34 New Things: Go To Dollywood

Every year I make a list of new things I want to try.  Some are super easy, some are difficult, some are so boring I’m sure you think “this is not worthy of a post, Von Bargen.”  You can read about previous shenanigans here. Photos two and ten by Meredith Westin

I would like to preface this post by telling you that my love for Dolly Parton is 100% unironic.

I wrote a paper about her as part of my M.A.  I pretty much planned this road trip around the date that Dollywood reopens for spring.  I can give you a bullet-pointed list of all the reason’s she’s worthy of non-tongue-in-cheek praise:

She moved to Nashville the day after she graduated from high school
* She’s written 3,000+ songs (including ‘I Will Always Love You‘)
* She’s been married to the same non-famous guy for 46 years and had the same best friend since fourth grade
* Her charity has provided millions (!) of books to disadvantaged children all over the world
* She’s funny
* In a generation where motherhood was expected, she chose not to have children and has no regets
* She wrote a song in support of the transgendered community
*  She says things like this:
You’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try
and this
Many an old boy has found out too late that I may look like a woman, but I think like a man. It is a great mistake to think that because I look soft I do business that way.
I just love her so much.  So much!
So I had to give myself a little talk before Meredith and I arrived at the gates of Dollywood.
“Manage your expectations, self.  It’ll probably be lots of rollercoasters and staff wearing gingham and maybe there’s a Dolly museum in the corner.”

But Dollywood did not disappoint, friends.

A museum full of her costumes, awards, and photos.  A poke around her tour bus (included: makeup table and wigs!). Surprisingly affordable souvenirs that are just as awesomely gaudy as you’d hope (I got two shirts: one with rhinestones, one with fringe).  Four theaters with hourly live performances.  A hilarious ‘multi-sensory experience’ from 1986 that included pseudo 3d, animated butterflies, and real, actual rain inside the theater.

Most excitingly, we saw the lady herself – twice!  Once as a surprise at the end of a circus performance and once in the parade.  She still sounds lovely – her voice is so sweet! – but she’s looking about how you’d expect a 66-year-old woman who’s had extensive plastic surgery to look.

It matters not, Dolly.  I will always love you.

Have you ever been to Dollywood?  And do you love her, too?

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  1. Amber-Rose Thomas

    I LOVE this post. I have never been to Dollywood, and despite loving many of her songs I doubt I'll ever go. But Dolly is certainly a darling thing, and a fantastic woman.

  2. Cassie @ Witty Title Here

    That quote ("You'll never do a whole lot unless you're brave enough to try") is in the beginning of my mom's YA novel… which Dolly blurbed. Lots of love for her in my house, too. 🙂

    Looks like a freaking awesome time.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      That's so cool! Gotta love a Dolly-loving family! 🙂

  3. Kaitlin Marie

    I adore her in "9 to 5"! She's fantastic!

  4. Destrehan's Daughter

    I heart Dolly Parton so much. I used to watch her TV show as a kid, and she came to New Orleans, my hometown once, I freaked out. She stepped into this boat that is in the alligator exhibit at the zoo and I think of her every time I go. Her songs are amazing, she's awesome, and if you haven't seen her movie with Sylvestor Stallone, you are missing out!

  5. Mandy

    You are living the dream!!! I love Dolly. I saw her perform at the Hollywood Bowl a couple summers ago, and she put on a show! She played so many instruments, was hilarious, and performed for a full two and a half hours. She's an amazing performer and person to boot!

  6. L.

    i love dolly to the point that my friends worried for a while. my love is completely unironic as well. she is a lovely firecracker.

  7. Alyssa

    I grew up in Knoxville, TN, which is about 45 minutes away from Dollywood, so I've been there more times than I can count. It was a huge part of my childhood. I love the park, and I love Dolly too for all of the reasons you listed. She has such a great sense of humor, even self-deprecating at times. If you haven't yet, you should check out her book, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. It's definitely worth the read.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Alyssa, I OWN that book! I did my MA in Applied Linguistics and for our Socio/Psycho Linguistics course we had to write our final paper on an autobiography and how the author chose to communicate their identity through word choice. And I wrote mine on Dolly and that book!

    • Allison

      I would LOVE to read that paper.

    • Alyssa

      That's too awesome! I would love to read that paper as well. 😀

  8. Chelsea Shannon

    Dollywood is on my list to be sure and I love her dearly – she's this wonderful force for positivity!

  9. Rachel

    You and Meredith are SO CUTE. Look at M's little pose! And your pretty faces! AND THAT COAT! AAAH!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Hahaha! Did I tell you that I discovered I can remove the sleeves AND WEAR IT JUST AS A FUR VEST?!

  10. michelle

    Oh God. I love her so much I got a little teary just reading this. I have her "Trio" album that she did with Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt framed in my house. A must listen!!

  11. Allison

    I'm planning a trip to Dollywood! It looks just as amazing as I imagined it to be. I totally recommend getting her latest book "Dream More" on audiobook. Her narration is amazing & it's so inspirational to listen along to her.

  12. LynnieBee

    My best friend worked at Dollywood for several seasons in a few of the different stage shows. He got to sing with Dolly several times and he said she is absolutely as nice in person as she appears to be onstage. He said she is very gracious and kind and speaks respectfully to everyone, from the people onstage with her to the people that sweep the floor 🙂 I was so happy to learn that about her 🙂

  13. Creole Wisdom

    Fun! I knew people who had visited years ago and was always a bit interested. Love that you lover her 🙂 Country music is full of unique and brave individuals who are important to the fabric of our country's history, Dolly is no exception! I do like her, my favorite is her acting in "9 to 5" though. Have you seen it? You'd love it. It is hilarious!

  14. Christine

    Love Dolly Parton! In Myrtle Beach, SC, she had opened the attraction, "Dixie Stampede" which was LOADS of country western fun!

  15. Anonymous

    My parents took me to Dollywood several times when I was younger and I still have to little pink parasol they bought me as a souvenir!

  16. Jamillah

    I LOVE Dolly! Totally unironically and completely without shame. She is really an extraordinary person and holy crap you saw her twice!??! I had reservations of visiting Dollywood b/c I thought it would underwhelming, but happy to hear it isn't!

    The link to "has no regrets." Isn't working for me :(, totally want to read that business.

  17. veemoze

    I've never been to Dollywood, but I'm dying to go! In one of my hospitality management classes, I wrote a paper about Dollywood and its commitment to theme/branding 🙂 My dad met Dolly Parton on an airplane about twenty years ago and he said she was one of the nicest people. I can believe it! She seems amazing. Best of luck with this!

  18. Courtney

    I have to go next time I'm in TN!

    I just adore that she is so unapologetic AND still so damn charming.

  19. Vanessa

    Dolly Parton always makes me think of my best friends Dad. He was this huge, bearded Liverpudlian with a gruff voice and a thick accent. A few years ago, he passed away suddenly. When we were planning his funeral, his wife suggested that we play a couple of Dolly Parton songs at the service. When she said this, the entire room was like, "Wait, what?" Apparently, he was a massive Dolly Parton fan, to the point where he told his then-wife-to-be that if she couldn't accept his love for Dolly, then they couldn't get married.

    We played Coat of Many Colours and Love is Like a Butterfly at his funeral. And it was beautiful. Exactly the way he would have wanted it.

  20. Heather

    I love Dolly unironically too! She's so funny and unflinchingly honest! I went to Dollywood when I was pretty young (elementary age), and I did not appreciate it as much as I would now. Then it was just another amusement park!

  21. David White

    Dollywood is just great! This is our second trip in a row for the 4th of July.
    I love the atmosphere, and the ride operators and concession stand personnel are all outstanding. They are all manned by persons 60 years and older who show you extreme courtesy and patience no matter how rambuncious that 4 year old of yours is. I like this place so much better than 6 flags, and Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg offer anything you might ever want to do or see.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I totally agree! I went there because I love Dolly, but it's actually a really nice amusement park that can stand on its own. And I noticed the age of the employees as well! They were all sooooo sweet!

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