Deadwood Jam

📷 Photo Credit:  Classic Radio Gallery

In a town rich with history and a burgeoning gaming scene, a group of visionaries came together following the legalization of gaming in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1989. What emerged was not just a festival, but a cultural event that continues to captivate audiences to this day – the Deadwood Jam.

While legalized gaming in Deadwood drew attention throughout the country, a remarkable group of individuals, including Mary Schmit, Melody Dennis, Louie Lalonde, and Joni Haman felt that there was untapped potential to attract even more visitors to the historic town. They envisioned something beyond gaming; they envisioned a vibrant celebration of music and community.

Mary invited Jim Salestrom to perform at the Bullock Hotel. This group, spearheaded by Schmit and Salestrom decided to have a Telluride Blues Festival type of music festival on Main Street. John McEuen pitched the idea of a Jam. An eclectic music festival of all different types of music. It would feature Country, blues, classic rock, jazz.

Within a few months McEuen booked the bands, the street was blocked, and roadblocks broken down. The first Jam featured Jerry Jeff Walker. It rained, snowed and a legend, the Deadwood Jam, was born. The Jam was the first event of this kind in the area. It is the longest, continuous running festival in South Dakota, possibly the United States.

The Jam was magic from the beginning. McEuen led the charge. Booking acts, bringing in lights, and staging. He gave us advice on everything from securing speakers to supplying the green room. McEuen introduced us to Stage Manager Merel Bregante who was a huge part of the Jam for many years.

From the start an incredible group of volunteers stepped up to the plate. “The Girls.” Even if you were a guy on the board you accepted the fact that you were one of “the Jam Girls.” If a man wanted on the board the first question was “Do you have a truck?” This core group consisted of Mary Schmit, Louie Lalonde, Melody Dennis, Rose Speirs, Linda Sperlin, Jonie Hamann, Teri Hollenbeck, Yvonne Ryan, Veronica Morris, and so many more. And our Mentor John McEuen.

This group was one of the hardest working, committed groups out there. We moved stages, emptied trash, and sat on the curb and cried at the end of the day during the Jam’s infancy. But, as we sat there we started plotting and planning for the next year. These “Girls” were totally dedicated to The Jam. We all loved it. We met monthly, fought over the line up, and became a tight knit group.

In 2000, Gary Biggs developed the idea of a Jam produced CD. The artists from that year all donated a song. A committee headed by Lenessa Keehn donated all proceeds from the sales to music programs and instruments for School Programs. “You can’t win a Grammy playing Air Guitar.”

The Jam wouldn’t have happened it if hadn’t been for all of the amazing people involved through the years. We did it for the love of the event. We did it for the Jam. The Jam has presented some of the best musical talent in the Black Hills. And it’s still going Strong 34 Years later!

In the words of John McEuen “It’s going to be a Great Jam”

📷 Photo Credit:  Classic Radio Gallery


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