By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
SALEM -- Jeff Best has faith that country music fans will once again descend on Ponderosa Park Pavilion if the product is right.
What's right, he believes, is music about family and hard times and real life. "It's a people thing." He said he thinks many fans are upset about what they see as the commercialization of country music. "The heart is gone," he said.
Best, a 1990 Springfield Local High School graduate, has used considerable energy and contacts in the country music business to line up a 12-week schedule of Sunday afternoon concerts at the 3,000-seat pavilion, beginning Sunday.
No association: The first thing Best wants people to know, even before he talks about his lineup of entertainers, is that he has "absolutely nothing to do with Ponderosa Park financially" other than leasing the pavilion, where the concerts will be.
Last November, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge William T. Bodoh allowed Ponderosa to voluntarily seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which permits reorganization of finances while being protected from its creditors.
Best, 30, said he contacted the bankruptcy court to ensure it was permissible for him to lease the pavilion and run shows there. He said he has a three-year lease with a two-year extension option to use the facility. The 150-acre campground and music park is on Salem-Warren Road (state Route 45) in Goshen Township just north of Salem.
Not all the dates on the 12-week schedule are filled, but the kickoff concert Sunday will feature Billy "Crash" Craddock, Eddy Raven and the Perfect Stranger, as well as area country musicians such as the group Desperado. Best, a guitarist and singer, also will perform.
The four-member, 15-month-old Desperado features brothers John and Joe Gillespie of Beaver Falls, Pa., Brian Michaels of Gustavus and Larry James of Warren. Steve Hamrick of Lordstown also plays with the group on occasion, but will not be there Sunday. Best said Desperado is one the best bands he has heard in a long time.
Future players: Billy Ray Cyrus and the Bellamy Brothers are on the bill for Aug. 26, and Lori Morgan and Sammy Kershaw are scheduled to appear Sept. 16. Aug. 5 and 12 and Sept. 30 are open dates.
Best, who performed with the pop/rock band Youngstown before moving into the country music field, also expects to entertain Sunday between acts. He said his CD "Buds a Little Wiser" is on his own label, "Dream Records," and has been the top selling country CD on an independent label for 24 weeks. Best lived and worked in Texas and Arizona before returning to the area about four months ago.
He said family members are helping with the enterprise. His father and brother have dredged the lake at the campground, mowed ball diamonds and created a little BMX track for the kids. "It's not my park, but I want it to look good for the people who come to the concerts," he said.
Also, Best said work was done on the pavilion, including cleaning and painting the seats.