In 1997, I was at Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base at Rhineland-Palatinate, a state in southwestern Germany, on assignment when I heard an airman talking nearby and recognized the accent.
“Excuse me,” I said, “are you by any chance from Southwestern Virginia?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered. “How did you now?”
“I recognized your accent,” I said. “What town?”
“I doubt you’ve heard of it,” he said. “Meadows of Dan.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of it,” I answered. “My mother was born there. I lived in Floyd County during my high school days.”
“The home of the Friday Nite Jamboree,” he said. “I used to go there all the time before I joined the Air Force.”
“The Friday night what?”
“The Jamboree,” he said. “When did you leave Floyd?”
“In 1965,” I said.
“I think the Jamboree started in the ’80s,” he said.
When I got back to the states, I called my mother and asked: “What is this thing called the Jamboree?”
“Oh,” she answered. “Haven’t I told you about it?”
She hadn’t. I would later find out the Jamboree started 19 years after I left Floyd at Freeman Cockram’s General Store with he and other local musicians playing Bluegrass around a wood stove in the center of the place.
From what I understand, the Jamboree grew out of the weekly jam sessions around the stove in 1984. Cochram said the store didn’t have much room for inventory as the Jamboree grew.
“It brought so many people in and made so many people feel so good that you just do anything you can to keep it going,” Cockram said. “And you just hoped people’d donate enough to keep it going.”
No admission but a donation pot for those who wanted to help.
In 2002, Amy and I came to Floyd to film a documentary on the Jamboree, completed and released in 2003. We met and interviewed Mike Brough, a North Carolina lawyer who bought the place with one of his partners from Hubert Roberson, who took over the store in 1993 after Cockram got deep into debt trying to keep it running.
Cockram said hassles with the health department and a fight over the right to even sell hot dogs got him into trouble.
“The anxiety we had to go through over the doggone hot dogs was enough. I don’t believe the charge thing would’ve worked nohow,”he said.
By 1997, Roberson had the store on the market for an asking price of $160,000 for the Country Store and the adjoining Floyd Farm Service building.
“I’d like to see it keep going, but I can’t keep it going myself,” Roberson said. “The outgo is more than the income. It’s financial, just plain and simple. I hate to give it up, I really do.”
Roberson said that while it was a struggle to keep the Store and the Jamboree afloat but said it had become a musical event that drew not only Bluegrass fans from the area but from around the country and the world.
“We once had 29 Russians here,” Roberson said. “But there’s been no Italians that I know of. Some Sicilians though.”
Roberson, in the documentary, talked about asking a woman attending the Jamboree where she was from.
“The South Pole,” she said. Turned out she was a researcher there and was in Floyd on a visit.
“Everbody likes Bluegrass music,” he said. “If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.” Roberson died in 2011.
The store was open just on Friday, unless there was another musical event there at another time for the week. Brough said the Jamboree was what kept it open.
“We hope to just keep it going on,” he said.
By the time we decided to leave our home in the National Capital Region of Washington, DC, in 2004, Brough had it for sale.
Woody Crenshaw and his wife, Jackie, brought the store a few years later, remodeled it and opened it as both the home of the Jamboree and as a country store, open at least six days a week. The Crenshaws also added a monthly Internet radio show and more events and the Country Store and Jamboree became one of the anchors of Virginia’s Crooked Road.
They sold the Store and Jamboree a few years ago to music promoter Dylan Locke and his wife, Heather, and they added more shows on Saturdays an other nights, started a “handmade music school,” expanded food service, opened a soda and ice cream fountain and other events. The Jamboree remains a major part of the Crooked Road, is featured in magazine and newspaper articles around the world and is considered the premier tourist attraction in Floyd, where tourism is a growing business.
This weekend showcased the Jamborees 35th Anniversary as Dylan and Heather were joined by previous owners — the Crenshaws and Cockram — for special tributes and highlights, including the 90th Birthday Party for longtime musician Rhoda Kemp.
The documentary Amy and I shot early in this century can be watched at the beginning of this article. Over the last 15 years, I have shot thousands of photos and filmed 62 videos, including some used by the Crooked Road Heartwood Center in Abingdon and other venues.
More photos and details in the Nov. 21 edition of The Floyd Press.