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Leeann Judkins


“The soundtrack of Smithville doesn’t stop playing when the fiddles do,” (Houng, p.1).


The Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival is held annually in the vicinity of July 4 of each calendar year in downtown Smithville, DeKalb County, Tennessee.  The three-day weekend event was formed in 1972 – 52 -years-ago.  It has been named “The Official Festival for the State of Tennessee.”


In small retrospect, “Nestled between Nashville and Knoxville, not too far from the Great Smoky Mountains, lies Smithville, Tennessee.  Established in 1838 and named for local politician Samuel Granville Smith, Smithville is the county seat of DeKalb County with a population of approximately 5,000 residents,” said Jennifer E. Ruch, M.A. Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, “In early July, rain or shine, visitors swell the courthouse square…Since 1972, the Jamboree has attracted global visitors who embark cross-countries to join the Appalachian festivities (see below).”


“The weekend event personifies Appalachian tradition and an artisan craft market that upholds the material traditions of native Tennesseans and their rich mountain ancestry,” continued Ruch.


Since its beginning 52-years-ago, the yearly gathering has grown into a major worldwide event, drawing hundreds of global musicians and crafts’ merchants.  Additionally, there are thousands of spectators from various world-wide locales.  The festival began as a small-town event, as a way to celebrate the July 4th Independence Day holiday.  (Addendum:  The originators, writers, and signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, died on the same day 50-years-later from the original Independence Day several miles apart.  For many years, they remained best and closest friends.  Adams died before Jefferson with each not knowing of the other’s demise). Locally, many previous local generations used to perform the same-type festival years ago on the Smithville Courthouse Square.  The local tradition continues today – a throwback to days gone by – paying homage to the music, arts, and crafts of our ancestors.  The talented display of treasures reverberates from the pure unadulterated sound of live Application music, dance, and crafts.  The energy of these tireless bluegrass tunes cannot be denied as they ring through the streets and bounce off the downtown buildings of Smithville, population 5,000 today.  This small Southern town welcomes the visitors that swell the population many times over.


Continuing, the Jamboree became a reality as the result of a dream and suggestion from the late Congressman Joseph Landon Evins and the late Berry C. Williams that concentration be given to gather a group of area musicians to stage a country music show in our town, Smithville, Tennessee.  Williams, a great friend of Evins, got in touch with his good friend James Gray “Bobo” Driver in Smithville.  After untold work and planning, they carried out the suggestion of Evins.  On July 1, 1972, the first Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree was born.  The first masters-of-ceremonies were WJLE’s Ralph Vaughn and Charlie Thompson, while the radio station has broadcast the Jamboree live since its beginning.


The Jamboree’s new president, Kim Driver Luton (Bobo’s granddaughter), paid homage to the event in an interview saying, “Looking back over the last 52 years of the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree and Crafts Festival, change is bound to happen.  To keep the public’s interest and the presence of Appalachian craft and music, we must constantly be evolving.  Many things have been added over the years but one thing we are certain, we must maintain the integrity of true Appalachia.  With that being said, we are returning to our roots by eliminating retail craft booths.  The Jamboree Board voted in 2019 to have handcrafts only.  Because of the recent COVID pandemics, we were slow to roll this out.  We, as a Jamboree board, are proud to continue the tradition of our roots.”


On June 1, 2021, Faye (Redmon) Driver Fuqua, Kim’s mother, was interviewed by Jennifer Ruch at the now-closed Sundance restaurant, downtown Smithville.   Ruch said, “What do you remember about the first Jamboree in 1972?”  To which Fuqua instantly replied tearfully, “Well, I suppose I thought it was what heaven must be like.”  


For Faye Fuqua, her family, her church, and her friends, “The Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Craft’s Festival is more than an annual event,” said Ruch. “It is a community’s expression of cultural and ancestral preservation through traditional American roots music and the materiality of Appalachian artisanship and craft.”


Furthermore, “The Jamboree has been held every year since 1972 on the Friday and Saturday nearest the 4th of July of every calendar year.  The first two-day Jamboree attracted 714 musicians representing 16 states with an audience of 8,000 estimated persons.  In 2022, the audience was estimated at 25,000 to 30,000 persons coming and going over the now two-day event.  The first Jamboree consisted of 13 categories of competition with prize money of $1,200.  In 2022, the annual expenses are in excess of $65,000. All governing management for the long-planned event is from local persons, whose time and formations are submitted as voluntarily.  Law enforcement is freely sustained by local and state providers.


Each day begins at 9 a.m. on the Jamboree stage with more than 35 musical and dancing categories, along with streets full of hand-made crafts and numerous food booths.  The Jamboree has become a time-honored tradition that attracts musicians, craft artists and a multitude of spectators.  Thousands of tourists, mostly from out-of-county, visit the festival every year, along with television viewers across the country, specifically in DeKalb County via DTC-TV (Alexandria), WCTE-TV (Cookeville), and various nationwide PBS (Public Broadcast System) educational channels.  The Jamboree radio broadcast channel is WJLE of Smithville, located at 101.7 FM on your radio dial.


Historically, the first Jamboree stage was small and constructed of plywood with no backdrop.  As years passed, a rustic backdrop was used behind the primitive stage.  In 1985, Lloyd Cole designed and constructed a portable stage for the contestants utilizing an original store front, adding Coke-Cola signs, curtains, and lamps.  In 1996, a new stage was purchased from grant money sponsored by the late Senator Tommy Burks and local attorney and State Representative, the late Frank Forest Buck.  Currently, the Jamboree stage is assembled for yearly use.


Concerning arts and crafts, during the early years, all were handmade items; later, it became like a circus with all items bought and sold non-related to old time handmade items; today, the Jamboree arts and crafts will return to their original and humble beginnings, thanks to Luton and the Jamboree Board of Directors.


In conclusion, Jamboree President Luton remarked, “We look forward to working together to improve the quality and variety of unique handmade artwork and crafts.” 


For additional information, please choose one of the following line-item entries:


Mail:  P.O. Box 83

           Smithville, TN  37166

Location:  100-198 South 4th Street

                   Smithville, TN  37166

Phone:  615-597-8500


Chairman:  Kim Driver (Bill) Luton,

(“BoBo” Driver’s granddaughter and Faye D. Fuqua’s daughter.)                                                    


Definition:  Appalachia:  The region of the eastern U.S. with no definite boundaries, but generally thought to comprise the Appalachian Mountains from south-central New York to central Alabama.