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Big names get down in Sweet Home.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

SWEET HOME - "I'll tell you about the jamboree," says an older gentleman in the lobby of the Sweet Home Senior Center. "It oughta be in Arkansas!"

No, not everyone here loves the Oregon Jamboree, the annual, midsummer celebration of country music that regularly draws some of the biggest names in the business and daily crowds that double this city's population of 8,235.

Some, such as those at the senior center that sits a spittoon shot away from the main stage, find it loud, obnoxious and a traffic nightmare. But for every naysayer, there are many more who wouldn't have it any other way.

"Oh, we love it," says Barbara Locati, who lives at the end of 13th Avenue. That's smack-dab next to the 67-year-old Weddle Covered Bridge that spans Ames Creek and is the country music festival's landmark. "We don't even have to buy a ticket."

True. Locati and her neighbors can set their lawn chairs in their front or backyards and enjoy a world-class concert.

The 12th annual Oregon Jamboree - by far the biggest event of the year in these parts, one that packs an estimated $1.2 million economic punch for the local economy - kicks off today and runs through Sunday. Headliners this year include Clint Black, Clay Walker, Pam Tillis and Brad Paisley.

A stellar lineup

This is no county-fair-equi- valent of musical acts past their prime. Over the years, the Oregon Jamboree has seen the best country music has to offer: Wynonna, Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakum, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Reba McEntire. Residents say it's put Sweet Home on the map.

"It's something the community can be very proud of," says Ed Spencer, manager of the Safeway on Main Street and treasurer of the Jamboree board. `When you're out of town and you mention you're from Sweet Home, they say, `Oh, that's where the Jamboree is.' '

Before the first Jamboree in 1992, no one outside of Oregon had ever heard of Sweet Home, Spencer says.

"It's great for the community," says Linda Mader, a Sweet Home resident who attends the Jamboree every year with her husband, Harold. The couple brings their RV and parks it for the weekend at one of the many campgrounds surrounding the concert site.

"People see how lovely this area is and it brings people in,' she says. `It gives us a chance to show off our part of the world."

Not only that, but the number of organizations here that benefit from the Jamboree is exponential, from the rent money the school district receives from the Jamboree each year to the churches that rent out parking spaces for three straight days, says Peter LaPonte, the Jamboree's festival director.

After losing $112,000 on the 1995 Jamboree, the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, the nonprofit volunteer organization that runs the event, was able to raise the money back in loans and pay them off by putting on the most successful show ever in 1996. McGraw and Hill were headliners.

Another pitfall occurred in 1998, the only year the Jamboree wasn't held. Organizers blamed a lack of talent, but that didn't kill the tradition. Instead, new Jamboree management was hired and the show went on, so to speak, in 1999.

Record crowds have been coming ever since.

Anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 concertgoers are expected this year, says LaPonte, festival director since 1998. And that just means more money for community services in a town that has struggled financially since mill closures in the 1980s.

Also, two big screens have been installed on either side of the stage this year so everyone gets a front-row view, LaPonte says.

"It's definitely the single biggest fund-raiser every year in Sweet Home," he says. Jamboree proceeds average about $200,000 a year, which goes toward the next year's Jamboree and into community programs, LaPonte says.

Community benefits

The proceeds establish seed money for grants and industrial recruitment, says Alex Paul, editor and publisher of the New Era, Sweet Home's weekly newspaper. And he says volunteers benefit, too, from the local Rotary Club and Kiwanis to the Boys & Girls Club and school athletic teams that haul ice during the three days.

Craig Martin, Sweet Home's city manager, flips burgers at the Rotary Club booth each year. Proceeds fund anywhere from four to eight scholarships for graduating seniors at Sweet Home High School, each worth about $500. It's not much, Martin admits, but it does pay for a college freshman's books during their first term.

So, although some feel inconvenienced by the Jamboree, and some will leave town this weekend, as they do every year, Martin says he's only received about three complaints in his seven years as city manager.

"Obviously, some people don't like that type of music," Martin says. "But there are really no significant problems."

Over at the senior center, manager Helen Ramsdell says for the third year in a row, the center will offer a $3 breakfast of pancakes, ham, sausage and coffee on Saturday and Sunday. That should satisfy some at the center who don't appreciate all the hubbub.

"You'd probably get mixed messages talking with residents," Ramsdell says, "but (the Jamboree) is a benefit for the community."

Mark Baker can be reached at 338-2374 or mbaker@guardnet .com.

EVENT PREVIEW

Oregon Jamboree

With: Clint Black, Clay Walker, Pam Tillis, Brad Paisley, Cledus T. Judd

When: From 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. today, from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Sweet Home High School athletic fields bordering Sankey Park and the Weddle Covered Bridge, Sweet Home

Tickets: $60 one-day general admission, $10 for children ages 7 to 12 (at the gate only); $100 three-day general admission pass, $20 for children (gate only); $190 three-day reserved seating pass; children 6 and younger are free; $30 one-day camping, $60 three-day camping, 7 tickets available at the gate, by phone at (541) 367-8800, toll-free (888) 613-6812 or online at www.oregonjamboree.com

Directions: Take Interstate 5 north to Highway 228 and travel east through Brownsville to Sweet Home; enter from 18th Avenue off of Main Street

Jamboree schedule

TODAY

2 p.m. - Gates open

3:15 p.m. - Lonesome Road

5 p.m. - Cledus T. Judd

6:45 p.m. - Collin Raye

9 p.m. - Clint Black

SATURDAY

11 a.m. - Gates open

Noon - Alexis

1 p.m. - Brian Hanson

2:45 p.m. - Blue County

4:30 p.m. - Brian McComas

6:30 p.m. - Neal McCoy

9 p.m. - Clay Walker

SUNDAY

11 a.m. - Gates open

Noon - McQueen

2 p.m. - Pam Tillis

4:15 p.m. - Pat Green

6:30 p.m. - Brad Paisley
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Title Annotation:Festivals; Oregon Jamboree brings Brad Paisley, Clint Black, Pam Tillis and others for three days of concerts
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 30, 2004
Words:1127
Previous Article:Listen to the `Candidate' debate, '04.
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