Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wheeling Tries To Bring Back The Jamboree

On a regular visit a new blog called Rust Wire, I found this story about Wheeling West Virginia's efforts to revive an important part of country music history and give the city a boost by bringing back Jamboree USA.

"For 72 years this Rust Belt city was widely known for something besides the steel and glass that was its economic foundation. It was home to Jamboree USA, the nation’s second-longest-running live country music show, beamed from WWVA’s powerful 50,000-watt AM radio station primarily to the northeastern United States and Canada."

The article has a lot of sad and hopefull thoughts about why Wheeling never fully capitalized on this huge event's potential to become a center for country music. The convention bureau recently bought the theater which housed the event to take a second shot.

"Like virtually every other city that has lost its industry, Wheeling, with a population of 29,000, has experienced many efforts to rejuvenate its downtown. One, in the early 1970s, would have turned much of downtown into a mall, but voters turned it down; another, five years ago, would have turned it into an outlet mall.

So can an old factory city find the key to revitalizing its downtown?

“I think so,” said Luis Rico-Gutierrez, director of the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “But it is more a matter of attitudes than a matter of scales or money. They need to understand that culture is as important as steel was.”"

The original Jamboree was always known as not just a gathering of major stars, like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, but also a launching point for lesser known acts. The promoters hope to get back to those roots. They have a strong, loved brand to start with.

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