By Deb Everts
Allegany State Park’s favorite songstress is back for her 47th season at the park’s Quaker Amphitheater, as Sally Marsh will kickoff her ever popular Hootenanny at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 28.
For 10 weeks every summer, Marsh entertains campers and other friends at Allegany State Park, where she has led a giant singalong for nearly five decades at the amphitheater every Thursday night, rain or shine, through Labor Day.
Anyone attending Sally’s Hootenanny will find guests singing, dancing and having a great time. Marsh is going strong and hopes to still be performing when her 50-year mark of the hootenanny comes along in just three short years.
“The big thing for me happens when the park turns 100, in 2021, and I will have been there doing the hootenanny for 50 years. That’s my goal,” she said.
According to Marsh, there’s really out of the ordinary scheduled for this year at the hootenanny — except she’ll be celebrating her 64th birthday next month. She said her summer theme song is going to be “When I’m 64” by the Beatles.
“It’s kind of like going to a Kenny Rogers concert,” she said. “If you go there and he doesn’t sing his hits and songs that you like, everybody’s yelling, ‘Lucille’ and ‘the Gambler.’ That’s kind of like the hootenanny. I can add a new dance or something else, but the crowd really wants the old, familiar songs.”
Marsh energizes the crowd with her own infectious enthusiasm for music and draws the people into the songs of her hootenanny. She said she loves seeing the kids having fun and not being embarrassed to come up front to sing and dance and enjoy themselves. And, it spans all ages.
“To see the faces of these kids and their families … there is so much joy there. I’m can’t even tell you how lucky I am to have that joy,” she said.
Honoring veterans is very important to Marsh so every week, she recognizes them for their service to their country. She starts the hootenanny with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and the national anthem. Then, in the middle of the program, she leads a song to honor the veterans, which is a big part of the event.
“We also have one night where the Allegany State Park Historical Society honors a veteran and his family by sponsoring a weeklong stay at a cabin in the park,” she said.
Marsh is particularly proud of the people who generously donate items to be raffled off during the summer to benefit others in need.
“People are so generous and kind. We had a blanket raffle last year with over 32 blankets raffled off. We were able to help 28 kids have a nice Christmas,” she said. “We also participated in six veteran-type fundraisers to help out, and probably 10 benefits to help a family save their house that was in jeopardy. Already this year, people are ready to help others again in any way they can.”
The most recent fundraiser is a Sally’s Hootenanny patch that Marsh helped design. She said some are on hats, but people can also buy just the patches. Other fundraising items are glow-in-the-dark bracelets that say, “Sally’s Hootenanny: Always one more song.”
Three picture quilts donated by Marsh’s friend will also be available for raffles this year. Marsh said one is all Allegany State Park pictures and the other two are hootenanny pictures.
“They donated these quilts and donated funds, so I could have the patches made. They do this because they all know we are helping people in need,” she said. ““We have a wonderful night every week and we help people while we are there. What more could you ask for?”
Over the years, several organizations have recognized Marsh for her dedication and longevity at the park’s hootenanny, as well as her contributions to the community. On Aug. 15, 2013, the hootenanny group successfully broke the Guinness Book of World Records when they were the biggest group to sing “Old MacDonald.” The record was 332 verses and they broke it with 356 singing participants on. In August 2014, she organized Smokey Bear’s 70th birthday party that was celebrated at the amphitheater as a fundraiser.
Marsh was inducted into the 14th annual Cattaraugus County Sports Hall of Fame in April 2016. That same year, she was featured in the “Of Distinction” special section published by The Salamanca Press.
In July 2016, she surprised by the ASPHS that honored her with a plaque and Senator Cathy Young (R, Olean) with a Senatorial Resolution for her 45 years of hosting the park’s hootenannies.
“Those are the types of days you never forget. They are what you call the perfect days, and they are days that you are so lucky to have,” she said. “With the Guinness attempt, we didn’t know for six months if we would make it into the book or not, and it really didn’t matter,” she said. “It was the fact that we did it all together and enjoyed it so much while we were doing it.”
What started as a sing-a-long around a campfire with a few people has grown over the years to be bigger and better. Marsh said she always looks forward to hosting the hootenannies and seeing all the people because they’re like family. She said the people are what keeps her coming back year after year.