WALKER -- There were times when Randy Blackwell couldn’t help but stare at the photographs, those faded moments-in-time that provide a glimpse into the glorious past of this five-decade-old building.
Photos of Porter Wagoner, Crystal Gayle, Ernest Tubbs, Dolly Parton — some of the most recognizable names in country music — would always catch his eye, their portraits a constant reminder of the talent that has graced what is now the parish’s longest-running country music venue.
Sometimes, it’s enough to give Blackwell chills.
“All the greats of country music have been here — right here,” Blackwell said from the Old South Jamboree stage last weekend. “We used to clean the building after shows and we’d sit there looking at the pictures and talking about them for hours.”
Now, Blackwell and a collection of others performers can be found playing inside the Old South Jamboree once a month, doing their part to keep the music going inside this historic music venue.
And at every performance, more than 100 portraits of their predecessors look down on them from the walls, which would have quite the story to tell if they could talk.
Last weekend signaled the start of another year of entertainment.
The Old South Jamboree, which opened as a concert hall in the mid-1960s, launched into 2019 with a “Happy Country New Year” show on Saturday, Jan. 5.
In front of a near-packed house, a group of nearly 15 performers serenaded the crowd with a variety of toe-tapping country tunes, all backed by Carlton Jones and The Red Hot Country Band.
Regular performers Tommy Raborn, Deb Carpenter, Mark Sanders, June Barker, Ed Kinchen and Anita LeBlanc joined the band at various times, as well as newcomer Jonah Traylor, who first performed at the venue last June.
Providing music for the singers were Jones on the guitar, Robert Reynolds on the drums, Eddie Warren on the bass, Blackwell on the pedal steel, and his son Jay on the electric guitar.
Standing on stage with a guitar slung over his shoulder, Jones told the crowd he couldn’t believe how fast the time has flown by.
“I believe this is the 15th year since we took over,” said Jones, who took over management of the venue from founder Lester Hodges. “That’s kind of scary to think about. It feels like only yesterday when we started.”
Time sure does fly when you’re having fun, especially with friends you’ve played music with for years — which is certainly the case for the Old South Jamboree’s regular cast of performers.
Many of the singers and musicians can date their playing days together back to the Lakeside Opry, a regular country music show that was held at North Park in Denham Springs.
Larry and Maxine Whitfield, who will celebrate 34 years of marriage this February, were regular singers at the Opry before rejoining Jones and others at the Old South Jamboree roughly 15 years ago.
Even after all these years of singing, they still can’t get enough.
“When you’re a singer and it’s something you’ve done all your life, if you’re not doing it, there’s a void,” Maxine said. “We’re getting older, but we still enjoy it and we’re gonna do it as long as we can.”
The Whitfields provide backup vocals to all singers at the Old South Jamboree, and they even have their own space on stage.
“We got our own little corner in the back,” Maxine said with a laugh.
A newcomer to the ensemble is Traylor, though he is no stranger to the Old South.
Traylor’s father Mark performed at the Walker music venue several years ago and over time developed a friendship with Kinchen, who has been affectionately dubbed “The Legend of the Old South.”
It was Kinchen who encouraged Traylor — who also performs with a small musical theater in Ponchatoula — to audition for the Old South Jamboree, which eventually led to a handful of appearances for the Hammond High grad who studies industrial technology at Southeastern Louisiana University.
But the 20-year-old hasn’t been relegated to performing songs from the past — he’s been given the liberty to sing more current songs, as well.
“I grew up listening to old country, but I like new country, so it’s always interesting talking to Mr. Carlton and trying to find a good balance,” Traylor said. “He’ll let me do some modern ones, and I’ll do some older ones I like. It’s a give and take.”
With another year underway, the next show for the Old South Jamboree will be held on Saturday, Feb. 2.
Admission for the show is $10 for adults, $5 for kids 6-12, and free for kids under 6. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m. Refreshments including hot dogs, popcorn, and cold drinks will be available. The Old South Jamboree is located at 9554 Florida Blvd. in Walker, between the Juban Road and Walker exits.
To Blackwell and the other performers, it’s important to keep music alive inside the Old South Jamboree.
“Once this is gone, it’s gone for good, and it will never come back,” Blackwell said.
For more information about the Old South Jamboree, call (225) 936-0349 or visit www.oldsouthjamboree.webs.com.
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