This July WCTE heads to Smithville to broadcast the 39th Annual Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Craft Festival. For Smithville native and WCTE Member Shirley Ingram, it’s fun to look back and reflect on how far the Jamboree has come over the years. In fact, she was present at its creation.
Mrs. Ingram, a gracious Southern lady whose husband Cliff passed away three years ago, now lives in her great-grandfather’s house in Smithville. She credits her husband with sparking her interest and support of WCTE, especially at Jamboree time. She remembers that she was skeptical when she first heard about the idea of the Jamboree. “Back in 1971 I was working at Employment Security here in town and Berry Williams popped in my office. He had this vision, of people coming from everywhere, playing bluegrass music and making crafts.” I said, “Berry, is this possible?” He said, “Why, yes, it’s possible! Congressman Evins wants us to do this!” Mr. Williams asked Mrs. Ingram to chair the Housing Committee, lining up Smithville residents who would open their homes to the many visitors coming to town. This was before there were enough hotels locally to house everyone. “I also did a lot of the publicity for Berry, and sure enough, he pulled it off. People started coming and it gets bigger and bigger every year.”
Bigger is right. The first Jamboree attracted an audience of 8,000 people. Current audiences are estimated to exceed 140,000. “It’s a boon to Smithville,” said Mrs. Ingram. “Tourism goes way up. People come from everywhere. All the motels are full now and a lot of people park their RV’s down at the lake. And it’s free!” In spite of the growth, there are some things that never change. “It’s always on the 4th of July weekend, so it’s always hot,” said Mrs. Ingram. “A lot of our high school classes hold their reunions during the Jamboree. It brings all those hometown people back. It’s good wholesome stuff.”
Mrs. Ingram is equally enthusiastic about WCTE and its coverage of the Jamboree, which gives her a break from the heat. “Every year I would see the big WCTE truck in town. I would come down on Friday, then go home and watch it on television.” Regarding the importance of WCTE to the Upper Cumberland, Mrs. Ingram did not equivocate. “People should support it. We need a good public television station in our area. To me, it’s our station…and I have a good feeling about it.”
By Mark Dudney
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