This weekend, a gathering of local talent will grace the stage at Indian River High School for the 35th Annual Springtime Jamboree.
The Jamboree was created by local businessman and now-state Sen. Gerald Hocker Sr. as a way to raise funds for local organizations. This year, the funds raised from the two-day jamboree will go to the River Soccer Club.
The country, Western and gospel musical program will be held on Friday, April 28, and Saturday, April 29, at 7 p.m. at Indian River. Pre-show entertainment will begin at 6:30 p.m., featuring Ron Howard on piano.
Tickets cost $15 per person and can be purchased in advance at any Hocker’s store location or at the door on the night of the event.
Anyone who is unable to attend the show or who would like to relive it may purchase a video of the jamboree. Preorders for the videos are being taken at Hocker’s stores as well.
According to its website, River Soccer Club is a grassroots club that focuses in “the long-term development of our community by empowering people through soccer.”
The club is currently fundraising for a project that will convert 45 acres of farmland into a premier soccer facility, to include seven large fields and four smaller ones. The fields will be graded, seeded and irrigated. Additionally, there will be parking spaces for approximately 250 cars, a concession stand, restrooms and storage facilities. After the outdoor fields are completed, the final phase will include the construction of an indoor soccer arena.
“In the past years we’ve done it for them, they’ve worked extremely hard,” said Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr. of River Soccer. “We just thought it was time to go back to River Soccer. My kids play at River Soccer, and I see how much that facility has grown just in the number of kids that participate. It’s fascinating on a Saturday morning just how many children and families are out there at the soccer field. It’s a growing program.”
Hocker said most of what is raised for the program is through advertisements in the Jamboree’s program book.
“This is probably going to be the biggest ad book we’ve ever had. They started selling ads very early to get way ahead of the game, and they have done extremely well. It was actually too big for the printer who normally does the book. They had to send it out to be bound.”
It’s not uncommon for the Jamboree to support an organization more than once, be it a fire company or Lions Club.
“It seems like the public, whenever we’ve named a beneficiary that was a fire company or a children’s-based program… people aren’t likely to say no. The area needs more things for kids to do. The more we can focus on advancing programs for children, it’s definitely better for the future of the children.”
This year, attendees at the Jamboree will see some favorites perform, along with new talent.
The list includes the Jamboree Boys (including members of the Hocker family), Gerry Hocker, Beth Ann (Hocker) Cahall, Floyd Megee Jr., Grace Otley, Stephanie Wilkinson, Linda Magarelli, Michelle Scorziello, Jaime Parker, Tyler Bare, Billy Curry, George Jenkins, Nikki Ireland, Cheryl Howard, Ethan Hickman and Miss Delaware Amanda Dubus. The Hap Tones will serve as the house band, and attendees can enjoy comedy sketches by Scott Evans and Johnny Stephens.
“It’s all local talent. It’s amazing the amount of local talent in this area. Everyone in this show, they all have jobs doing a variety of different things. It’s not a career of anyone to sing. It’s exciting.
“This year we have a great lineup of talent. We’ve got some new talent. I look forward to hearing some of the staples of the show who are in it every year, as well as the new performers.”
He also noted that Lord’s Landscaping decorates the stage each year, at no cost.
“They bring in some flowers, shrubs and trees, and help us make the stage look pretty. Every single year they do a phenomenal job helping us decorate the stage. We all start hauling in our music equipment. We put up a fence and hang some stars. Once you start getting a whole bunch of musical instruments up on stage, it’s hard to make it look presentable until Lord’s Landscaping gets done.”
Hocker said the Jamboree was first started in order to raise funds for the Lower Sussex Little League to buy fencing for its fields.
“I was 8 years old and, at the time, Lower Sussex Little League had three fields. You had to be 8 years old to play Minor League, and then they had a Little League program and a Senior League program. It was my first year being in Little League. I was on a team called the Panthers that dad actually sponsored that year. We were the G&E Panthers,” recalled the younger Hocker.
“DelDOT would always put up snow fence during the wintertime, and then in the spring when they took it down, they would take it to the Pyle Center and make the fence around the ball fields. As Dad sat there and watched the games, he’d see a groundball get hit and go right through the fence. And he just thought at that time, ‘There has to be a way to raise money for this organization to put up fencing.’”
The elder Hocker took action and got in touch with Floyd Magee Jr., who held a musical variety show in Georgetown called the Hoedown.
“It was a very successful show at the time, so he reached out to Floyd and asked if he were to organize a show in our area, would Floyd help him organize it and make it a success. Floyd’s answer was, ‘Let’s get it done,’” recalled Gerry Hocker.
“Those who know Floyd Magee’s sense of humor know he’s a very comical man and that that was definitely a ‘Yes.’ He helped Dad, for the first couple years, organize the show. He knew the contacts for some of the local talent. He was instrumental in helping the first couple of years. The show was a success the first year. So, Dad thought, ‘Let’s try it again.’ It seems like each year it was a success, it raised money, and that was the whole point of it.”
Since its first year, the Jamboree has continued to grow and help local organizations raise money.
“At the end of the show, Dad always asks, ‘If we were to have a show next year, would you support it?’ It’s always been an overwhelming response. Year two, year three, and now year 35... If someone had said back at year one we would’ve been doing it for at least 35 years, I don’t think anyone would’ve believed it. It’s hard to believe how time flies.”
Hocker began performing in the Jamboree its second year, when he was 9, singing Jim Reeves’ “Yonder Comes a Sucker.”
“My grandfather helped me pick out that song because he was a fan of Jim Reeves. And I’ve been in the show each year after that, from year two to now, year 35,” Hocker said. “I was still young enough to be nervous. I’ll never forget it.
“Sometimes your parents make you do things that you have no idea why they make you do it. But other times parents make you do things it takes you many years to realize why and appreciate it. Looking back now, I’m so glad Dad made me do it at age 9, because I never would’ve volunteered to do it at that age.”
Hocker learned how to play the steel guitar, which was his grandfather’s instrument, when he was 23. He also began learning guitar at 9, which he later began playing in the Jamboree.
“At age 9, as a total surprise, for my birthday, I got my first guitar. And I still have that guitar,” said Hocker, who took lessons as a child from Mark Marvel. “Music helps clear my head from all the daily stresses of running a business. Music is my downtime; music is my hobby. Music is a passion to constantly want to do better and play better, while also having fun. It’s always been my hobby.”
Hocker now plays with the Dirt Road Outlawz fulltime, two to three times a month. He also plays with Big Hats No Cattle the last Thursday of every month at Irish Eyes in Lewes.
“We have a great time. That’s the type of gig where you never know what you’re going to be playing. It’s whatever request or song we decide to sing. We just get together and have fun.”
During this weekend’s shows, Hocker will perform with the Jamboree Boys, perform solo and also join the backup band accompanying all the performers.
“Having a good group of musicians behind you means a lot. I feel privileged to be able to join that group of musicians during the show as well.”
Hocker’s sister, country music singer Beth Ann Cahall, was 5 when she first started in the show.
“She’s got me beat on the age she started,” Hocker noted with a laugh.
Cahall will be traveling back to Sussex County from Nashville, Tenn., to perform in the Jamboree. She will perform solo songs, as well as duet with her brother Gerry.
“We will be doing one of our staples that we love to perform that people always seem to request. ‘Jackson’ is our go-to song, and it’s the song we both really enjoy singing. We’re also doing a George Jones and Tammy Wynette song called, ‘Golden Ring.’ And we’re going to do a more modern release,” which they’ll be saving as a surprise, said Hocker.
Music is a family tradition for the Hockers that began many, many years ago.
“It was my grandfather Wilbert — he played steel guitar, Uncle Jake played keyboard, Uncle Clayton, Aunt Mary and Aunt Bessie — it was the five of them. They were known as ‘The Hockers’ and they played all over the place.”
Supporting the community is important to the Hocker family, he said, and hosting the Springtime Jamboree is one of the ways they give back.
“We love the area where we live. We all grew up here. We all, with the exception of Beth Ann, still relatively stayed in this area. We love this area immensely. We love the opportunities we have to give back,” said Hocker. “That’s always been very important to us.
“It’s the public who’s kept us in business. The local support we have in our stores keeps our businesses surviving and keeps all the employees we employ in the area in jobs. We do our best to create jobs. We’re constantly expanding our stores, we’re expanding into other businesses.
“It’s the local support that enables us to do it. Whether it’s putting an addition onto a store, or remodeling a store, or purchasing a new location and opening up a new store. It’s ultimately the local support that enables us to do that.
“The customers we see in our stores — it’s the same people we see at the ball field, at the soccer field. It’s families that come in here. It gives us a great sense of pride to be able to organize the Jamboree over the years.”
Hocker said many people who support the Jamboree are the same people support the family’s stores.
“Each year there’s a thought of, ‘Is this going to be the last?’ But it’s that drive of wanting to continue to do it and wanting to continue to give back that keeps us doing it, and the support of the Jamboree,” he said. “You get through winter, and that’s the question everybody start asking. ‘When’s your Jamboree?’ It’s at a point where people don’t want to miss it.”
Hocker said it’s not just his family who make the Jamboree a success — it’s the work of all those involved who have made it what it is today.
“I can’t stress enough, it’s equally everyone who participates in the show that makes it a success — from each and every singer to the comedians to the emcee to any of the hands helping us out backstage, to the musicians that play. Everyone comes together. It takes a whole army of people to make that show a success,” he said.
Everyone is encouraged to attend, said Hocker, noting that once people attend, they often never miss another Jamboree.
“Our hardest task is getting people to the show for the first time. There’s a lot of people, I think, who don’t realize the amount of local talent and how much fun it is. Many people say, for $15 you can’t go many places and have three hours of entertainment,” he said, adding, “Try it once.”
To purchase tickets in advance, visit Hocker’s Super Center and Hocker’s Grocery & Deli, located at 34960 Atlantic Avenue in Clarksville, (302) 537-1788 or (302) 539-0505, or G&E Inc., located at 695 Bethany Loop in Bethany Beach, (302) 539-5255. Indian River High School is located at 29772 Armory Road in Dagsboro.