The sounds of classic country music drifted through the Napanee Fairgrounds this past weekend as the ninth annual Napanee Country Jamboree entertained campers and music lovers from across Ontario.
The event — which paused in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — is starting to see its attendance increase again, as devotees of old-time country music get back to the province’s jamboree circuit.
“We’re seeing a decrease in attendance just due to the age demographic that we cater to,” Shane Verner, owner of Millpond Music and the host of a number of Ontario country jamborees, told the Whig-Standard on Saturday. “They’re elderly. That part is a little bit tough. But overall the experience is nice. We’re seeing them come back and feel comfortable.”
On Saturday afternoon, an all-star house band was set up on the main stage to accompany a number of singers, leading up to the headliners, Honky Tonk Heart, who closed out the three-day event on Saturday night.
While the elderly population is finding it more difficult to attend these types of events, attendance is getting a boost with younger generations.
“Our grandparents are bringing their children, and they’re bringing their kids,” Verner said. “That’s been a nice surprise coming out of COVID, seeing an increase in families, more kids and more families.”
Verner and her husband started organizing jamboree events with their first Napanee Country Jamboree just over a decade ago, taking over the event from a local organizer. Now they run country and rock festivals in communities around Ontario.
“A lot of the crowd will plan out and run a circuit,” Verner said. “I think it has to do with all of what it encompasses. For as long as we’ve been doing it, it’s the kinship, it’s the friendship. People come and enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the music. It’s about giving the musicians a platform and giving them a place to perform and do their thing and show people their craft. The whole dynamic of it at our events, it’s safe, secure and they’re not really big. The atmosphere, everyone is kind and friendly and welcoming. We love it.”
The jamboree taps into a tradition of old country music that many Ontarians grew up with. Verner enjoys seeing people not only take pleasure in hearing the old classics, but also performing those songs with traditional instruments that have become obsolete in today’s country music world.
“The things that people are coming here and singing, those songs, those country legends are passing. We’re losing them,” Verner said. “Keeping (their music) alive for the people who come to the events is important. They grew up with it, it’s what they remember and what they know. New country … I feel like it’s going to the wayside, having instrumentation that’s required, having steel guitar and fiddle. Now country is very different.”