SMITHVILLE – The music. It’s what Jack Barton – and most, to be sure – love about the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival. From the “shade tree picking,” where musicians, sometimes strangers, put on sideshows, to the actual judged competitions, folksinging, mandolin or fiddle, it’s a showcase of budding bluegrass talent.
Each year, groves of people flock to the tiny DeKalb County town square for the Jamboree, which Barton has headed as president and executive director since 2008. The 2014 show will mark year 43. Planning is just now underway.
“We are a misunderstood event, I think,” Barton said. “Most people think of the Jamboree, when they hear about it, as more of an exhibition, that we go out and hire Daily and Vincent and they come play. Well, we’re totally contest driven. These people may not make a living off playing music, but the pure, raw talent that comes across the stage, young and old, is amazing.
“That’s probably my favorite part,” he said. “The music is still what does it for me. Bluegrass is so close to our culture. It has such deep roots. You can really get into, not only the sound, but the history of it.”
Barton, a Cookeville native and Tennessee Tech grad but DeKalb County transplant, may not have the deepest-rooted history – there’s a few on the Jamboree board, for example, who have never missed a show in its 42 years – and he may not exactly be a musician himself, but he’s got love for it all the same.
It’s part of the reason he wound up in charge of the event just a year after he started as a volunteer. When long-time coordinator Neil Dudney decided it was time to step away, Barton, also a DeKalb County commissioner since 2006, said it was a logical fit to dive right it. At the time, he and his wife were running their own printing business in town. And both are strong believers in giving back.
“I don’t think you can do enough for things like the Jamboree to help sustain the fabric of the community,” Barton, who today works at Averitt Express, said. “For something to have the longevity of the Jamboree, that’s something special. If it were gone, it would be a unique piece of culture and our background and history that would be lost.”
Of course, the Jamboree isn’t going anywhere, but there was a stretch where things looked more grim than usual. While the event made a modest profit in 2013, over the previous couple years it had not. And during the downturn in the economy, sponsorships and the like proved much harder to come by.
“There was a little bit of a fear, ‘could there really be a day that this might not go on?’” Barton asked. “We never really got there, but I think it rallied the troops to have people get involved, and we’ve had a lot of good things happen the last few years.”
While there’s no direct study pointing to the financial gains an event like the Jamboree can have on a community, it’s part of the season why DeKalb County can boost such strong numbers in terms of state sales tax collections in the summer. Typically, counties have their strongest showings over the Christmas season. DeKalb peaks in June and July.
“I think that’s kind of an anomaly statewide,” Barton said. “It’s hard to splinter out what’s (from the) Jamboree and what’s (Center Hill) lake, but it really impacts the region as far as hotel/motel (tax), gasoline tax, all of that.”
Planning has already began for this year’s show – the 43rd edition, set for July 4-5. It takes the efforts of many volunteers; there are many moving parts, Barton said. For the first time, too, the board has decided to allot a marketing budget to specifically revitalize the crafts portion of the festival. They’ll be targeting high-quality homemade artisans – as well as potential customers for those wares.
“The Jamboree’s been fortunate throughout its history to have not had to do a lot of advertising. It relied a lot more on word-of-mouth,” Barton said. “We’ve always tried to strive for this to be an arts and crafts festival where everything is handmade, and we had a difficult time the last two or three years filling (that part of) the event to its maximum potential. And, believe it or not, there’s a lot of people who still don’t know about it.
“I’m just excited we’re going to market our event, because I want as many people as possible to know about it,” he added. “We all have the same desire, to see the Jamboree stand proud for another 40-plus years.”
Jack Barton is president and executive director of the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival. For more information, call (615) 597-8500 or visit http://smithvillejamboree.com.