BANGOR, Maine — Chances are good that if you lived in eastern Maine or the Maritime Provinces of Canada in the 1970s and early 1980s, you watched “Stacey’s Country Jamboree.”
For more than a decade — from 1973 to 1984 — the low-budget show was a Saturday night staple that had television viewers tuning in throughout the region.
“It was a reality show that was 30 years ahead of its time,” Dick Stacey, the show’s namesake, said in an interview Wednesday at the picnic table outside the fifth wheel RV that he and Sue, his wife of 38 years, call home for three months each summer.
And whether you loved it or hated it, if you saw it you were sure to remember it.
On Saturday, Bangor State Fair attendees will have a chance to relive the magic when the Jamboree’s most memorable performers and a few special guests take the stage at the Bass Park Grand Stand for a special reunion concert.
The show, which will start at 7 p.m., is the first United States reunion concert since the show went off the air, Stacey said.
Bass Park Director Mike Dyer predicted this week that the show will be the sleeper success of this year’s fair. In addition to Mainers who grew up watching the show, the audience will include hundreds of Canadian fans, many of whom are coming by tour bus.
The lineup will include Jamboree veterans Don Nickerson and his Country Mist band, Charlie and Rita Keenan, Vern Robinson, Rich and Nancy Stacey, Debbie [Thompson] Pelletier, Peter D, Rodney Hurd, Archie Rivers and Jeff Simons.
Special guests will include Canadian country music star and Nashville recording artist Joan Kennedy, who is Stacey’s daughter-in-law, and balladeer Dave Pike from Massachusetts. Kennedy, who had a string of big hits in the 1980s, opened for Taylor Swift in Prince Edward Island last weekend, Stacey said.
“And you gotta remember, some of the people who weren’t so good will be there” in keeping with the Jamboree’s roots, Stacey said.
Missing, however, will be Jennie Shontell of “Wings of a Snow White Dove” fame, arguably the show’s most famous performer. Shontell died several years ago.
“She’s buried in Bucksport. Charlie Tenan [the show’s longtime master of ceremonies] and I visited her grave about five years ago and she has a snow white dove on her gravestone,” Stacey said.
“One of the first times we ever [took the Jamboree on the road] to Halifax, Nova Scotia, we had Jennie come up second or third.
“We didn’t know we had a star,” he said. “We should have held her back [until later in the show]. There were about 1,000 people there and when she got started, practically the whole audience started singing with her — ‘on the wings of a snow white dove.’”
Now 74, Dick Stacey said that he took the show on in 1973, almost as a lark, after it lost its original sponsor, Whitten’s Frankenstein Store of Milbridge.
The owner of Stacey’s Fuel Marts in Brewer, Ellsworth and Harrington at the time as well as a hotel and lounge, Stacey was approached by a television advertising salesman who wanted him to buy a commercial spot. Stacey quipped that he’d take the whole show, and the rest is local history.
For the first two years, the show was broadcast live from a Bangor television studio, Stacey said.
“Along towards 1974, they rooted me out of there [the studio]. My choice was to keep it live but they were having some trouble from people who wanted to see it and couldn’t get in and so reluctantly I moved it to my lounge,” he said. “That created a whole new atmosphere. It turned out to be a good move, but it was not my doing.”
The show’s homegrown talent and down-home feel was part of its charm.
“It’s always been a low-budget show,” he said. “It couldn’t be anything but a low-budget show the way it was run.”
As Stacey sees it, the show was not about him but rather the way in which it reflected the heritage of Down East Maine.
“It’s part of what we do,” he said.
Tenan, the show’s longtime emcee, agreed.
Some reasons he believes the show had such broad appeal is that it featured singers and musicians from numerous towns. One day, you might see your neighbor on it.
Another factor was Maine’s affection for country music.
The music “kind of represented Down East Maine. This was about the last frontier of country music [in Maine],” Tenan said. Getting together to jam at house parties was a favorite form of entertainment “way back in the radio days” before television and computers took over, he said.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “It weren’t for the money. I liked meeting people and we had a lot of fun, before, during and after shows. I met millions of nice, nice people.”
The Jamboree also was about the fans, Stacey said, noting that the typical “Jamboreer” was a blue-collar person who loved country music.
No auditions, no rehearsal and sometimes, no talent, which was part of the show’s charm.
“You had to be sincere and sober,” Stacey said, a policy put into place in part to stem the tide of Colby College and University of Maine students who appeared on the show as fraternity or sorority initiation pranks.
Though the show was not a moneymaker, it did make Stacey money in other ways.
Even to this day, Stacey is perhaps as famous for the advertising campaign he launched as part of it.
“It was a total fluke, but it changed my whole life. It was around 1978. I was thinking about how few full-service gas stations there were left,” he said. While taping an ad for his gas station, “I took three steps forward and said, ‘Do you see these hands? They pump gas and, by golly, do they stink!”
Though more than 30 years have passed, people who saw the ads still remember them.
“Even today, even this morning at Tim Hortons, the guy shook hands with me, the manager and then he smelled his hands. Inevitably almost 100 percent of the people will smell their hands,” Stacey said with a laugh.
Could the Jamboree magic work today?
Stacey thinks so. And while he says he has no plans to come out of retirement to do it, “Somebody should because as sure as God made little green apples, it would work.”
Stacey said this week that he’s not sure there will be more reunion shows in the future.
“What I’d say is that if you want to see ‘Stacey’s Country Jamboree’ the way it was I’d suggest you come to this show because it could be the last.”
For information about the Jamboree, its history and the two special edition DVDs featuring the show and its performers, visit www.staceyscountryjamboree.com.