With the idea of raising money for improvements to the local Little League field 34 years ago, now-state Sen. Gerald Hocker began a tradition that has brought local musical talent together each year to help area nonprofit organizations raise much-needed funds.
“When Dad did the show for the very first time — 34 years ago now — he stood up and said at the end of the show, ‘Do you think I should have a show next year?’ And everyone clapped,” said Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr. “So, he organized a show the following year. And he’s said it every single year. As long as the people continue to support it, and continue to have fun, he would continue to do it. And lo and behold, it’s been 34 years.”
In its 34th year, the Annual Springtime Jamboree — a country, Western and gospel music — program, will be benefitting the Millsboro Little League.
This year, the shows will be held at Indian River High School on Friday, April 8, and Saturday, April 9, beginning at 7 p.m., with pre-show entertainment provided by Ron Howard on the piano, starting at 6:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased in advance at any Hocker’s store (Hocker’s Super Center in Clarksville, and the G&E grocery and hardware stores near Ocean View), for $14, or at the door the night of the jamboree for $15.
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.
“For $15, where else can you go hear four hours’ worth of entertainment and comedy?”
Hocker said that the night includes comedy skits and jokes, and warns that, as it’s an election year, there will most likely be political jokes. He said he hopes that people will not take offense, as anything said is purely for laughs.
“By no means are they to be taken personally,” he said. “It’s all in good fun.”
The evenings’ entertainment includes the Jamboree Boys — which includes Hocker, his brother Greg and their father — The Hap Tones and more. Hocker, who plays guitar and pedal steel guitar and sings in the jamboree, said it is a pleasure to be able to work with such phenomenal musicians.
“We just enjoy it. I think music is in our blood. We were born and raised around music. Way back when my grandfather and his brother and sisters started years and years ago, the Hocker group… It’s just fun getting together with family and friends. We truly have an amazing group of musicians playing with us.
As the jamboree is a family affair, also gracing the stage this year will be Hocker’s sister, professional country singer Beth Ann Cahall, with whom Hocker will sing duets.
“We’re emailing and texting each other right now to figure out what we’re going to sing,” he said. “We really enjoy singing ‘Jackson’ by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash… We have so much fun singing that. We may also sing a Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood tune.
“My son asked me if Beth Ann and I would sing ‘Squeeze Me In,’ so I’m pretty sure we’re going to do that one…. As my kids are growing, they have no choice but to like country music. As they listen to country music, there are certain songs that they take a liking to. My daughter asked me if I would sing ‘Why Don’t We Just Dance’ by Josh Turner, so I’m going to sing that… When each of my children ask me to do a particular song, I feel like I have to do it.”
Hocker also plans to perform a Waylon Jennings’ song and a Johnny Cash song.
Having started playing guitar at age 9, Hocker said it was always his goal to learn how to play the steel, an instrument his grandfather played.
“Just growing up around him and the steel — I always found it to be such a fascinating instrument,” he said. “It’s considered the hardest instrument to learn. It’s the coolest instrument, because I think it’s the only instrument where you can play two or three notes at a time and have some notes be bending upward and having other notes be coming down. That’s the sound of the steel.
“Eight foot-pedals for your left foot, a volume pedal for your right foot — there’s knee levers on both sides, plus on my left side there’s a vertical knee pedal. Five knee pedals, all of which do different things with the stings. Plus, you’ve got 20 strings on a double-neck steel.”
Sadly, Hocker was unable to learn the instrument from his grandfather, who passed away in 1990.
“I knew once I completed college at the University of Delaware I was going to learn that instrument. I learned on his steel,” he recalled. “It’s been a joy. I really enjoy the steel guitar. I wish he could come back and play with me…”
The funds that are raised from the ticket and video sales and sales of advertisements in the program book this year will benefit the Millsboro Little League, for the second year in a row. Last year, Hocker said, ticket sales were affected by the show being held in March, and an unexpected spring snowstorm.
“Because of the situation last year, having the show earlier than usual, it hurt the attendance, and the snowstorm hurt the attendance. We had a couple of factors that worked against us.”
Hocker said the Little League is in need of funds to enhance their fields and concession stands, and they wanted to give the organization a fair shot to raise as much money as they can.
“We find, when we do it for organizations that have kids involved or fire companies, that people are very, very, very generous. Those are some of the best years we’ve had. People don’t like to say no to the kids, especially when it’s their kids that are benefitting.”
Hocker said the jamboree has raised more than $500,000 total in its 33 years, with some benefitting organizations receiving more than $30,000 some years.
Sen. Hocker has already named the River Soccer Club as the beneficiary of next year’s 35th jamboree, as they’ve started to raise funds to redo their fields.
“River Soccer is just growing leaps and bounds, and they’re in need of some funds.”
The jamboree was created 34 years ago to raise funds for permanent fencing around the Pyle Center baseball fields.
“If anyone ever sees any pictures of what the Pyle Center used to look like, compared to what it is now, it’s just amazing,” said Hocker. “What they would do in the spring — when they took the snow fence down, they would then take it to the Pyle Center and put the fence around the field, and that was it. Over time, with the broken slats and the wood… It served a purpose, but it wasn’t great.
“Dad — being familiar with that organization which raised money for nonprofit organizations in the Georgetown area — Dad thought, ‘Wow — how great it would be to organize a show similar to that and benefit some of the groups in our area that were in need of funds.”
His father’s first call was Floyd Megee Sr., who organized the Country Hoedown, a country show in Georgetown, for help in organizing the jamboree.
“Before Dad planned anything, his first call was to Floyd, and Floyd’s answer was, ‘Let’s get it done.’”
In its first year, tickets to the jamboree cost $5, and the event was able to raise approximately $5,000.
Hocker said ticket prices have gone up from time to time over the years, only due to need — as they must pay custodians and sound engineers, and rent the school’s auditorium.
“Everything that’s left goes to the nonprofit groups,” he said, adding that many people donate more to the benefitting organization. “We have had some very, very kind people donate.”
The jamboree has gained a following over the decades, with many community members returning year after year after year.
“People start to look forward to it. Every single year, the hardest thing we have to do is to try and get someone to go to it for the first time,” he said. “Once they go for the first time, we don’t have to do our job to try and get them there, because they want to go. We’ve had so many people say, ‘Oh, my gosh — I’ve missed your first 10 and this is my first time, but I’ll never miss another one again.’”
Hocker said it’s been his family’s goal over the years to support the community in which they have lived and prospered.
“We’ve always said what keeps us in business is the loyal support that we have from the community. We absolutely love the community that we live in; we absolutely love the community we have our businesses in. There’re great things about our community,” he said.
“Many people who shop our stores, support us, choose us over the national chains, are also involved in the same community we are. They may be in the fire company; they may be in the Lions Club; they may have kids and they volunteer their time out on the soccer field or ball field.
“We just feel like we want to do our part. Every nonprofit group that comes into our stores asking for donations or help, we strive to always do that.”
Hocker said he hopes the community will attend the Jamboree and join them in supporting the Millsboro Little League.
“It’s our way to help give back to the community that is so near and dear to our hearts. It’s what we love to do.”
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, located at 30244 Cedar Neck Road in Ocean View, (302) 539-9662. Indian River High School is located at 29772 Armory Road in Dagsboro.