WALKER — If walls could talk, the walls of the Old South Jamboree would sing.
For more than 45 years, the iconic building has been a parish staple — one in which some of the biggest country music stars have graced the stage.
“Look at this,” said show producer Carlton Jones as he pointed to each performer’s old photo. “There’s Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mel Tillis.”
“There’s George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Bill Anderson, Don Williams, Conway Twitty, the Osmond Brothers …,” Jones said.
As he canvassed the area, he smiled, recalling the tales he had heard from former owner Lester Hodges, who built the building and produced the country music shows for nearly 50 years.
During its heyday, the Grand Ole Opry-style building and its country stars would draw about 1,000 people per show. Now, about 150 to 300 people attend one Saturday show each month, Jones said.
Janice Hymel, of Denham Springs, started attending the shows years ago, although she couldn’t remember exactly when.
“It’s like the shows in Branson,” the 74-year-old said. “It’s good entertainment, it’s the atmosphere — good wholesome hot dogs and popcorn.”
Hymel, who attended Saturday night’s show, said she is still impressed with the amount of talented performers who grace the stage.
“They have youth night in about two months and that is something to see,” Hymel said.
Hymel said having the shows performed in the original building adds to the ambiance of the evening.
“It’s a historical building,” Hymel said. “You’re right in the setting of a country show. It’s small, it’s compact.”
Bob Forrest and his girlfriend, Rudy Grabert, also attended the Saturday show and have been going to the Old South Jamboree for about four years.
“Branson, Missouri, has nothing on this,” Grabert said.
Jones took over for Hodges about 10 years ago when he showed up to play for an audience of about 30 people. The 50-year tradition was dying, Jones said.
“After a few months, he (Hodges) asked me to run the show,” Jones said. “I told him, you can’t charge $10 a head and have the older guys play.”
While the building, which is nestled just off of Florida Boulevard between Denham Springs and Walker, opened in 1969, it looks exactly the same, minus the bleachers that were removed when the Old South Jamboree closed for a short time in 1986, when it was used as a storage warehouse and then, following hurricane Katrina, a FEMA operations spot.
Today, the only obvious differences from the Old South Jamboree of the 1960s are a newer stage sign and an American flag, which Jones said he used to cover up an old rebel flag placed there by Hodges years ago.
“Not a thing has been touched since 1969,” Jones said.
Jones has hosted performances at the Old South Jamboree for six years, and assembled a talented band that plays once a month and invites other performers to play, as well.
When Hodges died in 2012, his family told Jones that they were committed to continuing his legacy of good, clean country and gospel entertainment.
“In recent years, it has become a family-oriented show suitable for all ages, and features local talent,” Jones said.
“Anybody that wants good, clean, wholesome fun in a good atmosphere should go.”
For a complete schedule, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Old-South-Jamboree/121792881180737.