Jamboree In The Hills highlighted at Belmont Heritage Museum
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Jamboree In The Hills — a local summer attraction for decades that made Belmont County known nationwide — is being showcased at a St. Clairsville museum.
JITH drew thousands of visitors to the region from its start in 1977 until 2018, when the event was discontinued.
Now, the Belmont County Heritage Museum is exhibiting highlights from those four decades of country music concerts.
And its descendant, the new Blame My Roots Fest at Valley View Campgrounds across from the former JITH site along National Road between St. Clairsville and Morristown, also put a display in place.
The main entry of the museum is full wall-to-wall with photographs, posters and banners, T-shirts and memorabilia from past “Jambo” concerts.
Belmont County Tourism Director Jackee Pugh said it is fitting for the museum to host an exhibit on Jamboree In The Hills, considering its role in Belmont County history.
She invites museum guests to relive the “Super Bowl of Country Music.”
“It was such an important tradition,” she said, pointing out pictures of massive crowds and famous performers.
Most of the photographs are on loan from Reed Tychonski, who served as an official photographer for the event for much of its run.
“We just tried to put together a few photos that people could look at and remember the Jamboree,” Tychonski said. “It’s just a nice remembrance of what was, and hopefully with Blame My Roots, it’s what’s coming up in the future.
“You can see the size of crowds that they used to draw, the celebrities that were here over the years, have a little remembrance of what was and maybe what will be in the future.”
Tychonski recalls how Jamboree In The Hills grew from the 1980s through the ’90s and into the 2000s. He mentioned times when comedians such as Jeff Foxworthy performed to uproarious laughter.
Every picture carries a memory for Tychonski. He pointed out some of the earlier photographs nearest to the museum door for visitors to see first. Tychonski said Jamboree In The Hills was a boon to tourism and the local economy that changed the face of the county for a few days each summer.
“Of course when you lose that, you lose a lot to your economy. All the motels and hotels were filled, and it was a big draw to the area in general. I’m sure they’re very happy to have this Blame My Roots and start it back up again and hope they do really well and continue to get some bigger-name entertainers as the years go by,” Tychonski said.
Chris Dutton, one of the founders of Blame My Roots, wore his Jamboree In The Hills jacket when visiting the museum Thursday. He said the concert series has had a lifelong impact on him, and everything from his concert’s name to the distinctive looping design of the official brand had some inspiration from Jamboree In The Hills.
“Our logo is a bit of an homage to the Jamobree In The Hills logo. Our name is an homage to Jamboree In The Hills,” he said, adding that the name also aims to grab attention. “‘Jamboree In The Hills’ was not a boring name. It was an action, it was a phrase, it meant something.”
He agreed that Jamboree In The Hills had become almost a community event, with multiple family reunions set during that time each July.
“My folks went to the first one, we’ve gone every year,” he said.
When deciding on a name for a new concert series, he said he wanted something distinctive that would catch attention.
“The history of Blame My Roots is Valley View Campgrounds, which couldn’t have happened without Jamboree In The Hills,” Dutton said. “There is a lot of tradition here. There is a lot of important tradition.”
He reflected on his own memories, called to mind by the various photographs of different eras.
Dutton said seeing the photographs from across the decades places Jamboree In The Hills in perspective. He hopes if the new concerts prove successful in filling that void, the museum might have a Blame My Roots exhibit some decades hence.
“This museum here just shows how big of an impact Jamboree In The Hills had,” Dutton said. “If we’re able to even be talking about something like that two decades from now, then we did a lot of good and we accomplished something.”
The Jamobree In The Hills exhibit will be at the museum through the end of July, including from July 14-16 when Blame My Roots will have performers on stage. Pugh said she hopes attendees of Blame My Roots who have fond memories of Jamboree In The Hills will stop by the museum at 101 E. Main St., St. Clairsville, to enjoy the display.