Wheeling Jamboree lives on! The Historic 85th Anniversary of the Wheeling Jamboree will be held on April 7, 2018 at The Capitol Theatre in downtown Wheeling. Many of the stars will be familiar, and some new, but the country atmosphere will still fill the theater.
The jamboree originated in 1933 on the first Wheeling radio station, a 50,000 watt clear channel station – WWVA. One of its early announcers was Howard Donahoe, who later came to Cambridge to start WILE in 1948.
The working people of the Ohio Valley and the Northeast US have their roots in country music so the words in the songs ring true to their lives. That’s why the Jamboree became a popular Saturday evening entertainment.
A unique diversity also appears in Wheeling. The Jamboree and the Wheeling Symphony both take place in Capitol Theatre. So no matter what your musical taste, it can easily be satisfied in Wheeling.
William Wallace”Bill” Jones and the Sparkling Four was the first hillbilly act on the radio. They took requests over the telephone. Jones received many requests for yodeling songs and you may have heard him called Silver Yodelin’ Bill Jones.
Due to the popularity of the Jamboree music shows, it was decided to add a live audience to the Jamboree on Saturday nights. The first stage performance of the World’s Original WWVA Jamboree took place at the Capitol Theatre later in 1933 with all local talent, in front of an audience of over 3,000 fans. Then for decades, they broadcast from a different spot each Saturday evening.
During WWII, the Jamboree returned to the studio due to the war effort, then began stage performances after the war at Wheeling’s Virginia Theater. One of the most popular Jamboree stars at that time was honky-tonk vocalist, Hawkshaw Hawkins. Add to that the Sunshine Boys and “Yodelin’ Ranger” Hank Snow and people began looking forward to another evening of the Jamboree. If you were a top artist, you did the Jamboree.
Men would bring their cow bells with them as each bell had a unique sound. That way their family back home would know they were in attendance. Today, you’ll still hear the sound of cow bells over the radio on Jamboree nights on WBPS in Cambridge and WWOV in Wheeling.
During the late 1940s, my parents took me on perhaps my first gypsy road trip to Virginia Theater to see the Wheeling Jamboree. Two names stick in my mind from that long ago show – Hawkshaw Hawkins with Dog House Boogie, and Grandpa Jones, who later starred in Hee Haw. At the time, this was quite the adventure from the hills of Indian Camp.
When the Virginia Theater was demolished after 16 years of hosting the Jamboree, their new home became the Rex Theater for four years. Then it was moved to Wheeling Island Exhibition Hall in 1966.
Over the years, the Jamboree provided the perfect place for young local talent to get their start. Brad Paisley, from nearby Glen Dale, sang on the Jamboree at the age of 10 and played with their band weekly for eight years before moving on to Nashville.
The 85th Anniversary will be celebrated with well known country stars including Country Music Hall of Fame Members Ronnie Milsap and Charley McCoy. Add to that Wheeling native Tim O’Brien along with Darnell Milller, Rachel Whitcomb and more surprises. Emcee for the evening will be long-time country music personality, Keith Bilbrey.
Today the Wheeling Jamboree broadcasts on WWOV to the air waves of the greater Wheeling area. Dave Heath, president of Wheeling Jamboree, Inc. and WWOV, has been instrumental in keeping this musical program alive.
Whether you know the Jamboree as the Original WWVA Jamboree, Jamboree USA or The Wheeling Jamboree it remains the 2nd oldest Country Music Radio Broadcast Stage Show in history, behind the Grand Old Opry. Celebrate their 85th Anniversary on April 7 at 7:00 at the Capitol Theatre.
Ticket prices range from $20-$65 and can be purchased online at www.capitoltheatrewheeling.com .You’ve got me thinkin’ that a trip to the Jamboree would be the perfect way to spend an evening.
Capitol Theatre in Wheeling, WV can easily be reached off I-70 at Exit 1A. Take Route 40 straight downtown. The Theatre is on the right hand side at 1015 Main Street.