Rockford Hayloft Jamboree
The Rockford Hayloft Jamboree started entertaining fans in the Rockford, Illnois
area on a Sunday afternoon in March of 1951. The show was first an informal gathering
of entertainers who put on a show at the local Lincoln Park school as a benefit
show for a friend. The audience must have liked what they heard that it became a
more formal program.
One of the former cast members, Nancy (Hansen) Mitchell of the Mitchell Sisters,
provided us with a copy of the April 9, 1955 program of the Rockford Hayloft Jamboree.
There we find a sketch of its beginnings. The show was nurtured during its first
four years by Deane Price and Bernard Dailey along with the assistance of Mr. and Mrs.
Becker. They wrote that they had "...happy times and rough times, but for that matter, what
business has not had rough times. You just have to take the bitter with the sweet.
And so "we are"..."
In April 1955, Bernard Dailey served as the show's President. Dick Russell was the Vice-President
as well as Program Director. Edward Grabania was serving as their secretary. Mrs. Becker
was the Treasurer, while Myron Becker was the Sound Engineer and Advertising Manager.
The country had seen the end of World War II and also the Korean War by then. Several
of the cast members had or were doing tours of service for their country. They included
Edard Grabania, the US Marine Corps; Bernard Dailey, the US Army; Dick Russell, the US Air Force;
James McHenry, the US Navy; James Becker the US Army and Harry Turner the US Marine Corps.
Among the local sponsors back in 1955 were:
- From 8:00pm to 8:50pm
- E. W. Schmeling & Sons
- Park & Shop Dry Goods
- Loves Park Record Shop
- From 9:00pm to 9:30pm
- Gene's Mobilgas
- Johnson & Olson Floor Coverings
- From 9:30pm to 10:15pm
- R. C. Manning Insurance Agency
- Krug's Pet Shop
- Town & Country Restaurant
There was an intermission from 8:50pm to 9:00pm. And perhaps as part of the intermission,
there was a portion called the "Your Hillbily Hit Parade" which featured the Top 10 songs
in Hillbilly Music. This would be very similar to the Grand Ole Opry, a show which they tried
to pattern themselves after. For on weekends, the Opry intermission usually features a half-hour
of recorded music or a previously aired portion of the Opry while the audiences leave and enter for
the next show.
As the show grew in popularity, it moved from the high school setting to the Rockford
Theatre. People from as far away as Chicago began to attend the show as word got out.
A reunion program in 2002 noted that the show's performers were mostly teenagers and as they
grew up, began to leave the show. The show ended its run in 1956.
However, the memories of those shows seemed to stay not only with the fans, but
with the performers.
Many kept in touch. And in 971, the first reunion show was put on. In 1981, another
reunion was held. And from 1998 onward, a reunion show was held each year. Many of the
performers from that early era are still making music today.
In 2002, they told fans they would try to put on a show similar to what they did in that
early era, admission was free and was held at the Milledgeville Grange Hall/Men's Club. They noted
that the music was "...old classic country and gospel. It's a family show and no drugs
or alcohol are allowed." Milledgeville was a bit southwest of Rockford in central Illinois.
Back in 2002, the performers were coming from far and wide to entertain fans and rekindle
long ago friendships. Bill Blough was there and had worked as a disc jockey in Aurora
and La Grange, Illinois. A newspaper article by Mike Sutphen pointed out that Bill had cut a
records, one of which made the Top 10 in Brazil.
The Dailey family was still represented at the reunion. Ira Pierce showed up and the article
tells us that a family business had been thriving with the Jonesboro (Arkansas) Crowley's Ridge Roundup for
over 24 years.