Olinger’s dedication earns him 2013 Arrowhead Award

Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival Co-Chairman Mindy Rider (left) and Chairman Jennifer Scalf (right) present the 2013 Arrowhead Award to Jamie Olinger, who has performed at the festival every year for 37 of the festival’s 38 years.
Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival Co-Chairman Mindy Rider (left) and Chairman Jennifer Scalf (right) present the 2013 Arrowhead Award to Jamie Olinger, who has performed at the festival every year for 37 of the festival’s 38 years. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Jamie Olinger was just 19, and a recent graduate of Huntington North High School, when he performed for the first time at the Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival.

That was in 1977, the second year the festival was held. In the 36 years since, he hasn't missed a year in the festival's entertainment lineup.

Olinger's dedication was recognized on Sunday, Sept. 29, when he was presented with the 2013 Arrowhead Award.

The award is presented annually by the festival's steering committee to an individual or organization who has made a major contribution to the festival.

"He has entertained in rain or shine, through sweltering bouts of Indian summer and on brisk chilly fall days, all the while drawing a dedicated and steady crowd of admirers," festival Chairman Jennifer Scalf said in presenting the award.

Olinger was drawn into the festival by Bob and Jean Gernand, then teachers at Huntington North High School who had organized the festival the previous year in the school parking lot. Olinger brought his guitar and sang.
Since then, he's performed at least one hour-long set every year, including country and folk songs, gospel hymns and novelty tunes in his performance.

The self-taught guitarist started out as a solo act and, in the 1980s, performed with his country band Black Mountain Express. In more recent years, he's performed alongside one of his daughters.

In addition to performing regularly at the Pioneer Festival, Olinger has played throughout northeast Indiana and can be heard regularly at local events.

Olinger and his wife Melanie live in Huntington and are the parents of Amanda, Matt, Bethany and Katie.