WHEELING - A seven-year void in the hearts of many local country music fans soon will be filled, as the Wheeling Jamboree announced it will resume its weekly Saturday night stage show beginning Oct. 6 at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
Jamboree and casino officials gathered Thursday to celebrate what Wheeling Island President and General Manager Jim Simms described as "a historic announcement" and Jamboree Executive Producer Dave Heath called a long overdue homecoming. The Jamboree hasn't had a permanent home in Wheeling since December 2005, when former producers Belkin Entertainment and Live Nation ceased holding weekly shows at the former Capitol Music Hall - now the Capitol Theatre.
"We were intrigued by the possibility," Simms said of partnering with the Jamboree. "We saw this as a unique opportunity for a win-win scenario."
Longtime residents will remember the lines of tour buses parked on Main Street each Saturday night in front of the Capitol, and crowds from far and wide came to see the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and local stars Slim Lehart and Doc and Chickie Williams perform on the historic venue's stage.
Heath said he "couldn't be more excited" to begin a new era for the Jamboree, which will mark its 80th anniversary in April. It is the second-longest running show of its kind, second only to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.
The Jamboree's 6 p.m. Oct. 6 debut in the casino showroom will feature singer-songwriter Lauren Mascitti and the bluegrass sounds of Redd Brand and the Jamboree USA Band. Darnell Miller and Lois Scott and the National Pike Pickers will perform on Oct. 13.
The series will be interrupted on Oct. 20 as the venue already had scheduled entertainment for that night, according to track spokeswoman Kim Florence. The shows will resume on Oct. 27 and continue each Saturday evening.
The Jamboree has had several temporary homes since 2005, playing live at several different venues, including the Victoria Theater in downtown Wheeling, Moundsville's Strand Theatre and Brush Run Park, the original home of Jamboree in the Hills. On April 3, 2010, the show returned to the Capitol Theatre for a 77th anniversary show.
"We've been moving around ... trying to keep the show in the public eye and on the airwaves," said Heath.
Although the live stage shows have been sporadic over the last several years, faithful fans of the Wheeling Jamboree have listened to the show every Saturday night on radio stations in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Maryland and New Jersey.
The show also will continue to be streamed live online at www.wheelingjamboree.org.
"We have a very loyal Internet audience. ... I've heard that it's even been carried live on Armed Forces Radio a few times," said Heath.
The Wheeling Jamboree began April 1, 1933, when more than 3,200 people attended the first live stage show at the Capitol Music Hall. The next year, it moved to the Victoria Theater, and in 1937 to the 3,000-seat Market Auditorium, located on the current site of Market Plaza, where it remained until World War II.
As the war raged overseas the live shows went on hiatus from 1942 until nearly a year after the war, returning in July 1946 at the now-demolished Virginia Theatre at 12th and Eoff streets. Just months later, total attendance surpassed 1 million. In 1963, the show moved to the Rex Theatre on Market Street and in 1966, to Wheeling Island's Exhibition Hall, which still stands on the track grounds.
"We have a great historical connection to this piece of property," Heath said.
From the island, the show moved back to the Capitol in 1969, where it remained until 2005.