By JENNIFER COMPSTON-STROUGH
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — Fans of Jamboree In The Hills completed their annual “Running of the Rednecks” sprint toward the stage Thursday morning, as the 41st edition of the country music festival got off to a bit of a soggy start.
Outside the gates, business was steady, but perhaps a bit less brisk, for some of the shops located close to the site. For area hotels, however, the country music festival was very beneficial, with most of them completely booked for the entire weekend.
Only a small crowd of fans braved the rain to gather near the stage for opening ceremonies and the first acts to take the stage, including local favorite Joe Zelek.
More people ventured onto the lawn as the rain diminished and national recording artists, including headliner Thomas Rhett, took the stage.
It seems attendees were focused on finding ways to stay dry, visiting local convenience stores and gas stations in search of tarps, umbrellas, sweat shirts and rain ponchos. Kristen Wallace, owner of the Bel-Morr Market, located just off Interstate 70 at exit 208, said the damp, cooler weather resulted in fewer sales of beer and ice than usual on Thursday, but she expected an “onslaught” of customers to be seeking such items today.
“Hot, sunny weather is best, but the crowd has been friendly even with the weather,”Wallace said, noting it is difficult to say whether her store has seen as much Jamboree traffic this year as in years past. “Last weekend we were really, really busy, but it’s hard to tell (if it was due to Jamboree). We see lots of boots and cowboy hats year-round now” due to the presence of natural gas and oil workers from other states.
Pike 40 Restaurant and Bar had a busy lunch hour Thursday, according to General Manager Heather Moore.
She said people tend to visit the eatery located on National Road prior to each evening’s show, and they usually order full meals rather than coming in just to have a few drinks. Pike 40 has a food truck in operation at the JITH site, and the restaurant is offering a special “Jambo Juice” beverage that includes raspberry vodka, melon liqueur and a variety of fruits and juices. She expects better weather as the weekend continues and believes more customers will visit the restaurant and enjoy its new outdoor dining area.
To the east of the Jamboree site at the intersection of National Road and Ohio 331, the Marathon gas station and convenience store saw steady business Thursday, but the customers included “a lot of regulars,” according to Manager Laura Wortman.
She said the top-selling items for her store this week seem to be beer, cigarettes, cases of bottled water, Power Aid, Gatorade, snacks, “lots and lots of Red Bull” and plenty of ice.
Wortman noted that some customers have complained that this year’s lineup does not include enough popular artists that they would like to see. She said she has heard similar complaints for several years, adding that proposed changes that would have eliminated the Sunday portion of the concert altogether angered fans who have been attending the show since it began in 1977.
“If they think Neal McCoy doesn’t draw a crowd, they are wrong,” Wortman said of the artist who has traditionally closed the show on Sundays. “This place was mad (Wednesday), and they were all going to the pre-Jamboree show to see Neal McCoy.”
Although she expects to see business increase today and Saturday as the weather improves, Wortman said she thinks many fans keep coming back to see friends they have made at the event in the past rather than to watch the show. She also said she has seen a decline in the size of the crowd — and in related business at her store — over the past five years.
Business is booming, though, at local hotels. Wendy Gress, assistant general manager at the Sleep Inn behind the Bel-Morr Market, said Jamboree is “very good for the hotel business.”
“We’re pretty much sold out for the entire weekend,” she added.
Gress said Sleep Inn and other area hotels worked with Jamboree owner Live Nation to offer packages to fans who were in need of a place to stay. The hotels were able to charge a somewhat higher special event rate, but the packages include special services such as shuttle transportation to and from the concert site.
The same is true for hotels as far away as St. Clairsville, Gress said. She noted that despite the event’s reputation as an enormous party that includes alcohol consumption for most attendees, hotel guests who participate in Jamboree are generally polite, pleasant an well behaved throughout the entire four days of their stay.
The concert gets underway again at 4 p.m. today when Township Road performs. A fireworks display is slated for 9:15 p.m., followed by headliner Jason Aldean at 9:30 p.m.
More info: Jamboree in the Hills
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