For 36 years, the Hocker family has been organizing the Springtime Jamboree — two nights of country, Western and gospel music, supporting local non-profit organizations.
“I started playing Minor League when I was 8 years old,” said Gerry Hocker, “and dad’s sitting there, watching the games, and would see batters hit the ball and see it go right through a fence. He decided to try to do something to help the Lower Sussex Little League raise just enough to put up a fence.
“Somebody who knows what the Pyle Center is now… If they could’ve seen the early days, they would be amazed that at one point it only had three fields and the fence was old snow fence they would take down after the snow season, and the State would make a temporary fence for our ball field. Someone would hit a groundball, and it would go straight through the fence.
“Dad went to the Little League and asked if they were willing to be a beneficiary. It was a new concept in this area.”
Working with Floyd Magee, who started the Country Hoedown in Georgetown, Gerald Hocker — today a state senator — started the Springtime Jamboree.
“Floyd’s reply was, ‘Let’s get it done,’” said Gerry Hocker simply.
This year, the Jamboree will be held on Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14, at Indian River High School. Doors will open at 6 p.m., with pre-show entertainment provided by Ron Howard on piano, starting at 6:30 p.m. The show with begin at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15 per person.
This year’s Jamboree will support the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, which is one of a few organizations that have been the beneficiary of the Jamboree more than once over the years.
“Our building on Route 26 is outdated,” said Greg Hocker, the youngest Hocker and a member of Millville Volunteer Fire Company. “It’s got some structural issues. As a company, we don’t know if we’ll end up building a new firehouse or renovating, but all the money raised from the Springtime Jamboree is going into a separate account to go toward the building. All the money’s been allocated to that.”
Greg Hocker said that because the company consists mostly of volunteers, with the exception of paid EMS staff, raising funds is critical to their ongoing operations.
“They are providing all of the emergency services for our community, and it does take a significant amount of money to run a firehouse and provide those services.”
At the Jamboree, the fire company will be selling T-shirts and raffling off a golf-for-four package at Salt Pond, excluding holidays. The drawing will take place in the second half of Saturday’s show.
The Millville Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary will have refreshments for sale, including hot dogs, popcorn, baked goods and drinks.
New faces on stage in 2018 edition
Those who’ve attended the Jamboree in years past will see new faces. The Hap Tones, who had served as the fundraiser’s house band, will not be performing together, as everyone’s schedules became busy.
“We have completely regrouped and put together a completely different band, and I think the group is phenomenal,” said Gerry Hocker. “It’ll be a change of faces for the audience to see, but certainly we won’t skip a beat. It’s exciting. There are so many talented musicians in this area.
“It’s nice when you ask people to help out in a moment of need and everybody is willing, knowing how much time and dedication it would take.”
The new house band, known as Eleventh Hour, comprises many local musicians, some of whom are members of Dirt Road Outlawz, a group with which Hocker plays.
This year’s performers include Gerald, Emily, Gerry and Greg Hocker; Tyler Bare; Kevin Short; Grace Otley; Nikki Ireland; George Jenkins; Linda Magarelli; Danita Robinson; Cheryl Howard; Jaime Parker; Lily May Border; Floyd Megee Jr.; Charlie Lynch; and The Jamboree Boys. The emcee will be George Keen, and comedy will be provided by Scott Evans.
“We have a lot of local talent,” said Gerry Hocker. “The audience always seems to enjoy the comedy. We’ve come up with some good ones over the years.”
“The performers and the people in attendance are what make the jamboree a success,” added Greg Hocker. “It’s not myself, my brother or my father.”
This year, Hocker’s sister, Beth Ann Cahall, a country music recording artist, will not be in attendance, as she recently had her second child.
“Sadly, she won’t be here,” said Gerry Hocker, who usually performs a duet or two with his sister. “I’ve arranged for another duet to take place, and I don’t want to give anything away, but I think people will really like it.”
Music has been a Hocker family tradition for generations — a love that has continued to be passed down to the younger generations.
“It’s great to see my brother’s children and my children growing up with the jamboree like we did. They look forward to it every year,” said Greg Hocker, whose son Mason went on stage last year with his guitar.
“Music is such a passion for me… it’s a hobby that’s totally different from what I do on a day-to-day basis. It’s been my hobby my whole life,” said Gerry Hocker, who helps run the family’s grocery business.
Gerry Hocker, whose time at the ballfield helped create the Jamboree, said the first fundraiser was such a success his dad decided to keep the tradition going. And for the second fundraiser, at age 8, he was told he’d be performing.
“As a young child, I had always sung in church. That year, it wasn’t my choice; the decision was made for me.
“Naturally, I wanted to, I had some confidence in singing,” he recalled. “My grandfather helped me pick out my first song, Jim Reeves’ ‘Yonder Comes a Sucker.’ It’s an old country tune. That was Year 2, and I’ve been in it ever since.”
Gerry Hocker went on to play tuba in the Indian River High School marching band, and learned to play guitar, but he had always wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and learn the steel guitar.
“My grandfather always played steel guitar with the Jamboree Boys. He would always make the comment, ‘One of these days I’m going to teach you how to play steel.’ And I always kept it as an interest because it’s a very unique instrument. That never happened. He passed away when I was a senior in high school in 1990. His steel guitar was in my parents’ house in the basement. I told myself then that someday I would master that instrument.
“If my grandfather could come back for just one day and play with me… boy, what a rewarding opportunity that would be. I still have his steel guitar.”
Following his graduation from the University of Delaware in 1995, Hocker kept his promise to himself, and eventually met through a mutual friend a steel player who agreed to give him lessons.
“I’ve been playing steel since I was 23 I’m still learning. It’s something you never stop learning new ways to do things, chord progressions and scales. It’s a passion. It clears my head. When I’m sitting down at my steel guitar playing, that’s the only thing I’m thinking about — no phone, no distractions. It’s 100 percent focused when I’m playing.
“It does take a lot of coordination. I play a double-neck steel, so I’ve got 20 strings, 10 on each neck, eight pedals for my left foot, my right foot has a volume pedal. Then on both sides of both knees I have knee levers, and on my left knee I have a vertical pedal.”
Now, along with helping to run the family business, Hocker also plays with the Dirt Road Outlawz.
“When you surround yourself with musicians much better than you, I like to be a sponge and just take in as much as I can,” he said. “Playing with a group like that is certainly an honor.”
Similarly, Greg Hocker, who played drums in the high school band, has been in the Jamboree since 1990, and now fills in with the Dirt Road Outlawz as well.
“I don’t get to play drums very often, so I enjoy that the most,” said Greg Hocker.
Charity in the family and in the community
Over the years, various area charities have received the monies raised from the jamboree, including River Soccer Club, Delaware Hospice, Lions Clubs and fire companies.
“Some beneficiaries have been fortunate to be a multi-year beneficiary,” said Greg Hocker. “So we start thinking about what organization needs money. What organization we see might benefit from a show. There is no limit to what an organization can raise as far as their ad book.
“They have sold more ads than any organization in the history of the Jamboree. It is the thickest ad book ever. It’s amazing the amount of positive response the fire company has received. It’s overwhelming just the positive outlook on people willing to support the fire company.”
Supporting the community has always been a top priority to the Hocker family, who’ve been in the grocery business for 46 years. Last year, the family moved out of the store on Cedar Neck Road and into a vacant retail space previously held by a large chain grocer, near Salt Pond.
“It’s been a year now. It’s been a blessing. The locals stuck with us; they moved with us,” said Gerry Hocker. “We had a whole new chapter. We were able to take a whole new building and expand.”
Gerry Hocker (who more than once during his interview with the Coastal Point was interrupted to take requests for food donations) said his family never says no to helping the community that has supported them throughout the years.
“It’s part of what we do to give back to the community that’s been so generous. It’s a very generous community, and we do not take that lightly at all,” he said. “You give a dollar and it comes back to you tenfold sometimes.”
In its nearly four decades of fundraising, the Jamboree has raised nearly $750,000, all of which goes directly to the non-profit organizations.
“My father always said he would continue to do it as long as the community kept supporting it,” said Greg Hocker. “They’ve continued to support it, and we plan to continue it when our father’s not able to one day.
“Everyone who goes to the Jamboree for the first time says they’ll never miss another one. It’s a great fundraiser. It’s just a great family event for all ages.”
Those who wish to purchase a video recording of the 2018 Jamboree by Unscene Productions may do so by contacting Hocker’s Super Center at (302) 537-1788. 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.