Pigeon Forge is the glitz to Gatlinburg’s rustic as tourists approach the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s where Dolly Parton is from, and many of the attractions have the famed country singer’s stamp all over them.
We had heard about the Dixie Stampede, so on our recent sojourn to East Tennessee we decided to take in the country-style dinner theater. It’s one of a kind, nonstop entertainment from start to finish.
A word of warning: While the food is sumptuous, it is served entirely without utensils. So if you are fastidious about getting your hands greasy you may not enjoy it.
We were ushered into the “carriage room” for the opening act, a string band titled Mountain Ruckus, consisting of a banjo, guitar and string bass. It’s an old-fashioned saloon (minus spirits) where you can order up a variety of beverages and popcorn to whet your appetite, and appropriately costumed saloon girls bring it right to your table. In anticipation of an impending full meal, we decided to pass, although we picked up one of the souvenir boot-mugs somebody left behind when we headed for the arena.
Dixie Stampede is in fact a Dolly Parton enterprise, though quite understandably her personal presence is limited to Memorex. The show is a modern-day Wild West revue, themed around a contest between North and South. We were on the north side, though I don’t recall if we specified it when we ordered our tickets or not – but somehow all the Northerners were on our side and the Tennessee-Alabama-North Carolina-Georgia crowd were across the way.
The show begins, and then the servers start bringing the meal. We had a whole rotisserie chicken, barbecue pork loin, creamy vegetable soup (the bowl had a handle so you could drink it), a homemade biscuit, corn on the cob, herb-basted baked potato and a melt-in-your-mouth iced apple turnover, plus choice of beverage (we opted for Diet Pepsi). All of it had to be eaten with the hands.
It was all delivered with assembly-line efficiency, and they kept our drinks filled as well. When the meal was over each guest received a hot towel, the better to restore your hands in time to reach in your wallet for a tip.
The downside was it all happened while the show was going on, requiring divided attention.
Besides 32 horses and riders, there were races – pigs, chickens, ostriches, even lumberjacks. They were timed and the points added to determine the North vs. South winner. That night the South won.
But Dolly, on video, smoothed it over on the finale. “In reality there is no North or South, there is no East or West,” she said. “We are all Americans, and we all love freedom.” That led into her final number, “Color Me America.”
The next day we visited Dollywood, opting for the many sitdown shows and museums instead of rides. At our age it’s much more appropriate.
Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.