Smith County Jamboree
Founded in 1972 as The Taylorsville Bluegrass Jamboree when Ray Jones and other area pickers looked for a place to play together for their growing audience, this grass roots event soon became a spur and focal point for bluegrass from the region. The Magnolia State Bluegrass Association was founded by participating enthusiasts during the 1975 edition. Presented for decades in auditoriums, then at the Armory in Taylorsville, the show relocated to Polkville’s Music Barn in 2001 and continued as a broader country music show, The Smith County Jamboree.
In the 1960s, playing bluegrass and traditional country music was a popular down home pastime in this area—played by self-taught musicians, at home on their own porches, or on each other’s. Among those were brothers Ray and Truman Jones of Taylorsville, who, along with friends Leon Clark and Roy McKinley, formed the bluegrass band Ray & Roy and the Country Play Boys. Noting growing crowds of fans showing up for their shows, Ray Jones arranged for his band and others recently formed in the area—J.L. Jones and the Good Guys, Louis Grape & Band, the Page Family, and Earl & Eddie and the Blue Mountain Boys—to perform together as the Taylorsville Bluegrass Jamboree, in the auditorium at Taylorsville’s City Hall, on New Year’s Day 1972. It was the improvised start of one of Mississippi’s longest running country music festivals.
The first week of January became the annual time for the Jamboree, which soon moved to Taylorsville school auditoriums, and saw a growing array of local outfits join the mid-1970s editions of the show, including John Stuart and The Bluegrass Five and Freddie Rose, and the Darden Family, as well as regional gospel and bluegrass acts from Alabama and Louisiana. Gospel and bluegrass gospel became regular annual features of the Jamboree during that time. In 1975, looking to promote family-oriented bluegrass throughout the area, Ray and Truman Jones brought together more than two dozen musicians to organize the Magnolia State Bluegrass Association. The Association was formally chartered as a non-profit organization in 1978, grew to a membership of over 1600, and went on to foster outdoor and indoor festivals across the region.
In the 1980s, the growing Taylorsville Bluegrass Jamboree was moved to the local school auditorium and was still being held there as it marked its 20th anniversary in 1992, before relocating the winter show to the National Guard Armory the following year for the remainder of the 1990s. An additional Spring outing was added because of the growing demand, and then in 2003, looking to the event’s future and the interests of future generations, the Jamboree relocated to the Polkville Music Barn to become the annual Smith Country Jamboree, presented in January by Jay and Claudia Arender. Smith County officials declared a “Ray Jones Day” in January 2010. Passing its 40th anniversary in 2012, the Jamboree had broadened its sounds to include traditional country music.
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