Barn Dance 23: Support from Blyth has been incredible says Simmermaker
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Bill Simmermaker has been the chair for the Blyth Barn Dance Campout and Jamboree for over 20 years. It was a position he took on and simply never left.
He began in the year 2000, missing the first two in Blyth, but he had always been a fan of the old country music celebrated at the event, so he was naturally drawn to it. Then, as he stayed over the years, he was amazed to see the growth of the event, from humble beginnings to drawing over 1,000 people at its height.
He says he will be sad to see the event come to a close, knowing that it will be the last Barn Dance weekend in Blyth, but he also knows that the volunteer base is stretched thin and that hosting live music events has been very difficult in the time following the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his capacity as the chair for the event, Simmermaker has taken on a lot of the practical elements of putting on the show, including booking the venue and ensuring that everything is in place, where it needs to be and functioning properly when the big weekend rolls around. Doug Dietrich, the musical director, has been in charge of booking talent for many years, and Simmermaker takes on the rest of the work.
It’s been like that for many years, Simmermaker says. After attending the event, he considered becoming part of the team that plans the event. At his second meeting, he was made the chair of the Blyth event and he hasn’t looked back.
Simmermaker says he will be sad to see the Blyth event go. However, a big blow was dealt to the Barn Dance Historical Society when North Huron Council voted to close the museum in Wingham, which is largely comprised of the Barn Dance museum, full of artifacts from the storied event’s history. The event aimed to raise funds for the museum, so without the museum, it makes sense that the event would get lost in the shuffle to a certain degree.
As far as running the event as a team of volunteers, Simmermaker said that hasn’t been easy either, especially with the ages of the volunteers rising and no younger generation coming in to take their place.
Looking back, Simmermaker says that his top memory was in 2018 when the Canadian country music legend, Tommy Hunter, came to Blyth to accept an award from the society, despite retiring from the world of music a number of years earlier.
He said the organization had tried to get Hunter to come to the show for years to be honoured and, after years of scheduling conflicts, it finally happened in 2018 and it remains one of the most outstanding memories of the Blyth Barn Dance event for many society members as the sun is about to set on it.
He commented on how supportive the Blyth community has been of the event over the years. Residents, service club members (especially the Blyth Lions Club, which has provided meals for a number of years) and those who attend the show have made the event worth returning to for years, Simmermaker said, so he will always have a special place in his heart for the village.