As the sun set over Hendersonville’s Drakes Creek Park, bright lights and joyous sounds began to rise from a stage to the east heralding the start of the Hendersonville Hometown Jam. Featuring a star-studded lineup of legendary country and bluegrass performers, the event was held in celebration of Hendersonville’s 50th anniversary.
Throughout the warm evening, an enthusiastic crowd of more than 5,000 fans was treated to a nonstop sight and sound experience that had an undeniable Hendersonville feel. Featured performers included the Del McCoury Band, Eddy Raven, Chris Golden, Josh Mirenda, Tim Watson and Grand Ole Opry member Connie Smith. To top it off, the Jam was headlined by superstars Jamey Johnson and Ricky Skaggs, who is also an Opry member.
For more than 5 1/2 hours, the crowd was treated to an aural feast of well-known country and bluegrass hits including “Highway 40 Blues,” “Mason Jar,” “Once Again,” “I Got Mexico” and “In Color.” In addition, video performances of classic hits from late Hendersonville legends such as Johnny and June Cash and Conway Twitty were played on monitor boards between live sets.
Despite the top tier talent on display, the Hendersonville Hometown Jam was free to attend. The only costs for fans were for optional food, beverage and merchandise purchases. In addition, some fans chose to purchase tickets that permitted entry into a special VIP-only area.
The idea for the concert originated during a chance meeting in 2017 between Hendersonville parks director, Andy Gilley, and Whiskey Jam promoter, Ward Guenther.
It all began with two simple words: “Nice hat.”
“Ward and I first met at Jack Browns in Nashville before a Kings of Leon concert. I was wearing a Whiskey Jam hat, and Ward commented on it. Soon afterward, we became fast friends,” Andy says. “We realized that we have a ton of mutual friends, a love for music and what it means to people and that we wanted to bring something really special to our hometown Hendersonville.”
“As soon as I saw the hat, I knew that we had a lot in common,” Ward says. “After we met, we immediately started looking for an opportunity to bring the Jam experience to Hendersonville.”
Two years later, the right opportunity finally arrived with the onset of Hendersonville’s semicentennial.
As the calendar turned to 2019, local civic and community leaders began making plans for various events to celebrate the city’s anniversary. These events included a recognition ceremony at the Streets of Indian Lake in June and another observance during the August Sumner Fest. While both of these events were well-received, Andy and Hendersonville Alderman Scott Sprouse felt that the semicentennial deserved an even larger celebration.
“To me, celebrating 50 years of Hendersonville is more than acknowledging the city’s birthday. It is about recognizing the ties that bind us together in our community,” Scott says. “I couldn’t think of any better way of celebrating our sense of community than through music.”
As a result, Scott and Andy began fleshing out the concept for what was to become the Hendersonville Hometown Jam. Before long, they realized that to pull off the kind of “world-class” concert event that they envisioned, they needed professional help.
Fortunately, that help was just a short phone call away. Remembering his earlier discussions with Ward, Andy reached out to him to see if he would be interested in helping coordinate the event.
“I had been producing the Whiskey Jam series in Nashville for several years, and I was looking for a way to bring the concerts to Hendersonville,” Ward says. “I was thrilled to help pull together a concert that would showcase our community.”
Thanks to the efforts of the trio, coupled with the assistance of numerous other professionals and volunteers, the Hendersonville Hometown Jam presented by Whiskey Jam became both a reality and a rousing success on Tuesday night, Oct. 1.
“I’ve always loved the phrase, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ from the classic movie Field of Dreams. I thought about it a lot when we started making plans for the event,” Andy says. “The success of the Jam proves that our city will always support its own and that our city loves and appreciates the great music that comes from Hendersonville.”
“The Jam was more than just a musical celebration; it was a chance to recognize some of the outstanding talent that we have in our city,” Scott adds. “While many of the performers are known worldwide, we tend to overlook them locally because we see them as our friends and neighbors instead of superstars.”
Friends and neighbors, indeed.
As bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs said after ending his set, “Goodnight, Hendersonville. I’ll see y’all at Kroger.”
As the concert wound down to a close, many fans began to wonder whether or not the Jam was going to be just a one-time event.
Not if Andy Gilley has his way.
“I am hopeful that this concert will be just the first of a long line of Hometown Jams because our city showed that we are ready for big-time events,” Andy says. “We built it, and they did come.”