Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton accomplishments: 6 reasons why we love her

It turns out, East Tennessee is a matriarchy.

Sure, there are some popular men ‘round these parts, most of them former Volunteer football players in descending order from Peyton Manning.

But while we may have a few kings, in Tennessee, there is only one queen: Dolly Parton.

Ain’t nobody doesn’t like Dolly.

Born and raised in the hills of Sevier County – where the seat of her vast empire remains – Dolly used her immense talents and a keen business sense to rise to levels of fame that only a few reach.

Of living icons known the world over, there’s Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jordan, Pele and Dolly Parton.

While East Tennesseans are happy to share Dolly and her accomplishments with the world, there is no place where she is beloved like her hometown.

Why do we love Dolly Parton?

Well, let us count the ways.

6. Her music

“If you talk bad about country music, it’s like saying bad things about my momma. Them’s fightin’ words.”

One of Dolly’s many famous “Dollyisms”

First, few songwriters have had longer, more successful careers than Dolly.

McCartney? Paul Simon? Stevie Wonder? You won’t find Dolly mentioned among the all-time greats as often as she should be.

Some of that is genre bias, but also some of it is that Dolly’s other successes overshadow the massive talent that got her started. A quick perusal of her work shows massive hits and cultural touchstones, spread across multiple decades.

That kind of success and longevity is rare, but the talent doesn’t stop at songwriting.

A natural performer, Dolly was singing on the radio before she was 10.

Her voice – with that East Tennessee accent – was perfect for the coming wave of country music.

She could (and can) duet with almost anyone and in a genre that fell into cookie-cutter traps periodically, she consistently stood out both with her musical choices and her voice.

Dolly Parton in front of a microphone
Dolly Parton is undoubtedly one of the best singers and songwriters of our generation (2019 photo by Carl Beust/shutterstock.com)

5. Her acting

“I’m not going to limit myself just because people won’t accept the fact that I can do something else.”

Dollyism

Dolly is a natural performer and her charm and charisma pop every time she’s on the screen. Whether she is co-starring with Burt Reynolds, playing in ensemble casts or taking a turn making Johnny Carson blush on the Tonight Show, few people in the world are blessed with more natural talent than Dolly.

It’s the realm of her empire she’s probably developed the least, often playing Dolly Parton-esque roles.

But watch some of the tender moments in “Steel Magnolias” and you’ll see Parton holding her own with some of the most talented actresses of the 70s, 80s and 90s.

4. Her look

“I’m like a cartoon! I’ll look this way when I’m eighty. I can see it now, people will be rolling me around in a wheelchair and I’ll still have my big hair, nails, my high heels and my boobs stuck out!”

Dollyism

From her over-the-top outfits, to her liberal use of rhinestones to her iconic collection of blonde wigs, Dolly’s iconic look is unapologetically like a 1950s mountain girl version of Barbie. Dolly has no interest in looking like anybody else.

“I’ve often made the statement that I’d never stoop so low as to be fashionable. That’s the easiest thing in the world to do,” she told Barbara Walters in 1977. 

She even famously once entered a drag queen celebrity impersonator contest as herself and lost.

But it’s more than just her look. It’s the disarming way she handles herself, both bawdy and somehow sweet, like a bubbly, country version of Mae West.

Archive photo of Dolly Parton in a car
While Dolly Parton likes to play the role of a stereotypical blonde, she has a brilliant sense of humor (archive 1990s photo by Bart Sherkow/shutterstock.com)

3. Her sense of humor

“I know some of the best Dolly Parton jokes. I made ’em up myself.”

Dolly in a 1980 interview with Roger Ebert

Among her many talents, Dolly Parton is quick-witted and genuinely funny.

She likes to play the role of a stereotypical blonde, but Dolly’s sense of humor reveals a quick, agile mind. Brash, bawdy and brilliant.

Dolly is always quick to make a joke at her own expense, often pushing the limits of what might be considered good taste if normal humans attempted it.

But with Dolly? No one ever takes offense. She’s a conversationalist in the tradition of Mark Twain, a natural-born storyteller. Watch Dolly work a room for 10 minutes and you’re guaranteed a handful of lols.

Read Also: Where is Dolly Parton’s childhood home? Is it still there?

2. Her business acumen

“I look like a woman but think like a man and in this world of business that has helped me a lot … by the time they think that I don’t know what’s going on, I done got the money and gone.”

Dollyism

From day one, Dolly was hustling. Underestimated because of her looks, her background, her accent, Dolly happily played her role, set the pieces on the chessboard and checkmated local entertainment impresarios before moving to Nashville, then Hollywood and doing the same thing time and again.

She’s built herself into a conglomerate and Dollywood, her namesake park, has grown from the rinky-dink former Silver Dollar City into truly one of the best theme/amusement parks in the country.

Growing by leaps and bounds, Dollywood is in a position to rival anyone in the country except maybe for Disney – and Walt had a 50-year head start.

Read Also: Dollywood history: A look back at Rebel Railroad, Goldrush Junction

Dolly Parton at an event for the imagination library
Dolly Parton’s charity, the Imagination Library, has provided millions of books to children (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

1. Her local and global philanthropy

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”

Dollyism

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a program that began providing a book a month to children in Sevier County from birth to age 5, quickly grew to all of Tennessee – then the United States.

Now, Imagination Library serves Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

In 2016, when wildfires burned Sevier County and took the lives of 14 people, injured 134 more and cost millions upon millions of dollars to her home community, Dolly stepped up and organized massive fundraising.

Her My People Fund promised each family which had lost its primary residence in the fires $1,000 a month for the next five months.

When she arrived to help dole out the final payments, she brought the nearly 900 families an unexpected bonus – another $5,000 each for a total of $10,000 per family.

Then, Dolly revealed another surprise – the creation of the Mountain Tough organization to provide ongoing support to fire victims over the next three years and the pledge to fund it with at least $3 million.

Dolly Parton may live in homes in Nashville or Malibu or wherever in the world, but her actions showed her home remains in East Tennessee. 

Do you have any additions to our list? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tips and tricks for Dollywood: 9 things to know before you go

The first time I set foot in Pigeon Forge was 1987. 

A 12-year-old Hoosier, I came to the South with my aunt and uncle. We played mini-golf, stayed in what was then a nice hotel (it’s gone significantly downhill) and did other things popular with tourists in the region at the time.  

I don’t remember any desire to go to Dollywood, even though certainly I knew who Dolly Parton was – chiefly through her movies playing over and over again on HBO.

In fact, HBO is the reason I thought Dabney Coleman was the biggest actor in the world. 

Dollywood would have only been a year old at the time – having converted from Silver Dollar City in 1985. It was still making its mark on the national scene. As a kid, the idea of Dollywood was still kind of strange. Dolly was a big star, but she wasn’t exactly Walt Disney. 

Four years later, my step-dad got transferred to East Tennessee, and Pigeon Forge went from being an exotic – for Hoosiers – vacation locale to basically my backyard. 

Dollywood tips and tricks

In the intervening years, Dollywood had already made great strides, beginning a 30-year journey from curiosity to a legitimately great theme park.

And as Dollywood has grown, I have as well. Over the years, I have learned to adopt certain tips and tricks to make going to Dollywood even more fun.

Here are a few tips only the insiders know that can make your trip better.

Read Also: How to save money at Dollywood: 6 tips from a pro

Crowds come to Pigeon Forge for an unofficial Rod Run event (Photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Pigeon Forge traffic can be especially bad during special events, weekends and holidays (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

1. Avoid Pigeon Forge traffic

During peak hours, traffic in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg can steal tiny pieces of your soul.

Did you go on vacation for mind-numbing hours of debilitating gridlock? Oops. Sorry.

Sevier County officials, and presumably the Tennessee Department of Transportation, have done a lot of work to open up the entrances and help move people through. However, there are still plenty of times it’d be quicker to walk the length of the main drag than try and drive it.

Depending on where you’re coming from, there are some shortcuts.

The best way to get to Dollywood when the traffic is bad is to take Highway 411, which you can access from the east or north from I-40 at Newport or from the south or west by taking the Chapman Highway exit off I-40 in Knoxville. 

Either way, take 411 to the intersection with Veterans Boulevard.

This used to be a little-known backroad, used only by locals, but the road has been widened and provides a bunch of lanes heading to the park. More people know about it, more people use it, but it is still vastly superior to taking the Parkway.

If you’re staying in Pigeon Forge proper, the Veterans Boulevard shortcut is useless. Instead, you might want to consider Teaster Lane if you can get to it.

It runs parallel to the Parkway and connects to the other end of Veterans Boulevard. It won’t help if you’re on the Southwest side of Pigeon Forge or coming from Gatlinburg, but it’s still a useful road.

Read Also: Tips on how to avoid traffic in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg

Guests riding the tram on opening day
Guests ride the Dollywood tram on a rainy day (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

2. Get free parking at Dollywood

The whole building-upon-an-already-existing site was great except for some of the transportation logistics.

There’s plenty of parking at Dollywood, but the tram system to and from park to parking lot can be one of the closest things to a disappointment you’ll find under less-than-ideal circumstances.

The drivers are great and friendly, but it’s just an outdated way to move people. Imagine you and 100 of your new best friends cramming in a disorganized queue and freezing to death waiting for an open-air ride back to the car in December.

There’s a fairly easy way to avoid all that mess. Straight cash.

Standard parking is $20. Preferred parking is $35.

You’re already laying down serious cash just to get in the park and enjoy the day. The upgrade to park close, avoid the queue crush and not have to ride the tram is the best deal they offer. 

But here’s the real pro-tip: Gold season passholders receive FREE standard parking and a discount on preferred.

So if your family is considering season passes this year, consider making at least one of those passes a gold pass to enjoy the free parking benefit – plus a variety of lodging, ticket and in-park discounts including food.

One word of caution: The preferred lot is on top of a mountain. The walk down to the exclusive entrance can be a bit rough on the knees, but the climb back is brutal if you have mobility issues.

If you’re staying in Pigeon Forge, with a $3 wristband, you can also catch a trolley to Patriot Park and then transfer to a trolley to Dollywood.

Bonus pro-tip: Guests staying at DreamMore receive complimentary shuttle service to both Dollywood and Splash Country. That’s right, they get to skip this whole parking nonsense altogether. The more you know …

Read Also: Is DreamMore worth it? An honest review of Dollywood’s resort

For additional parking information, check out the Dollywood website.

Remember, whichever way you park, booking with Tripster can sometimes save you a few bucks off of your admission ticket.

Plan your footwear accordingly (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
You will walk a lot at Dollywood, so plan your footwear accordingly (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Plan ahead for a lot of walking

Look, many amusement parks have the good luck and/or foresight to be built on a relatively flat piece of land.

One of Disney’s best ideas was building his park on the flat second story. You walk up a little at the entrance and then never realize the Magic Kingdom is set on a roof.

Dollywood ain’t that. There are hills, mountains, dips, dives and hollers.

Plan your footwear accordingly. If you have mobility issues, they have scooters for rent, but on busy days they can get a little scarce.

If you’re wondering whether or not to bring your chair or rent one, I’d say bring it. 

Free water cups are available at most snack stands and restaurants (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Free water cups are available at most snack stands and restaurants (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

4. Take advantage of the free water at Dollywood

If you’re at Dollywood, there’s a good chance it’s hot and humid.

For those of us from the area, it’s part of life in the South, but if you’re visiting from somewhere with a less sticky, thick summer environment, it can be a bit of an adjustment.

Throw in the walking up and down hills and hollers and you’re going to need to replace some sweat.

Dollywood recognizes this and also knows it’s not a fantastic look to have patrons dropping left and right from heatstroke. As such, the park offers complimentary cups of water at all park restaurants and most food outlets. All you have to do is ask.

Dollywood also allows guests to bring their own water into the park.

Also, water fountains are located near all restrooms.

You can also refill those popcorn buckets with pork rinds, for a reduced price (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
You can also refill those popcorn buckets with pork rinds, for a reduced price (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

5. Purchase refillable mugs and snacks

Dollywood is a family-centric park. They also understand how expenses like food and beverage tend to add up once inside the park, especially for larger families. 

But never fear – Dollywood offers a variety of refillable drink and snack options that will keep the entire family hydrated and well-fed throughout the day without breaking the bank.

Refillable options include:

  1. Souvenir mugs
  2. Popcorn buckets
  3. Dippin’ Dots

Refillable souvenir mugs can be reused multiple times per season. You can even bring in souvenir mugs from previous seasons, but the discount isn’t quite as good. 

You can also refill those popcorn buckets with pork rinds for a reduced price.

A family rides Dollywood's Lightning Rod (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
A family rides Dollywood’s Lightning Rod (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

6. Have your kids measured at the park entrance

This little nugget is a huge time-saver.

If you have kids old enough to enjoy some of the rides at Dollywood, your first stop once inside the park should be at Dollywood’s centralized measuring station. 

The measuring station is across from the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame Showstreet. 

At the measuring station, a Dollywood host will measure your child and give them a color-coded wristband. 

The color codes correspond with signs at each ride in the park that indicate whether or not your child will be tall enough to ride before you waste an hour in line only to be turned away in disappointment.

Read Also: Dollywood rides ranked: 10 best coasters and rides in the park

Ride cubbies at Blazing Fury hold loose items for guests while they ride (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)
Ride cubbies at Blazing Fury hold loose items for guests while they ride the coaster (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Skip the lockers, use the cubbies

There’s a reason Dollywood is known as the “Friendliest Park in the World” and a large part of that reason is the little things like ride cubbies.

Yes, Dollywood offers lockers in which you can store your valuables for a price near the entrance like every other park in the world.

But unlike others (I’m looking at you, Universal) Dollywood recognizes that you might have stuff you need throughout the day that you’d rather not take on a ride or store in a locker. And so, Dollywood offers ride cubbies – places where you can store your stuff.

Plus, ride cubbies are free.

They’re not necessarily secure (honor system is in play here), so if you have the Hope Diamond on you, you might want to consider an alternate storage method.

But still, it’s nice to be able to ride without clutching your sunglasses, or purse or whatever throughout. 

Dolly performs at Dollywood (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)
Dolly performs at Dollywood (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

8. See Dolly at Dollywood

This is the big one. Dolly will occasionally make appearances at the park to announce the latest big show or ride or something.

These occasions are hard to pinpoint in advance and may just come down to the luck of the draw.

The best shot to see Dolly is early in the year. Normally, there’s a media day at which Dolly (schedule permitting) kicks off the new year with a little show and song.

During the show, she also celebrates season passholders and makes several appearances in the park (weather permitting) including riding in the daily parade.

If you want to see Dolly, this is the best way to do it. Ask park officials when the passholder celebration is, and you’ll have a decent chance to see Dolly.

Is that Dolly in disguise in line for the Blazing Fury? The world may never know (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)
Is that Dolly in line for the Blazing Fury? The world may never know (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

 9. See Dolly in the wild (incognito) at Dollywood 

Over the years, I have become friendly with several people who work at the park, both on the operations side and on the entertainment side.

All have told me it is the gospel truth that Dolly has been able to take off her persona – wig, makeup and fancy outfits – and take in the park without being noticed.

I have been told by many reliable sources this is true, but I’ve never heard of someone successfully spotting an incognito Dolly riding the Tennessee Tornado. 

Still, it’s probably worth keeping your eyes peeled for a little Where’s Waldo action – Dollywood style. 

If you plan a trip to Dollywood, remember to check Tripster to save a couple of dollars off admission.

Have you been to Dollywood? Give us your best tips in the comments.

Why is there a Dolly Parton statue? A brief history, where to find it

There’s a bit of danger in commissioning a statue. 

First, of a practical nature, what if something isn’t quite right?

I’m thinking about the infamous bust of soccer player Christian Renaldo. Which turned one of the best-looking men in the world into an evil-eyed psycho.

Instead of a tribute, whoever commissioned that work got infinite rounds of mocking internet memes and a front-page listing in the book of cautionary tales. 

But there are other dangers. If the subject of the statue is living, there’s a chance that something could go wrong. We’ll call this the OJ Simpson corollary.

In 1990, either the city of Buffalo or the University of Southern California would have been perfectly justified in commissioning a statue to honor a favorite son. 

Just a couple of years later, all they would have had was a very difficult-to-explain landmark. 

But there are also times that creating a statue to honor a native son or daughter is a no-brainer. Such is the case with the Dolly Parton.

Dolly Parton’s statue is located at the Sevier County courthouse where it regularly receives seasonal decor such as this festive lei necklace for Independence Day (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Where is the statue of Dolly Parton located?

Dolly Parton’s statue is located on the grounds of the Sevier County courthouse in downtown Sevierville. 

When the statue was dedicated in 1987, Dolly was already one of the most beloved women in the world.

A talented songwriter, singer, musician and actress, she was just embarking on an endeavor to show off her business acumen as Silver Dollar City was rechristened Dollywood. 

Tack on her legendary philanthropy efforts and the only issue with Dolly’s statue is that there aren’t more of them. Sevier County should issue a series of Dolly statues at various stages of her life and locate them all around the county. 

Dolly is truly a native daughter that can’t be celebrated enough. 

But let’s return to the statue we do have, that made its debut more than 30 years ago.

Now, I don’t like to brag. But I’ve seen a few statues in my day, and in my humble opinion, this one is among the best I’ve seen. 

Dolly Parton’s statue was created by artist and sculptor Jim Gray (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Who created the statue of Dolly Parton in Sevierville?

Created by Jim Gray, the statue is an excellent representation of Dolly’s spirit. 

There’s a joy of heart present that transcends the cold bronze of which it is made. It reminds me, honestly, of Peter Pan’s statue in Hyde Park in London.

It captures a puckish spirit, that I find befitting a young Dolly. I can picture her running around the mountains like something out of an East Tennessee Shakespeare play. 

Dolly is more than a local girl made good. She’s a sprite, a fairy, a being of light and magic who has made the world a better place. 

In this imagining, Dolly sits on a rock, hair pulled back and holding her beloved guitar.

Her rolled-up jeans give the impression of her bare feet dipping into a frigid mountain stream on a warm summer day. 

A butterfly rests near one of the guitar’s frets and Dolly looks off into the distance with a beaming smile. 

In a way, it’s interesting that this is the season of Dolly’s life they chose to portray. I guess it makes sense, logically. A young Dolly with big dreams.

But this isn’t the Dolly most of America knows.

This is an unadorned young woman. Not the giant star who built her reputation on elaborate outfits, outlandish talent and a bawdy sense of humor that charmed the rest of the world. 

What did Dolly Parton say about the statue?

In a Youtube video uploaded in 2011, Dolly talks about her statue.

“I’ve had the good fortune of getting to travel all over this world. I’ve had all kinds of wonderful awards. But I think probably one of the things I’m proudest of in my whole career, my whole life, really, is this statue of me in the courthouse yard in Sevierville.”

She says in the video that her dad would try to humble her a bit by telling her, “To your fans, you may be some sort of an idol, but to the pigeons down at the courthouse, you’re just another outhouse.”

“My dad was so sweet, he was proud of it,” Dolly continued.

“They told me later before my dad died … he used to sneak out at night, late after the town had kinda calmed down and go down and scrub the pigeon poop off my statue. I know that you think I’m tryin’ to be funny, but I’m not, cause I cried my eyes out when I heard that.”

It’s been 30 years since the statue was built. I imagine she’s used to it, but I wonder what it’s like for Dolly to roll past that likeness of herself every time she comes back to town.

It must be odd to have a life-size version of your younger self, frozen in time ready to star in dozens of selfies at a moment’s notice. 

I picture Dolly going there on quiet evenings and communing with herself.

I’ve long been told – and believed – that Dolly is able to move around Sevierville, and her park, virtually unrecognized without makeup and wigs.

I like the idea that she can shed the butterfly wings she painted for herself and crawl back into the comfortable cocoon of who she was before the world knew her name.

I like the idea that the young mountain girl forever perched on that rock can visit with the woman she became.

Have you ever seen the Dolly Parton statue in Sevierville? Let us know what you think about it in the comments below!