Strong lineups, community support contribute to success for longtime music festival

Is Bob Hartley like the Pied Piper?

The June Jam president and his team use rockin’ acts to lure revelers into his longstanding festival, where the goal is to entertain and raise funds to benefit charities and families statewide.

When June Jam celebrates its 40th anniversary June 9, one of its beneficiaries will be Georgetown-based nonprofit Frets for Vets.

Frets provides guitar lessons as a coping mechanism to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“[Around] 22 vets commit suicide every day,” Hartley said, citing a 2017 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs. “It’s still a problem.”

To ring in the birthday, an all-star lineup has been assembled, featuring some of the best acts from the festival’s storied history, Hartley said.

Headliner Tommy Conwell’s claim to fame was with Tommy Conwell & The Young Ramblers, a group that released the hit “I’m Not Your Man” in 1988.

The 40th roster also features performances by Shades of August, Lower Case Blues and Furious George.

The latter band had a serious buzz in the ‘90s.

“Furious George at one point was voted by MTV, way back in the day, as the best bar band in the country,” Hartley said.

He said there will be new visuals this year at the fest. Jammers will see paper lanterns draped over the campground, with LED lights decorating the trees.

There will be a large wall serving as a big screen (but better) for revelers to see performances up close.

August in June

Shades of August lead guitarist Derek White is a veteran jammer as his family has been jamming for three generations.

“I’ve been going to June Jam [on and off] since I was 2 years old. I actually have photos of me in little diapers, which is totally embarrassing,” said White, 32, of Wyoming.

Like White, Shades rhythm guitarist Curt Johnson has been going for years. But this will be his first time playing.

Johnson helped the band set up last year. But he was too new to the group to join them on stage, so performing with the guys this summer will be a dream come true.

“I’ve gone to June Jam since I was young. It’s the kind of stage I’ve wanted to play on,” Johnson said.

Shades of August will bring tunes to the festival from their new EP, “The Distance Between.”

The project was blessed by a legendary producer.

“We had it produced by a guy named Brian Reeves out in California. He’s produced Billy Idol, U2, Selena Gomez and Bob Seger,” said frontman Brian Dawson, 46, of Milford.

Dawson said his Dover-based band will weave in a few covers, including a rock version of Phil Collins’ pop hit “In The Air Tonight.”

Hartley said Shades of August, which has played the festival thrice already, has a knack for drawing a strong crowd.

“They’re one of the most sought-after bands among the people who come to June Jam,” Hartley said.

Shades’ frontman touched on why they’re in high demand.

“We as a band are there because of the crowd, so we try to involve them,” Dawson said. “Sometimes I get told I talk too much. But I’ll interact with the crowd throughout the night.”

June Jam helped create Firefly?

Some might assume June Jam is in competition with Firefly, since they’re both outdoor fests in June. But that’s not accurate.

Hartley said there’s a lot of healthy history between the two fests.

Most notably, Firefly was sort of inspired by June Jam. But the story of how both are connected is convoluted.

This winding tale begins with former Firefly organizer Greg Bostrum, from 2011-2016, who’s now the director of entertainment for the Minnesota Vikings.

“Greg said he modeled Firefly after an event in Tennessee called Bonnaroo,” the June Jam president said. “Bonnaroo followed a festival at the same location called Itchycoo Park [in 1999].

“It was started by a [Delaware] guy with a group of other people from Tennessee; and that gentleman was an event director for June Jam. His name is John Miller.”

The rabbit hole deepens.

“When I went to Itchycoo Park, it was run exactly like June Jam,” Hartley said. “It’s a little bit of a stretch to get from June Jam to Firefly. But a couple of stretches later, we have Firefly in Kent County.”

Hartley said he’s worked with Bostrum in the past to bring Firefly talent to June Jam. An example is the band The Heydaze, which headlined June Jam during Bostum’s final year with Firefly.

Charity from tragedy

The June Jam idea started in 1978, a year before the first festival. It was sparked by a grave situation.

“One of my classmates [from Caesar Rodney High School] was electrocuted when he was repairing a roof,” the June Jam president said in a 2015 interview with the Dover Post.

“They were repairing a roof in Magnolia and three young men got electrocuted; and one man died.

Then we held a benefit to help the other two men.

“That was the precursor to June Jam. Then in 1979 we had the first June Jam.”

Hartley said the festival has since raised over $750,000. He said this milestone is a testament to supporters.

“It means a lot to the local community,” he said. “We’ve been able to help so many families and people in need.

“In the past year we helped a guy who was in a head-on collision and his wife had cancer. That’s a local family that received our help. We’ve also been able to help organizations we’re working closely with, [including] Toys for Tots.”

Hartley credits the talent they bring on stage. Over the years, it has landed big names such as Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, Kansas and Cheap Trick.

“[Jammers] know they’re going to see really good music in a close setting,” Hartley said.