Country music gospel celebration changes
By Tim Kalinowski
granted. Soon an institutional inertia sets in, and when change is needed— an injection of vital energy or a complete reboot— it becomes harder and harder to conceive and even more difficult to carry out.
After 20 years, the Frenchman River Valley Gospel Music Jamboree was facing just such a situation. With its attendance dropping, the Jamboree was on the verge of being canceled completely.
David Laird was one of the original
ften when something has been successful for a long period of time people begin to take it for
founders of the Frenchman River Valley Gospel Music Jamboree and sat on its board for 18 years before moving away from the area. Laird says the initial idea behind the Jamboree was to offer a wonderful a fellowship experience featuring great music in a pristine setting.
“Our idea was to offer a family atmosphere where there was good music and good fellowship,” explains Laird. “We didn’t want to pound our message down people’s throats. It was a cheap way to spend a weekend, and you couldn’t beat the atmosphere. It was 22 miles out in the country and you could hear the coyotes howling at night.”
Laird remembers how in the early years there was enthusiastic support by local businesses and the surrounding Christian communities. The Jamboree reached heights of up to 300 families coming out for the weekend in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was drawing top Gospel music talent from as far away as the southern United States. But what he remembers most fondly was the sense of community created by the event.
“After the main stage closed down for the evening, a lot of us would get together in the mess hall and we’d sing and play until three in the morning. It was a wonderful experience.”
However, Laird acknowledges by the end of his tenure on the board the Frenchman River Valley Gospel Music Jamboree was already beginning to see declining numbers. Laird believes there is a number of reasons for this: Fewer people living out in the rural areas which had once strongly supported the Jamboree, poorly maintained roads to get out to the Valley View Bible Camp where the event was held, and a bad string of rainy years diminishing the audience experience of the Jamboree. Laird says it was probably time for a format change.
“I think it was wearing a little thin,” confirms Laird. “We were still getting decent crowds, but we were going to have to do something. I’m
18 SOUTHWEST PROGRESS REPORT 2013 sure it was a hard decision to make.”
J.J. Hunter took over as Jamboree chairman in 2012. J.J. and his brothers grew up singing together at the Gospel Jamboree and have many of the same fond memories David Laird does of those early years.
“We had years of rain. Years of sunshine and many great memories,” says Hunter. “Obviously for an event to be held consecutively for 20 years something was being done right.”
Finally in 2011, the board had to face the stark reality which had been slowly creeping up on it for many years.
“It started to become apparent to the board members that maybe the Jamboree had run its course,” says Hunter. “At that point a few people stood up and said: Can we try to make some changes? We knew by making
these changes we would be losing certain aspects of what the Jamboree had been for 20 years. Our old board members, who had carried the torch of the Jamboree high for many years, told us to take a hold of this and take it forward as a whole new thing.”
The hardest decision to make, according to Hunter, was the venue change. They decided to move the Jamboree from 22 miles out in the country at the Valley View Bible Camp into the town of Shaunavon.
“Sadly, we lost the beauty of the location and that sense of being out in nature with community, but we wanted to move it into Shaunavon where we’d have access to an indoor facility.”
This was an important innovation for the Gospel Jamboree because it widened the scope of services offered to concert goers, allowed the entertainment to be moved
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