A Little History of the June Jam Before the Return
A Little History of the June Jam Before the Return
By Emma Goggans
Fort Payne, Alabama is known as the perfect location for a peaceful mountain getaway. It’s a little town nestled right below Lookout Mountain where people slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life. Now, would you believe me if I told you that this small town once held 67,000 visitors all in the same week? Well believe it!
Little ole Fort Payne used to be the home of one of the biggest country music events in the nation. The concert event began in 1982, but the story really begins way back in 1969.
In 1969 the band Wild Country was founded by cousins Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry, and was soon joined by another cousin, Jeff Cook. The band started out by playing at local events in and around Fort Payne, but they always knew they were destined for more. It wasn’t long before the boys packed up and left their small hometown to begin touring the bar circuit in Myrtle Beach with the hopes of making it big. They became the house band at a well known club called The Bowery. The boys played six nights a week for “tips and watered drinks.” After seven summers of playing at The Bowery, the boys had gained a lot of regional popularity and decided to release two singles which were very successful. Soon after, the band was approached by RCA Records about a recording deal, and on April 21, 1980 they signed and became known as Alabama.
Alabama is considered to be the most successful country music band of all time. Alabama became an overnight sensation, and their first single with RCA Records, “Tennessee River,” began a streak of 21 number one singles on Billboard’s Hot Country chart. The streak started in May of 1980 and ended in early 1987, and included songs such as “Love in the First Degree,” “Mountain Music,” and “Dixieland Delight. In total, the band had 42 number one singles. Many of these number one singles were written by the band members who drew inspiration from their southern roots and growing up in small town Alabama. The boys from Fort Payne essentially changed country music forever, but they never forgot about where they came from.
The band knew they wanted to give back to their hometown, so in 1982 they came up with the idea to bring together the biggest names in country music for a charity concert event. They called it the June Jam, and on June 4, 1982 the first benefit concert was held in Fort Payne with over 30,000 fans in attendance. The concert became an annual event, and was held on a hill near Fort Payne Middle School. Every June, pride filled the hearts of everyone from Fort Payne. By 1991, the June Jam had reached over 67,000 fans in attendance, and featured acts such as: Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels, Alan Jackson, The Judds, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Wayne Newton, Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood, Charley Pride, and Willie Nelson. The last June Jam was held on June 21, 1997 but the legacy of this momentous event lives on.
Over its 15 year period, the June Jam raised over $15 million dollars for various charities, and became one of the largest country music gatherings in the country. Here in Fort Payne, the effects of the June Jam and of Alabama are still evident. A large portion of the funds raised by the June Jam were donated to the Fort Payne school system and have been used to bring improvements to our education, sports, and extracurricular activities. Alabama has also inspired new generations of musicians from Fort Payne, including the Boys in the Band.The Boys in the Band are an Alabama tribute act dedicated to keeping Alabama’s timeless music alive, and allowing longtime fans and new fans alike to experience a high energy show based on Alabama’s live performances. Still, as a lifelong lover of Alabama’s music, I have always felt as if I had missed out.
If you grew up in Fort Payne, like me, you probably have heard stories from your parents and grandparents about the June Jam, and if you never got to experience one, like me, then you probably have always wished you could. Well our luck is finally changing because now we can!
It has been 26 years since the last June Jam, but in February Alabama announced they are reviving the event this June. The concert will take place on June 3rd at the Fort Payne VFW Fairgrounds. Alabama will headline and close the event, but there will also be performances by Jamey Johnson, Jake Owen, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Frontmen (Richie McDonald, formerly of Lonestar; Tim Rushlow, formerly of Little Texas; Larry Stewart of Restless Heart), Exile, Mark Wills, Neal McCoy, Dailey & Vincent, Home Free, The Malpass Brothers, Dee Jay Silver and a special appearance by Randy Travis.
In November of 2022, band member Jeff Cook passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Remaining band members, Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry, felt like reviving the June Jam could be their last gift to their beloved hometown. “Our wishes are that Fort Payne will take June Jam and it will go on forever,” Owen shares. “We lost Jeff and when me and Teddy are gone, hopefully the city will continue with the June Jam. We want this to continue to help the city, the town, the state, and just help people in general.” During the week leading up to the June Jam, the Alabama Fan Club will host events for fan appreciation, including a Celebration of Life for the late Jeff Cook.
The June Jam is a big part of Fort Payne’s heritage. It is something we are proud of, and something we are excited to have back! Tickets are available on Ticketmaster and at the Alabama Fan Club in Fort Payne. Come join us for the revival of the June Jam! Trust me, “we’re gonna have a party, a good time jamboree!”