? I’ve been to lots of concerts. I used to go to the Neon Circus at the Rose Garden in Portland frequently. The nosebleed seats there were never less than $50 and I’m talking about real nosebleed ? three rows from the very top. This costs $80 for three days.”

Katie O’Grady, 23, or Roseburg, who was sitting nearby, agreed on the quality of the experience.

“Merle Haggard is the legend,” she said. “I learned his songs on my grandparents’ records. I could not believe I was sitting there, watching Merle Haggard. I thought Lonestar was good. They were SO good!”

LaPonte expressed thanks to the Sweet Home community, the city and Sweet Home fire district, all the local businesses that supported the event, and the citizens of Sweet Home “for putting up and being good hosts to the guests we had and of course, the volunteers,” LaPonte said. “People often asked where in the world the Jamboree gets such great volunteers.”

O’Grady, for one, appreciated the service.

“I just think everyone has been incredibly nice,” she said. “Everyone has been asking if we needed anything, if they could be of help. It’s a really nice, comfortable place to be.”