Gerry Hocker was 9 years old the first time he performed at a Springtime Jamboree.
The annual fundraising concert was only a year into its nearly four-decade run at that point, but Hocker said it was already clear that it would be an all-hands-on-deck family tradition.
“I sang ‘Yonder Comes a Sucker,’ by Jim Reeves,” Hocker recalled. “My grandfather helped me pick out a song. And surprisingly, I could probably sing it today,” he said. “The very first year, I was not in it. But it was year number two that my dad looked at me and said ‘you’re gonna learn a song for this year’s show’. And so, I had no choice.”
“I was a little 9-year-old kid with a cowboy hat. And chaps,” Hocker said. “There’s some pictures somewhere.”
“Starting at such a young age, you know, takes the fear out of it. I think the older you get the more you fear that type of thing. I was probably nervous,” at 9, Hocker said, “although I don’t remember that part of it. I just went out there and sang my one song and left the stage.”
This year marks the 37th year for the Springtime Jamboree, and Hocker’s involvement has grown a bit in the past 36 years. Now, he is largely responsible for bringing the show’s talent together – some 14 acts this year, including himself singing solo, as well as with his sister, Nashville artist Beth Cahall, and with the show’s backup band, Eleventh hour.
Each year, the show benefits a local organization and this year’s beneficiary of the proceeds from the two-night event is the Fenwick Island Lions Club. The Springtime Jamboree returns once again to the Indian River High School auditorium on Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4. Pre-show entertainment starts at 6:30 p.m. and the curtain opens for the main show at 7 p.m.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Hocker said. “I feel so fortunate to have been part of the show all these years,” he said. He added that he is “thankful we have so much talent in this area,” and that they lend their time and talent so enthusiastically year after year.
This year’s list of performers contains many familiar names, including George Jenkins, Floyd Megee, Tyler Bare and Cheryl Howard, as well as Jaime Parker, Linda Margarelli, Nikki Ireland, Lily Mae Border and Grace Otley. This year marks the Springtime Jamboree debut of singer Beth Bruette.
The Jamboree’s backup band, which plays for all the performers in addition to rounding out the night with a few songs of its own, has undergone a change in recent years, Hocker said. Calling themselves “Eleventh Hour,” they’re part of the Dirt Road Outlawz, of which Hocker is a member. In addition to Hocker, the Eleventh Hour members are George Jenkins, Bobby Breedlove, Ed Swieczkowski, Trent Hitchens and John Rivero.
Hocker plays steel guitar in the backup band. He said he first became interested in the steel guitar — differentiated by its two fretboards, 20 strings, knee levers and pedals — because his grandfather played, and even after his grandfather passed away, his guitar was a fixture in the Hocker household. “After you walk past something enough, and look at something enough, and it has a little bit of meaning to you, it started perking an interest to make me perhaps want to learn that,” he said. “But I had no idea where to start.”
He sought out another steel guitar player, Bruce Chappelle, who initially turned him down because the instrument is so complicated that he never wanted to try to teach it. “The desire to learn it was just kinda itching at me,” Hocker said, so he reached out to a mutual friend to intervene on his behalf. Chappelle gave Hocker a few basic lessons, decided he had the passion and the talent to pursue it, and over the years, Hocker said, “we developed a really good friendship.”
“The steel guitar’s been an interesting challenge for me and I absolutely love the instrument,” he said.
The Jamboree opens up with the Jamboree Boys, the longtime band that includes his father, State Sen. Gerald Hocker. Then the stage is set up again for the Eleventh Hour and the roster of local performers. Filling in between acts are comedy skits featuring Scott Evans and Johnny Stephens, as well as master of ceremonies George Keen.
Hocker lauded the volunteers who work behind the scenes to prepare the stage and to run the lights and sound for the show, including his brother Greg, who no longer sings in the show but is a major part of what goes on backstage. He also said he wanted to give a “shout out” to Lord’s Landscaping, which provides plants to decorate the stage each year.
There is an intermission during which refreshments will be available for purchase in the school cafeteria. The food is always provided by the beneficiary of the concert, which is also responsible for selling advertisements in the printed programs.
The Springtime Jamboree is held at the Indian River High School, 29772 Armory Road, Dagsboro. The show begins at 7 p.m. Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4. Doors open at 6 p.m. with pre-show entertainment starting at 6:30 p.m. by Ron Howard. Tickets are $15 per person and are available at any of the Hockers’ stores as well as at the door.
By Kerin Magill