Sequins, prayer and bone rattling roller coasters. Visit to Dollywood May 2015

DollywoodI am the biggest Dolly Parton fan on the planet. I’ve passed the turnoff to go to Dollywood many times while on tour but was never able to go. That all changed recently when I met my mom and her husband for the thrill of a lifetime. I know, it seems weird for a feminist folksinger like me to go all gaga over someone known for sequined gowns and big hair. However, I’ve always admired her strength, intelligence and positive energy, not to mention the fact that she can sing the bejesus out of any song and write songs better than almost anyone I know. But I digress … come with me on my journey to Dollywood. 

20150526_110829There was a 50% chance of rain that day but armed with umbrellas, we were ready. Short of a hurricane, we were going to Dollywood. Probably because of the forecast, we didn’t have to wait in line long to get the shuttle to the gate and then, to get inside. The first thing we did, of course, was get the obligatory photo in front of the Dollywood entrance sign.

Then we decided to get to the roller coasters before the rain hit. Mom and I love them. We headed for the Mystery Mine ride. I’m pretty sure Mom was the oldest person in line. She’s in her late seventies and that may be a surprise but this is the same woman who jumped out of an airplane three years ago. We waited while they tested the ride. The line was long but the scenery, entertaining, with everything made up to look like a mine, including entertaining signs.

20150526_122531I didn’t see Fred. Good thing because the ride rattled my brain enough that I’m not sure I could walk, much less load anything. Here’s a view of the ride, going straight up:

Dollywood mine ride

After downing a couple of Tylenol –  the cure for all brain rattling — we got in line for another coaster. I couldn’t tell you the name. Maybe I needed something stronger than Tylenol. At any rate, after that, we opted for more sedate rides, like the Ferris wheel:

Dollywood trainThe train didn’t require any medication either. They have a real steam locomotive that goes around the entire park. Very loud but exciting. After the three of us slid onto one of the bench seats, a woman in a sensible straw hat and just-so lipstick pointed to the space beside me and asked if I was saving a seat for my husband. I glanced over at Mom who was grinning and waiting to see how I’d respond. Sometimes I think, Is this an education moment? Or do I just let it go and simply say, “No”? I opted for the latter. She got in with her husband and little granddaughter. Then she asked, “Where is he?” Okay, you asked.

She’s overseas.”

Beat one … two. She kept her smile but something changed in her eyes. “Oh? Where?”


“That’s in Afghanistan, right?”



“No, Red Cross.”

We chatted another minute before the train started up. I enjoyed the ride. As we pulled back into the depot she turned toward me and said, “I’ll pray for your wife.”

Some people who aren’t Christians take offense at statements like that, but I figure it means she’s thinking good thoughts about my partner and that’s not a bad thing. Plus, she said “wife” even though I never used the word. She acknowledged our relationship.  Maybe the next time she’s at a church potluck and someone says something nasty about LGBT folks, she’ll remember the nice lesbian she met on a train at Dollywood.

Dollywod cupThere are several areas at the park, each around a theme, like Timber Canyon and Owen’s Farm. We made our way to Craftsman’s Valley and perused the shops featuring woodworking, glass work and more, often with crafts people actually making the art. And of course, there’s the usual kitsch you see at amusement parks, with everything from t-shirts to wind chimes, all with the Dollywood name or her likeness. I indulged in a cup. It has “I will always love you” in several different languages. Pink, of course.

Dolly PartonDolly wasn’t at the park that day. Disappointing but I understand that she’s a busy woman. Her music and likeness were everywhere, though. The next best thing was hearing live music and there’s plenty of it there. We stopped in a theater to hear a bluegrass/country gospel group for a while, then we encountered this adorable kid’s band on the street:

Dig the fiddle player’s haircut.

Everyone there was so friendly. We didn’t encounter surly employees like I’ve found at other parks. I hope that’s because it’s a decent working environment. I heard that Dolly’s family works there. I was tempted to ask each employee if they were related but I decided to be on good behavior. Or maybe that part of my brain was damaged on the mine ride.

Of course we ate junk food. At one point I had a craving for ice cream that was so strong I would’ve traded my car for a cone. Fortunately, I didn’t have to and found a stand where I bought a cone of soft chocolate ice cream bigger than my head.

Dollywood gownsToward the entrance, on our way out, we found the Dolly museum. Damn! I wish I’d seen it earlier in the day. We only had twenty minutes until it closed, not near enough time to see all her beautiful gowns, some with matching accessories.

dollywood awards

I loved seeing her awards. The Grammys are in the middle.

Dollywood coat of many colorsMy absolute favorite, though, was seeing the coat of many colors, the one that inspired her song. Next to it, a handwritten copy of the lyrics, probably done when she first wrote it, judging by the number of crossed out lines. I stood there for the longest time, thinking about the integrity of her music and how she includes true stories from her childhood. A lot of country starts pretend they’re simple folk from the mountains. Dolly really is.

There were video screens everywhere that feature her performances as well as photos of friends and family. It’s clear there’s a lot of love in this place.

All too soon, it was time to go. It never did rain. Maybe it was those little kids singing “I Saw the Light” or maybe the clouds were blinded by all those sequins.


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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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8 Responses to Sequins, prayer and bone rattling roller coasters. Visit to Dollywood May 2015

  1. Thanks for taking its along. Your descriptions almost made me feel like I was there. Bucket list!

  2. Terry guzauckas says:

    She is one of my idols. Thanks for sharing.

  3. mmadeincanada007 says:

    I think I’ve just been to Dollywood! Thanks for sharing this beautiful experience!

  4. ScotaSister says:

    My great-aunt fed her breakfast many times. I went to Dollywood a few years back. I live in Knoxville. I am in (yes,*kin*) to any one whose families lived in Sevier County before 1940. That’s the Maples line. Go back far enough on my father’s side, and you run into my Mother’s side. I am a direct descendant of Martha Huskey who, along with her sons founded a little village a few miles up the road. They named it White Oak Flats. Today it is called Gatlinburg.

    The sign prohibiting women from entering the mine may draw a chuckle, but it is sobering to note that my partner of 24 years tried to get a job in a nearby mine in Southeastern Kentucky. A twy-year course to be a Certified Electrician’s Helper did no good whatsoever. The legend of bad luck to a mine that employs wimmin is alive and well today.

    I know you are a kind and giving soul, Jamie, so do not take this personally. I AM AN APPALACHIAN WOMON. I live in an urban area, but women and womyn here are stuck in a time warp. They haven’t quite made it to the 70s yet. I speak of my Appalachian Sisters. They are mostly white Christian Republican racist misogynists.

    A few years back, 2 people died and several others injured when a disgruntled ex-member burst into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church here in Knoxville firing a handgun. The children were performing “Annie”. He was angry because TVUUC had posted a sign near the entrance declaring that they were a welcoming congregation with regard to the LGBT community, completed with the obligatory rainbow. Welcome to Appalachia, urban or not

    I am upset, so I hope you understand that invoking Dollywood is a trigger for me. Please don’t cry. I saw you cry once in 2011 at the Girl Scout singing workshop. I really needed that workshop. Immediately prior to that I gave a workshop on Appalachian womyn. The sweet memories of Girl Scout Tanasi Council Camp Tanasi helped to heal me in part. I went to camp from age 7 to 12. The Amazon imprint on my little brain is rooted there.

    I close by saying that the word ” hillbilly” is an ethnic slur. You bet I’m a hillbilly. I wear shoes. I have a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee that I earned while raising two children, caring for a dependent elder, working as a home health aide and dealing with a partner with major depressive disorder. I am an Appalachian womyn.

    And you can’t just take my dreams away.

    -from the Heart of the Goddess of the Ten Thousand names


  5. Pingback: The 40th National Women’s Music Festival, 2015: there were angels, right? | Jamiebobamie

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