Six Facts About the Country Bear Jamboree
Howdy folks! And welcome to the one and only Celebrations’ blog post about the Country Bear Jamboree–featuring just a smidge of history about the origins of the Attraction and that big, happy family that performs in Grizzly Hall.
1. Mineral King Ski Resort
Near the end of his life, Walt Disney began working to develop a ski resort in the Mineral King Valley of the Sequoia National Forest. His vision was to create a $35 million Alpine Village, which he estimated would attract 2.5 million visitors a year.
Plans for the resort included an Audio Animatronic show featuring a bear band. Imagineers Marc Davis and animator Al Bertino developed the concept, planning it as a restaurant show.
After Walt Disney’s death, plans for Mineral King fell through and the company decided to utilize the singing bears in Walt Disney World as an opening day attractions.
2. Saying Goodbye
Two week before his death, Walt Disney stopped in to visit Marc Davis at work. He looked over Davis’s character sketches for the bear band and laughed at the images. As the story goes, Walt then told Davis goodbye, something he did not typically say. It was the last time that Davis ever saw Walt.
3. Francis Xavier Atencio
Disney legend Francis “X” Atencio worked on Disney Attractions like the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, even writing the lyrics to iconic songs like Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me) and Grim Grinning Ghosts.
“I had no musical background at all,” Atencio said. “I never played an instrument or sang in a church choir or anything. It was just a case of coming up with the lyrics and having somebody like Buddy Baker or George Bruns do the music for it.”
In addition to his work on the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, Atencio wrote the lyrics to the Country Bears’ “Bear Band Serenade,” with music by composer George Bruns.
4. Big Al
The portly guitar picker Big Al has established himself as one of the Country Bear Jamboree’s most popular characters. The hefty bear with saggy jowls was designed as a cartoonish portrait of animator Al Bertino. Country singer Tex Ritter provided the voice for Big Al, singing the title track from his 1960s album Blood on the Saddle.
5. The Country Bear Christmas Special
The popularity of the original Country Bear Jamboree led Disney to create the Country Bear Christmas Special in 1984. The Country Bears dressed in Christmas attire and sang a variety of Christmas songs. It marked the first time a Disney Attraction received a seasonal overlay.
6. The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown
Two years after the debut of the Country Bear Christmas Special, Disneyland replaced the original Jamboree with the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown. A few months later, Walt Disney World made the change as well. The new show featured the Country Bears dressed in a variety of vacation related garb and singing songs like On the Road Again, Rocky Top, Singin’ in the Rain, and Ghost Riders in the Sky.
The Hoedown remained at Walt Disney World until 1992, when the original Country Bear Jamboree returned.