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ABOUT Lincoln Jamboree

The Longest Running Live Country Music Show in Kentucky

Kentucky’s rich history is filled with legendary figures – Muhammad Ali, Colonel Harlan Sanders, Daniel Boone, LaRue County’s own United States President, Abraham Lincoln, and the list goes on and on. Another Kentucky legend, whose name is associated with Hodgenville as much or more than Honest Abe himself, stood tall on the stage of the Lincoln Jamboree every Saturday night for 64 years – Joel Ray Sprowls known worldwide for his Lincoln Jamboree. His long history of success in the entertainment industry led to Forbes Magazine selecting him as an "Immortal Talent.” Now in its 68th year, led by Jay Henderson, The Lincoln Jamboree continues to be a vital part of KY country music history while still having shows every Saturday night.

A solid cornerstone of the weekly show is the house band, The Jamboree Gang, as a Saturday feature act and in support of other feature shows of local and regional artists. So, how many different band members have played through nearly 70 years? Hundreds to say the least.

 

Has anyone who started on the Jamboree stage become a success in Nashville? Yes. Ron Gaddis, who was George Jones’ bass guitarist and band leader for over 20 years, began his career at the Jamboree in the early 70s. Tommy White, who is the steel guitarist for the Grand Ole Opry house band, got his first regular job at the Jamboree when he was only 13 years old. Tommy also worked as Donna Fargo’s steel guitarist and on Ralph Emery’s Nashville Now television show. Joel Ray is credited with giving White’s number to an agent in Nashville for Fargo’s band. Finally, and most significantly, Kentucky’s own Patty Loveless, a country music superstar in the 80s and 90s, was a regular guest on the Jamboree from 1969 to 1971. 

Other recognizable names of country music legends who have graced the Lincoln Jamboree stage, include Bill Anderson, Skeeter Davis, Bill Carlisle, Ernest Tubb, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Billy Grammer, The Louvin Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Grandpa Jones, “Stringbean,” The Stoneman Family, Lonzo & Oscar, The Chuck Wagon Gang, The Florida Boys, Statesman Quartet, Cowboy Copas, Pee Wee King, Redd Stewart, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Porter Wagoner, Doug Stone, Stonewall Jackson, Jerry Clower, Lorrie Morgan, and most recently ... Grand Ole Opry Star Jeannie Seely, the Original Coalminers, The Malpass Brothers, Jimmy Fortune, and Grand Ole Opry member Rhonda Vincent (3 years straight). 

About Joel Ray Sprawls, Founder, Emcee and Band Leader of The Lincoln Jamboree

Joe Ray Sprowls
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Joel Ray Sprowls

On September 11, 1954, Joel Ray went out on a limb and rented the Cardinal Theatre for 20 weeks. Naysayers warned him, “You’ll never live up to your contract.” He proved them wrong, and the Lincoln Jamboree was born. The Cardinal Theatre was home to the Jamboree for the next 7 years.

Not long after opening night, Joel Ray and the Jamboree gang were performing two shows every Saturday night, because the 310 seat theatre would not hold the crowds that lined up early on Saturday afternoons to get a ticket. Admission then was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.

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Oct. 18 1927 – Dec. 05 2020

On June 6, 1959, Joel Ray purchased the Lincoln Village Restaurant and adjacent property. He wasn’t looking to run a restaurant as much he was interested in the buying the land in hopes of building of his own theater. During these years the restaurant was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For 14 years, the doors were never locked. The first Lincoln Jamboree theater was built on the adjacent restaurant property and opened for the first time on Saturday, December 2, 1961. The building held 700 people. The Lincoln Jamboree went from being a little show downtown on Saturday nights to a statewide entertainment venue. The new building literally made the show explode. People everywhere were talking about the Jamboree as the place to be on Saturday nights.

Besides being the proprietor of two businesses now, the Lincoln Jamboree and Joel Ray’s Lincoln Village Restaurant, Joel Ray remained working as disc jockey at WTCO for 2 years and then WLOC for 8 years. Joel Ray also had another dream he wanted to fulfill – becoming a pilot. He began training in 1964 and obtained his pilot license on January 12, 1965. The sky was the limit. “If the weather was good, I flew at least 4 times a week,” Sprowls recalled.

The Jamboree was a huge success by the mid-1960s, selling out every Saturday night, but over the life of the Jamboree, there have certaintly been brief pauses due to natural and medical tragedies. After a show on a stormy Saturday night in 1968, Donald “Boogie” Sherrard lingered around on stage to pick on his steel guitar. He yelled for Joel Ray and said he smelled something odd. Boogie and Joel Ray, both cigarette smokers at the time, decided it must be a cigarette butt in an ashtray somewhere. Little did they know that during the storm, lightning had struck the attic. Sherrard and Joel Ray both went home, but just a few hours later they would learn that the building was engulfed in flames and was a total loss. Fans worried, could this be the end of their favorite Saturday night show place? However, Joel Ray knew that the show had to go on. That Monday morning after the fire, Joel Ray called Louisville Tent Company. They informed him they had a tent but it leaked. That wouldn’t work. Still not ready to throw in the towel, Sprowls located a tent company in Chattanooga, TN. The company had a tent that was big enough to accommodate a large crowd but thought it was too windy to bring to Kentucky and leave for the summer. Joel Ray begged the company to rent him the tent. The company finally relented provided that Joel Ray would use chains so secure instead of rope and would have $500 cash waiting when they pulled in the driveway. Joel Ray immediately replied, “Load it up and get rolling here now.” School was out so the local Boy Scout troop brought chairs from the local schools. The Jamboree never missed a Saturday night in 3 months. 


During the 1970s, besides preparing for the show on Saturday night, Joel Ray also hosted a live radio broadcast for an hour every Saturday afternoon on then local station WLCB. Naomi Gardner recalls turning the radio on and listening to Joel Ray’s radio show as she got dressed for work that night. “He played the best of the best records at the time. Everyone that could pick up the station tuned in,” Gardner recalled. “By the time the radio show ended each Saturday, I was dressed and headed out to go work for the guy I had just listened to for the last hour on the radio, Joel Ray Sprowls,” recalled Gardner. In 1971, Joel Ray started the annual Easter Egg Hunt. That year he had a co-sponsor, radio station WINN, that advertised the event commercial breaks for two weeks. 5,000 people attended the first egg hunt, and the tradition carried on for 30 years. Joel Ray added events such as the Easter Egg Hunt, the annual pig roast and the flea market to draw every type of person to the Jamboree. By the early 70s, Joel Ray had expanded the Jamboree’s front by adding a museum of costumes and memorabilia of the stars of country music. A gift shop selling Jamboree souvenirs was added.

 

After Elvis died in 1977, Joel Ray added a theater room addition to the restaurant. People would then come from the Jamboree show, the restaurant, and would buy tickets for special Elvis tribute shows. Joel Ray even showed old western movies. In those days after the show was over, people didn’t just leave and go home. They congregated at the restaurant, visited and drank coffee. Many Saturday nights Joel Ray provided talent for the restaurant customers to listen to after the show. There was entertainment in every direction. The Jamboree continued to sell out in the 80s. Fans young and old eagerly waited for the Saturday night shows.


Joel Ray endured a series of health crises which began in 1998 when he suffered the first of three strokes. In 2002, doctors found an aneurism that needed immediate removal. Joel Ray had the surgery and was off the show a few weeks. Ronnie Benningfield and Ricky Puckett managed and emceed the show until Sprowls once again made it back to the stage only a few weeks later. In 2008, Joel Ray suffered another light stroke, but 2009 would be the worst stroke of the three. Sprowls was hospitalized for this stroke and treated with physical and speech therapy to learn to walk and talk again. People speculated that Joel Ray would never return to the stage, but this Man of Steel proved them wrong once again. On January 16, 2010, he returned to the stage. The first few weeks back, Joel Ray emceed the first half of the show and turned it over to Ronnie Benningfield and Mike Ash, who kept the show running while Joel Ray was recovering. Sprowls continue to front and emcee the Lincoln Jamboree until shortly before his death, December 5, 2020, at the grand age of 93.

 

Forbes magazine deemed Joel Ray Sprowls the Cal Ripken of the music industry.

Jay Henderson and the Super 6 Jamboree Gang

Jamboree Gang

Through nearly 70 years of live Saturday night country music at Lincoln Jamboree, the Jamboree Gang house band has been reliable for the highest quality of talent plus comical entertainment and audience engagement. Since being handed the responsibility and honor of new band leader, Jay Henderson has s stepped up to continue and grow the tradition established by founder, Joel Ray Sprowls. Backed by long-time Lincoln Jamboree musicians with many more than 100 years of combined talent, Jay leads the Gang as sometimes the feature and sometimes the support for guest feature artists on Saturday nights. 

Something you can always expect from the Jamboree Gang ... is something different. From week to week, Jay and the Gang design different sets of acts and music to keep the Saturday show fresh and newly entertaining for even the regular weekly audience.

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Jay Henderson

Manager / Producer / Emcee / Fiddle / Vocals

Meet Jay Henderson & the Super 6

The Jamboree Gang has enjoyed a rotating cast of great musical talent for nearly 70 years, currently featured as Jay Henderson at the Super Six Jamboree Gang. 

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Ronnie Benningfield

Piano/Keyboards/Vocals

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Buddy Elkin

Steel Guiar/Vocals

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Lou Bingham

Lead Guitar/Vocals

Wayne Sexton

Drums/Vocals

Camille Bingham

Vocalist

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Brandon Warren

Bass Guitar

Featured Female Vocalists

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Debbie

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Jessica

Featured Vocalists and Harmony

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Jeanne

Donna

Donna

Robin

The Kricket

"The Kricket"

The Past, Present & Future of Live Country Music in Kentucky is at The Lincoln Jamboree

Best of Kentucky for Live Music

Best of Kentucky

The Lincoln Jamboree was honored to be voted #1 for live music in Kentucky Living Magazine's 2021 AND 2022, plus #2 in 2023, in  the Best of Kentucky Awards. It is especially rewarding to be nominated by fans and fellow Kentuckians. 

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