Friday Night Jamboree has drawn musicians and friends for more than 20 years.
It’d seem like a secret, except for the sign by the side of the road.
But miles from the nearest town, and tucked among the hills, even the blue and white sign doesn’t divulge much. It simply says Friday Night Jamboree — with an arrow, right below, that directs travelers down a curvy, gravel lane.
In reality, it doesn’t matter that the sign says so little. After all, locals don’t need it anyway. They know where they’re going: To a weekly music party that many have attended for years.
“I don’t advertise or nothing,” says Lillie Jackson, who owns the building where the musicians gather. “They just tell people, and they find out that way.”
At the start
A simple sign shows the way.
Besides the gas to get there, all it takes to attend is a $2 donation — and a pot luck dish. After all, while things kick off around 6:30 p.m. each week, they don’t start with a song.
Instead, they begin with dinner; with tables laden with pot-luck favorites cooked with care, perhaps from well-worn recipe cards. The likes of fried chicken, accented by a sweet selection of cakes, cookies and other treats, tempts diners to come back up for another little dab of this or that.
“There ain’t many places you can get a meal like that for $2,” says Wade Turner, who regularly attends the party as a listener. Another attendee — this time, one of the musicians — agrees.
“The food’s a big thing,” says David Richardson, who comes from Norwood to play a variety of instruments including bass, ukulele and guitar at the jamboree. In addition to the food, he also speaks to the jam’s overall value. “It’s something you can do locally and not spend a lot of money,” he says.
While music is a longtime tradition throughout the Ozarks, the “Friday Night” sessions began around 20 years ago — although few seem to remember for sure just how long it’s been going on.
They were originally held in the old Souder Store, just over the line in nearby Ozark County. The sessions continued there until around 2004, when a variety of issues caused the group to look for a new home.
A KY3 story by Ed Fillmer from 2000 shows the music parties back when they were held at the old Souder Store.
Luckily, Jackson had one waiting for them.
Her late husband, Athel Jackson, constructed the jamboree’s current building years ago so they could host their daughter’s 4-H activities. When the weekly gathering needed a new home, it seemed like a natural fit — especially considering Athel’s great love of music, which he’d been making since he was a child.
“He could play them all (instruments), but mostly the mandolin,” says Jackson.
The move worked out well — too well, in fact. After the weekly session moved, it wasn’t long before the space became a little tight. “It was so crowded in here … So (Athel) built this on for them,” says Jackson, speaking of an addition that more than doubled the size of the facility.
That addition didn’t only benefit the Friday night group. Despite its remote location — or perhaps because of it — locals say other community events take place there from time to time. “My wife and I, we had our 50th wedding anniversary party here,” says Harlin Howerton, a frequent jamboree attendee whose family regularly perform with the group.
Time, however, marches on. Athel passed away in 2011 — but his widow didn’t stop the sessions. “I tried to keep it a’going after he passed away because he loved music so much,” says 83-year-old Jackson, noting that she enjoys attending, too. “I just like the music, and being with people.”
Friends like family: Pictures of attendees and performers line the walls.
One doesn’t know for sure how many of those folks might show up on any given Friday. However, during inclement weather — especially when the creek’s up — there tend to be fewer. “People (have) to go the long way around to get here,” Jackson says.
But overall, “I think we’re doing pretty good for living so far out,” she says.
Some of those people come from right down the road; from places like Ava, Gainesville and Dora. But others see it worthwhile to invest in a longer drive. “He lives about 50 miles away, one way,” says Jackson of an attendee who commutes from Taneyville.
Many are relations, such as Jackson and several family members who attend and perform. One of them is Montana Howerton, both Jackson and Howerton’s grandson, who takes a guitar up to the stage as 7 p.m. rolls around. Others, too, open sticker-decorated instrument cases and take the stage.
Representing a variety of ages and backgrounds, they sit circle-style and go through one song after another. At times, the microphone passes along, giving voice to those who want to sing.
There are rows for folks who simply want to listen; chairs and theater-style seats up near the front. A few people do take advantage of those places to sit, concentrating on the group’s progression of songs.
But most don’t. After all, it’s a social event — not a concert.
Scenes from a recent Friday Night Jamboree.
Around the rest of the room, pockets of people chat and laugh. Some play games, cards tossed carefully down on tables. And like the musicians, others in the room aren’t defined by a universal demographic.
Outside on the porch, Wiley Belt of Fordland, who attends every couple of weeks or so, sits cigarette in hand. “I just sit out here and smoke and listen to music,” he says. “You can hear it plumb out here.”
Back inside, a young girl “plays” chess by sticking the suddenly undignified king, queen and others on her fingers. She’s seated next to two teenagers; one came because her boyfriend’s on stage, and the other came along as company.
“I go to some kind of music thing almost every weekend,” says 19-year-old Amber Miller, girlfriend of musician Eli Stigall, who mentions that the couple actually met at a music event in Ava years ago.
Miller and her friend, Brandy Johnson, are relative newcomers to the Friday jamboree — but time spent at other local stops have well acquainted them with the role of music in the Ozarks social scene.
“It’s just what people do around here,” says Johnson.
Want to visit?
From Ava, go south on Missouri 5 to Squires. Shortly after you pass Spurlock’s Store, turn left on Douglas County N. Continue down the road for around 10 miles. If you get to Rockbridge, you’ve gone too far.
A $2 donation is requested. Dinner is around 6:30 p.m. and the music starts around 7 p.m.