Senecas to host Sally Marsh’s 50th year of Hootenannies

This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Sally Marsh’s hootenannies. The ever-popular sing-alongs will be presented at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum’s amphitheater all summer.

SALAMANCA — Sally Marsh’s 50th year of Hootenannies is set to start-up again this summer on June 29, but at a different venue. The Seneca Nation has offered to host her hootenannies at the amphitheater outside the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum.

Marsh made the announcement May 7 on Facebook Live from the amphitheater at Allegany State Park (ASP), which she called her “home away from home” for 48 years until COVID-19 led to its cancelation last summer. With her eyes set on the goal of hosting the hootenanny for 50 years, she took the event online and held virtual sing-a-longs during the 49th year.

According to Marsh, the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum offered her the use of their amphitheater to hold her 50th year hootenannies this summer on Tuesday and Thursday nights, so she jumped on it. With the coronavirus regulations, she didn’t want to wait until the last minute then be told there couldn’t be any hootenannies at the park, like last year.

“I decided to accept a great opportunity and do it ‘my way’ this year,” she said. “I really did it for the campers and other people who love the hootenannies, so we could have the 50th.”

Marsh said the hootenannies will take place two days a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from June 29 to Sept. 2. She said people can come early to tour the museum and check out the vendors. From 7 to 8 p.m., they can sing before the program begins or there might be some special guests performing during that time. The hootenannies will start at 8 p.m.

“That way, the crowds won’t be quite so big and there will be plenty of room to social-distance,” she said. “I know it’s not the same and it’s a little ways from the park, but it’s the 50th and we need to celebrate. I’m so excited. People are going to love it there.”

Marsh said this will be the biggest celebration yet, thanks to the continued support of so many people who love the hootenanny. She thanks museum director Joe Stahlman and the entire Seneca-Iroquois National Museum for supporting her and bringing her 50th year of the “Hoots” to their amphitheater.

Marsh’s love of entertaining began when she was a little girl growing up in Salamanca. She said Fentier Village was her life during the years it was open, and that’s where she learned to sing.

In 1971, she started helping at the state park’s sing-a-long as a teenager. She began lifeguarding at the park in 1972 and continued helping with the “hootenanny” event. That’s how it all started — around a campfire with a few people. Over the years it got bigger and better.

For Marsh, it’s pure joy performing at the hootenannies. She always looks forward to going and seeing all the people because they’re like family.

“The kids and families are why I have kept it going for all these years,” she said. “Having fun is what keeps me going.”

Marsh began teaching in 1976 and taught physical education for about 30 years in Rochester, Salamanca, Little Valley and Randolph where she now resides. In addition to the hootenannies, Marsh’s music career included being a member of a country band called Country Sunshine for 20 years. She continues to perform for benefits, senior citizen groups and special occasions.

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, hootenanny attendees successfully broke the Guinness Book of World Records when 356 voices sang 18 verses of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

In August 2014, Marsh organized Smokey Bear’s 70th birthday party that was celebrated at the amphitheater as a fundraiser to bring back movies. She 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” tab published by The Salamanca Press. In July 2016, the Allegany State Park Historical Society honored her with a plaque, and then state Sen. Cathy Young (R-Olean) presented her with a Senatorial Resolution for her 45 years of hosting the park’s hootenannies.

Along with her many supporters and 60 sponsors, Marsh helps local kids and families with her fundraisers. She said they filled backpacks with Christmas gifts for 137 kids last year. So far, they have sold nearly 1,200 presale T-shirts online that will also be available for purchase at the hootenannies this summer.

The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum is located at 82 W. Hetzel St. near I-86 exit 20. Additional details and a schedule will soon be available online at senecamuseum.org and Facebook.

(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at salpressdeb@gmail.com)