Held annually on the Friday and Saturday nearest the Fourth of July
Since its beginning in 1972, the old-time Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival has grown into a major event, drawing hundreds of musicians and crafts people, as well as many thousands of spectators from throughout the world. The festival began as a small town event, as a way to celebrate the Independence Holiday, just as generations before had done on the Court Square. It continues that tradition today – a throwback to days gone by – paying homage to the music and art of our ancestors, reminding us of the simple pleasures to be had from gathering together and enjoying the pure, unadulterated sound of live Appalachian music. The energy of these timeless bluegrass tunes can’t be denied as they ring through the streets and bounce off the downtown buildings of Smithville, pop. 4,305. This small southern town is as friendly as it gets and proudly welcomes the visitors that swell its population many times over each July. You’re specially invited to come and experience this unforgettable event. Peruse the wide variety of crafts booths, grab a barbecue sandwich or a corn dog and an ice cold lemonade, find a seat near the stage, and sit back and enjoy one of the best free shows around…we guarantee your toes will be tappin’ in no time!
The Jamboree became a reality as the result of a dream and suggestion from Congressman Joe L. Evins to Berry C. Williams that consideration be given to gather a group of area musicians to stage a country music show in Smithville, Tennessee. Williams, who was a great friend and District Representative for Congressman Evins, got in touch with his good friend James G. “Bobo” Driver in Smithville. After much work and planning they carried out the suggestion of Congressman Evins and on July 1, 1972, the first Smithville Jamboree became a reality. The Jamboree has been held every year since on the Friday and Saturday nearest the 4th of July. The first two-day Jamboree attracted 714 musicians representing 16 states with an audience of 8,000 estimated. Today’s audience is estimated to be, 25,000-30,000 people coming and going over the course of the two-day event.
T. Tommy of the Grand Ole Opry and Tom Perryman from Radio Station WVTS were the first masters of ceremonies with WJLE’s Ralph Vaughn and Charley Thompson as back-up announcers. Charley Thompson was the coordinator of the first Jamboree.
In 1974, a broader tribute to the Appalachian art and culture was given when 100 artisans and craftsmen were added from 12 states. This has grown to over 250 participants who sell and display authentic pioneer and contemporary crafts under the high standards set by Mrs. Lavelle Smith, Director of Crafts for 21 years. LaVelle had traveled to craft shows in Tennessee and invited craftsmen to participate in the Jamboree and Crafts Fair. The current Director of Crafts is Olivia Southward.
In 1984, Mr.Driver, who served as Registrar and Director of Contestants from the beginning of the Jamboree, showed his commitment to preserving traditional country music when he added a new competitive category – “The National Championship for Country Musician Beginners, Ages 12 and Under.” This provided an opportunity for young folks to see who was champion with their chosen instrument. This category was originally sponsored by the “Cracker Barrel Restaurants.” This same year the Jamboree was featured in the “National Geographic Traveler” as well as numerous other nationally-known magazines.
The original stage was small, made from plywood with no backdrop. As years passed, a rustic backdrop was used. In 1985 Lloyd Cole designed and built a portable stage for the contestants with a typical store front displaying Coca-Cola signs, curtains, and lamps. In 1996, a new stage was purchased by money from a grant sponsored by Senator Tommy Burks and Representative Frank Buck. The stage is assembled for use year after year.
Since the beginning, the Jamboree has been recorded by television, by several colleges, and even the British Broadcasting Company in 1973. WCTE T.V.–Channel 22 of Cookeville televises the Jamboree annually. Portions of the Jamboree are rebroadcast throughout the year. In 1988, WCTE was linked to public television by the Southern Education Communication Associates making it possible for the Jamboree to be shown all over the country.
For the past sixteen years, the Jamboree has been selected as a “Top 20 Tourist Favorite” by the Southern Tourism Society which includes the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia. The event is also listed by the American Business Associates as one of the top 100 tourist events in North America.
In 1992, the Smithville Jamboree and Crafts Festival was rated fourth-best in the U.S. by “Vacation” magazine for summer vacations. The magazine described the Jamboree as a family event that “is among the top-rated bluegrass, folk, and Appalachian music competitions in the nation drawing 140,000 visitors over two days from as far as Australia.”
The first Jamboree consisted of 13 categories of competition with prize money of $1,200. Today there are 36 categories with over $15,000 in prize money.
The Jamboree doesn’t just happen. It is well-planned and organized by the local men and women who are dedicated and committed to preserving the heritage of country and bluegrass music and the culture of arts and crafts. The Jamboree is governed by a Board of Directors, and from the Board of Directors, a working committee is appointed to oversee each area of operation of the Jamboree. The Jamboree is financed by contestants and craftsmen registration fees, souvenir booklet advertisers, sales of souvenir booklets, etc. This is a non-profit organization, and Board members and committee members serve without pay. Annual expenses exceed $100,000.00.
As the result of the dreams and determination of Congressman Joe L. Evins, Berry C. Williams, and James G. “Bobo” Driver, the Jamboree continues the preservation of country, folk, bluegrass, and Appalachian music and Appalachian arts and crafts. In recognition of their dedication, the beautiful Joe L. Evins Appalachian Arts and Crafts Center was built overlooking Center Hill Lake. The Center is dedicated to the training of self-reliant and self-supporting craftspeople and to preserving the unique qualities of the rich crafts of the Appalachian region.
Each year, as a reminder of the great contribution Berry C. Williams has made to our area, a Junior and Senior Fiddle-Off Grand Champion Title and the Berry C. Williams Trophy Award is given the Grand Champion Fiddler.
In 1993, the Jamboree recognized the efforts of James G. “Bobo” Driver to help create and sustain the Jamboree by naming the National Championship Country Music Beginners Award in his honor.
In 1997, the Smithville Jamboree, became “The Official Tennessee and National Jamboree and Crafts Festival”.
United States Congressional Resultion presented in 1997
Senator Fred Thompson - R Tennessee
Tennessee State House Joint Resolution introduced on Febraury 5, 1997,
signed by Governor Don Sunquist on May 14, 1997