Tradition-rich Jamboree making fresh start at Wheeling Island Ca - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Tradition-rich Jamboree making fresh start at Wheeling Island Casino

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Folks connected with the Wheeling Jamboree don't fret about playing second fiddle to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.

Being compared to "The Show that Made Country Music Famous" is certainly no insult. Besides, the staff at America's "second most famous country music show" is busy making preparations for the Jamboree's 80th anniversary this spring.

Jamboree roots can be traced to April 1, 1933. A Saturday night staple during the Depression, WWVA's microphones brought a barrage of country music celebrities to a national listening audience from the stage at Wheeling's Capitol (Music Hall) Theatre.

"It's a piece of history that has literally touched millions of lives," said David Heath, a Wheeling native who serves on the show's nonprofit board of directors in addition to having the responsibilities of executive producer. He referred to estimates of 10 million Jamboree visitors over the years.

"Even if we only attract a fraction of that, I think it's important for future generations to realize its historical significance."

The Jamboree has evolved and persevered over the decades.

Not having a permanent home of its own, the Jamboree has been staged in various auditoriums, although it was located at the Capitol from the early 1930s to 2007. The move was made this fall amidst the greyhound racing and slot machines at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack's Showroom.

It has survived a temporary name change and switching radio stations. The weekly show is now available via video on demand and a streaming Internet feed.

Heath said he is encouraged by the initial response at the new location.

"We're excited by the fact that there are people who know the history and the cultural significance of the Jamboree to West Virginia and to the region," he said, noting that it's once again being noticed by those with the tour bus circuit. "Obviously, we have a built-in audience with the casino."

The Jamboree will continue to book new and regional acts mixed with veteran performers of the entertainment industry.

Heath, who is related to Country Music Hall of Famer Roy Clark, explained that he has been connected to the Jamboree since his childhood. His parents leased rental property to performers who were in town. His seamstress mother would often mend their glamorous stage garments.

"Some of the longtime members of the Jamboree were kind of like an extended family," said Heath, whose trumpet-playing career once included a stint with a Tampa-area Latin band. "There would be somebody like Big Slim or Doc Williams at our kitchen table drinking coffee when I was growing up.

"I have a passion for it," he continued. "I believe it's important to the region, the state and to music. In whatever way we can, we want to contribute to the Wheeling community in terms of tourism and entertainment. That's our desire."

Details are available online at www.WheelingJamboree.org. Tickets may be purchased from ShowClix.com or by phone at 888-718-4253.