This report from the Snow Hill Bluegrass Jamboree is a contribution from Audie Finnell.
Since its kickoff in the summer of ’03, the Snow Hill Bluegrass Jamboree, on Snow Hill Road about 10 miles northeast of Chattanooga, Tennessee, has quickly become the most popular venue in the tri-state area to catch a free bluegrass show, or jam with other bluegrass aficionados.
One big reason for that success is the cooperation of the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department and Training Center, under the leadership of long time Chief, Charles Harris, in allowing the use of their facilities for the first Saturday, one-a-month shows.
The fire department hosts other fund raising events during the year, but the Jamboree is by far the most attended and lucrative. It was after playing at one such event over 16 years ago, that local banjo virtuoso, Ed James, got the idea for the monthly Jamboree there. James approached local luthier and musician, Ronnie Nichols, with the idea, who then broached it with Chief Harris, “when I ran into him at the post office.” Such was the simple origins of the now hugely popular Jamboree.
The fire department and training center is the old Snow Hill Elementary school building, and the shows take place in what was the school’s auditorium, complete with stage and large seating area. Off to the side, the cafeteria is still put to good use serving a variety of fast food and desserts.
The jamming takes place in the many training center classrooms. Previously, those classrooms were the same as in the old school, but were cramped, run down, and hard to heat and cool.
The training center, in an effort to update their facilities, tore out all the old classrooms and added a huge, modern metal building to better accommodate the classroom instruction for the many volunteer fire departments in the area they serve, and to house their equipment. The new classroom and office facilities have been in use for over a year now, and are especially appreciated by all the jammers, who now have plenty of choices of jams, all in a private, comfortable setting.
While the Jamboree is free, they do “pass the hat” for voluntary contributions, all of which goes to fund the fire department’s Christmas community outreach program, started by Chief Harris in his 15th year of his 40 plus years with the department. Last year, they were able to give over 130 families groceries and toys for the kids.
The Snow Hill Bluegrass Jamboree is an exemplary model for others to emulate, if such is wanted in their community. Joining up with community leaders who have access to large enough facilities – churches, schools, theaters, community centers, and the like – can prove to be beneficial to all involved, as it certainly has been for the Jamboree, its many fans and followers, and the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department and Training Center.