Smithville Fiddlers' Jamboree — A Living Testament


Over fifty years ago, in early 1972, Tennessee Fourth District Congressman Joe L. Evin had an idea for a festival in Smithville, TN, to preserve Appalachian music and heritage. With friends and Smithville community leaders Berry C. Williams and James G. "Bobo" Driver created "The Smithville Fiddlers' Jamboree," a weekend-long festival celebrating the finest fiddle music and an artisan craft market. This event, which has received worldwide attention and notoriety as a top-five summer vacation destination in the United States, is a source of immense pride and accomplishment for our community.

Escape to Center Hill and Center Hill Realty owner Robin Driver, the grandson of founder "Bobo" Driver, is a living testament to the community's pride in the event. Like his grandfather, he wholeheartedly supports the event and the community, embodying Smithville's shared heritage and spirit.

Robin believes, "The Smithville Fiddlers' Jamboree is more than just a festival; it's a living testament to our rich Appalachian music and heritage, a commitment that has earned the respect and admiration of people from all walks of life."

We asked Robin to walk down memory lane with us and discuss what the Jamboree means to him, his family, and his business at Center Hill.

Robin, we'd love to hear about your earliest memories of the Smithville Fiddlers' Jamboree. Please share a few memorable moments. And, of course, we're curious: Do you recall your grandfather's participation in the festival?

I have attended every one of them since the beginning. For some of the first ones, I had a lemonade stand in front of the Loretta Lynn Western store that my grandmother worked at. $.25 a cup. As I got older, I was a Boy Scout leader and worked in the booth with the Boy Scouts, making hamburgers. I have also volunteered countless hours at my church booth. I was also the President of the Chamber one year and was involved in working on the stage and welcoming all the guests to our community.

I do remember seeing my grandfather on stage and hearing him speak. He was passionate about music, especially supporting the young musicians. They have an award, the James G BoBo Driver Award, which is given yearly to the top beginner musicians. Our family proudly pays for the trophy and donates prize money. At the very end of the competition, the winner of the beginner competition and the winner of the adult competition have a fiddle off. For many years, the beginner has won.

Why is this event culturally significant to the Smithville community and America? What draws people and interest from all over?

It is one of the few festivals that features authentic Appalachian /Bluegrass music. People from all over the world compete and enjoy this style of music. The craft festival surrounding it also features crafts handmade by the artist, not just a bunch of items made overseas.

What is something that visitors can look forward to at the Jamboree?

You can look forward to visiting one of the best small towns in America for a few days, being exposed to our culture, and enjoying authentic music played by amateur musicians passionate about their craft.

What is your favorite thing about the Jamboree?

Being a local, one of my favorite things is reconnecting with many old friends who only come home to Smithville once a year. My entire family also comes into town to celebrate the Jamboree since my grandfather was a founding member.

Do you know what the attendance typically is?

The attendance varies. It has been as high as 80k, but it's more like 35-40,000 people in recent years. There is quite a crowd, and the town is excited to welcome them.

How do your businesses contribute to the event?

Center Hill has always sponsored the event. We also provide housing for house band members, some of the judges who travel from out of state, and some of the contestants.

What does it mean to you to be able to carry on your family's legacy in Smithville and Center Hill Lake?

I am proud to carry my family's legacy in my business and community. My father instilled in me the values of family, hard work, and giving back, which my wife Kristie and I strive to achieve daily. I feel a profound responsibility to pass those along to the next generation of Drivers, as well as residents and visitors to Smithville.

We are thrilled to be a part of this momentous event year after year, and glad to see so many familiar faces last week! Thanks to all who participated. We hope to see you again before next year.


Photo - Left to right : Mickey Driver, Kim (Driver) Luton,seated. Russell Ambrose,Denise Richardson, 1st winner Greg Driver,Ella Derby 2024 winner, Yours Truly, Adam Driver, Melody Driver, Donnie Driver, Jamie (Driver) Smith, Stephanie Mcminn,Jasper Mitchell.