WATERVILLE — Dick Stacey is somewhat of a Maine legend. In the 1970s and ’80s, he sponsored a late-night amateur country music showcase on local television that became a runaway hit in eastern Canada. The low-budget Bangor-based production — called “Dick Stacey’s Country Jamboree” — gave airtime to local artists who had a passion for melody-making, regardless of talent. It wasn’t about singing on key.

Now, over three decades since the show went off-air, Vassalboro’s JR Garritt and husband-wife duo Bob Heller and BJ Cross, of Unity, are bringing the series back with their own twist. The new show, which premiered Sunday night on Fox 22 in Bangor, is taped in front of a live audience in the basement of the old American Legion building in Waterville, at 21 College Ave. Earlier Sunday evening the group filmed some particularly special episodes, which will air in the coming weeks. A handful of Maine Country Music Hall of Famers were in attendance — including Jeff Simon, who used to perform on Stacey’s “Jamboree.” Stacey himself, now 83 years old, had been planning on coming but had to cancel at the last minute, according to Garritt.

“To be honest, I never thought it would happen again,” Simon said of the “Jamboree” re-boot. The Milford resident was one of the youngest people to play on Stacey’s show, at age 11. He is now the frontman of The Mainely Country Band.

“Maine’s Down Home Country Jamboree” has been given the green light for at least 16 episodes, according to Garritt, who produces the show. Viewers from the Augusta and Waterville areas can tune in on Bangor’s WFVX Fox 22 on Sundays at 11 p.m. Full episodes will also be posted on the show’s Facebook page and the Mainly TV YouTube channel, run by Garritt.

“What we’re doing here is giving people in the state of Maine a chance to sing live on TV that would have never, ever had that chance,” Garritt said, distinguishing the program from national counterparts such as “American Idol” or “The Voice.”  “(Those kinds of shows) seem to be all that’s on — where everyone’s very talented and there’s a competition. But what we do is different. If your talent is marginal — fine. If it’s good — fine. These are just plain old folks playing country music.”

Garritt said he wanted the country theme to honor the series’ pioneer, Stacey, but that musicians of all genres from rap to alternative are welcome to perform on the show. Heller, one of the co-hosts of the program, is well-known in the state’s country scene and has put out several albums of his own. Heller noted that the industry, largely associated with the southern and western parts of the United States, has changed a lot in Maine over the years.

“Country music in Maine has always been big,” Heller said. “It was really big in Maine, but here lately it’s died. It kind of went away.”

Slim Andrews, an 88-year-old hall-of-famer who turned out Sunday to watch the “Jamboree” taping, emphasized the state’s rich history when it comes to traditional country music. One of the first-ever live country music shows that was broadcast coast-to-coast in the United States took place in Bangor in 1938. Harold Breau, known as The Lone Pine Mountaineer, accomplished the feat. Later, Breau’s wife, the singer Betty Cody, received an offer to record an album in Nashville under Elvis Presley’s future manager, Col. Tom Parker. She declined the opportunity for national stardom because she did not want to leave her three sons behind.

“That’s the background we have here in Maine,” Andrews said. “We’re very proud of it.”

Today, there are six country music organizations across the state dedicated to preserving and promoting its legacy of traditional country music. There have been 134 musicians inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame since its inception in 1978, including Dick Curless, Curly O’Brien, Ken and Jane Brooks, Denny Breau, Bing Crosby, Russ Adams and Ginger Mae, among others.

The Maine Country Music Association, which runs the hall of fame, also operates a public museum in Mechanic Falls, open by appointment. The facility houses some of the clothing and instruments of Maine’s greatest country stars, as well as albums, DVDs and other artifacts. Heller called it one of the state’s best-kept secrets.

“People are always surprised that we have country music in Maine,” said Bobbi Berracah, a country singer from Buxton. “You don’t always see it in Southern Maine, but (up here) we’re rural — we raise chickens, we have cows. We have that lifestyle.”

In a room to the side of what has become the set of “Maine’s Down Home Country Jamboree,” Garritt has crafted his own ode to Maine’s country music scene: a low-cost recording studio for local artists. He has been running it from the basement of the Legion building for eight months — and at The Center in Waterville for two years before that. The rate is $10 per hour, though he said that figure is flexible.

“If you don’t have any money, you can still come and record,” he said. “The whole idea is to help out local musicians who have no money. … Think of it as a communal recording studio where people can work together and share their resources to keep the costs down. It’s a, ‘You plant the tomatoes, I’ll pick the tomatoes,’ kind of thing.”

Garritt said he hopes that the studio in addition to “Maine’s Down Home Country Jamboree” will help country music make a comeback in the state — or at least give local artists a means to achieve their dreams.

“Who knows, maybe we’ll run 10 to 15 years like Dick Stacey,” he said.

Performance dates and times can be found on the “Maine’s Down Home Country Jamboree” Facebook page. Tickets to a live taping are $5.


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