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A Jamboree Family: Inspiration

Reilly Springs Jamboree Circa 1960

Phyllis and Lou Erck, summer 2010

For Phyllis Erck, her parents are the inspiration for starting the Ruby Jewel Jamboree now three years running in Missoula.  Phyllis was born about the same time her father started the Reilly Springs Jamboree in Texas and both her parents took her as an infant to the concerts.  It wasn’t until her twenties, when she lived in New England, that she realized she had bluegrass roots. She attended a bluegrass music festival there and says, “I was completely drawn to the music and at the time I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until later when Dad started talking about the Jamboree stories that I knew why.”

When Phyllis moved to Montana she joined the Montana Rockies Bluegrass Association and spent the past two decades attending the IBMA Convention checking out National touring bands.

Her friends encouraged her to do a concert series and Phyllis says, “I wanted to start a Jamboree but was too afraid.  I lacked confidence and couldn’t get my nerve up.”   One day Phyllis decided to ‘give it a go’ and her mother Ruby Erck encouraged Phyllis to have the Jamboree at Ruby’s Inn.  With Ruby being a great inspiration in Phyllis’s life, she named the Jamboree series after her mom and decided to call it the Ruby Jewel Jamboree.

Ruby Jewel Jamboree named after Phyllis Erck’s Mother.

Ruby passed away peacefully on May 9th of this year.  It was Lou, wistful and soft who said, “I couldn’t have done anything successful in my life without Ruby. Everything I am is because of her.”  In starting the Ruby Jewel Jamboree, inspiration came from both of Phyllis’ parents.  It is very evident the Matriarch of the family will be missed.


23 String Band

The first concert took place in 2010 featuring The Chapman’s.  In 2011 Phyllis decided to book two bands at the IBMA; a hot young Bluegrass Band called the 23 String Band, and Josh Slone and Coaltown. By fall Phyllis realized her goal was going to work.

This year she hoped to meet her biggest dream yet; streaming Ruby Jewel Jamboree live on the internet.  This spring and summer, the concert series will provide a venue for National touring bands, plus bring in local musicians to open up for them.  Phyllis purchased sound equipment and is ready for the Jamboree.

Both Phyllis and her father share the same sentiment when it comes to Jamboree’s.  It gives young, fresh, local talent an opportunity to perform in front of an audience. Lou states, “It was fun.  I suppose I sound like a braggart.  I don’t want to, but it did give people an opportunity to perform and enjoy each other. It is people expressing themselves in different ways when they play, even if they’re not rock stars.  It love it— I love it!”

Streaming Success

The first of the Ruby Jewel Jamboree concert series was a success.  They filled 75 seats at Ruby’s Inn & Convention Center for the Kathy Kallick Band and Phyllis Erck met her goal to be the first to stream a Jamboree Concert live via Ustream on the internet.  The Kathy Kallick band was seen and heard as far as Hawaii where Phyllis’ brother Charley watched the whole show in real time.   Phyllis says, “Charley was interested because he was old enough to remember the Reilly Springs Jamboree’s.  The old theater had a large red velvet curtain and Charley’s job was to open and close it.  He is really excited and happy that I am streaming the Jamborees.”

Phyllis’ friends in New England took part in viewing the Ruby Jewel Jamboree Concert and some took time to post a comment on the website.  Dan Booth who plays acoustic bass and sings lead and harmony vocals for Kathy Kallick was excited to see a txt message go off on his phone while in concert.  It was his mother in Alaska telling Dan she was watching him “right now!”

The next concert in the series was on May 4th, with local band openers Mike and Tari Conroy and featuring the band Growling Old Men.  Ben Winship and John Lowell make up the dynamic not so growly duo.   Phyllis says, “John has been in the music business for over twenty years. They have a prolific background in music and toured nationally together.  Their funny band name ‘Growling Old Men’ came from an old fiddle tune.”  They are a favorite among the crowds due to their great songwriting, connection with each other on stage, spontaneous sense of humor, and their ability to engage the audience. This made them good, strong pick, for streaming to online viewers.

Bluegrass Pickin’ Time

Growling Old Men

After the concert Mike and Tari Conroy along with Ben Winship opened up the floor for an acoustic jam session.  “Bluegrass pickin’ is what we call it” says Phyllis “anyone is welcome to come and participate with the bands.”

Jam sessions and bluegrass pickin’ time is not unusual at Ruby’s Inn.  During the long winter months Phyllis invites other musicians around the Missoula area to play in the Winter Jam Series that’s now at least seven years running.  “People come to jam and bring potluck” says Phyllis.  The idea is to play together, encourage musicians, including the younger generation. “We teach each other and learn together”.

Strong youth-filled bluegrass bands developed from frequent winter jam sessions.  The local band Derailed learned to play bluegrass with other musicians when they were the ages of thirteen and fourteen.  Now they are seventeen and eighteen and Phyllis says, “These high school age kids have a hot bluegrass band due to playing with others at the Winter Jam.”

A big push happened the day before the Kathy Kallick concert.  Phyllis was determined to utilize online streaming and really had to pull some things together to make it happen. Phyllis, like her father back in the fifties, is digging up talent, taking some risks, encouraging young musicians, and fertilizing her family roots in our city of Missoula.

@2012 Leisa Nelson

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Category: Indie It Music

About the Author: Leisa Greene’s passions include writing about music, theater, film, food, art, family and friends -- all of which are supported by the community of Missoula and an IV line of dark-roasted iced coffee. She is the English Department’s Administrative Associate of Graduate Admissions at her alma mater, University of Montana; the editor-in-chief of Indie It Press; and the author of a memoir manuscript currently titled EARLY OUT. Her other writing consists of short essays (Brother Townsend and A Jamboree Family), playwriting (The Beckett Syndrome) and screenwriting. “The only regret you will ever have is if you never write it. So, go write it Mom. “ – Dustin Nelson, my son

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