Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ham Jam Moves and Fans Follow; Popular Event Held at Equestrian Center This Year

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ham Jam Moves and Fans Follow; Popular Event Held at Equestrian Center This Year

Article excerpt

Byline: PATTI LEVINE-BROWN, Times-Union correspondent

The Jacksonville Equestrian Center on the Westside became a fairground of sorts last week when it served as the site for the 17th annual First Coast Ham Jam.

Numerous carnival rides, games, monster trucks, live country music performances and some of the best barbecue in the state were part of the lineup that drew thousands of visitors from Duval, Clay and neighboring counties.

The core of the Ham Jam is its barbecue cooking contest. This year, 23 teams competed for hundreds of dollars in cash prizes. David Entinger, a member of this year's grand championship team Smoke and Spice, raved about the new Jacksonville site.

"This is a great place," he said. "The facilities are fabulous for an event like this."

This was the third move in the past three years for the festival, which began in Clay County and became one of the area's most popular fall celebrations for the 14 years it called rural Middleburg its home. While in Clay County, the event drew in as many as 40,000 people.

However, in 2002, the Clay County Commission decided to enforce an ordinance banning outdoor alcohol sales. That, coupled with complaints about traffic congestion and some late evening unruliness, prompted organizers to move the festival.

Before landing in Jacksonville, the Ham Jam spent the past two years in St. Johns County. In 2002, it was held at the World Golf Village. In 2003, the event moved to the St. Johns County Flea Market.

Ham Jam co-founder Ronnie Munsey was pleased with the Ham Jam's most recent location, though he admitted there were a few problems that cropped up.

"We are adjusting to a new location again, and I expected that there would be a few problems, but overall everything has gone well," Munsey said. "This site is perfect for us, and we plan to be here again next year."

Munsey was especially impressed with the center's indoor arena, where the stage was set for a number of live musical performances. Those included several talented singers from Clay County, such as Danielle Lauderdale, Chloe Davis, Brooke Lord and Ashley Williams.

Lauderdale, who has performed at the Ham Jam for the past several years, has appeared on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, opened for country music legend Loretta Lynn, recorded with country singer Martina McBride and appeared on the Maury Povich show.

When Lauderdale opened for Lynn at a Ham Jam concert in 2000, she was a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Lakeside Junior High School in Clay County. Lynn praised the local sensation and was quoted as saying: "How about that young lady who was just on? Now, she's a singer."

The crowd last weekend agreed -- standing, clapping and whistling following the 16-year-old's performance.

One person excited about the event's move was former Jacksonville City Council president Alberta Hipps, who Munsey credited as the reason the Ham Jam found a new home. …

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