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WELCOME TO DOLLYWOOD; PARTON'S AMUSEMENT PARK SINGS PRAISES OF THE GOOD OLD DAYS : ON LOCATION.

Byline: Robert Cross Chicago Tribune

That unmistakable voice spreads a sweet fog across Great Smoky Mountain valleys, over the piney woods and into countless shady hollows.

This is Dolly Parton country, and you cannot easily forget it, particularly when the car radio settles on WDLY-FM 105.5, and a recorded Dolly Parton breaks in frequently to say, ``Hello, this is Dolly. I want to welcome you to my Tennessee mountain home.''

Unfortunately, some outsiders find it hard to feel at home down here. Pigeon Forge, as viewed from teeming U.S. Highway 441, is a seemingly endless string of factory outlets, franchise restaurants, gift shops, Army surplus purveyors, chain motels and country-western music theaters.

Those commercial ventures probably mean well, but a certain category of traveler takes vacations to escape such places, preferring, say, a quiet lake to a Charlie Cheapo's discount store.

Still, that hickory-smoked Dolly Parton voice holds a certain allure. One almost can see the wink and the crooked finger that the voice implies: My Tennessee mountain home is just up the road. C'mon by.

And soon enough, at traffic light No. 8, there it is: a big Dollywood billboard marking Dollywood Lane.

She grew up in these parts during the 1950s, and now she owns this place, so welcome to Dolly's nostalgia. For example, at the Sweet Dreams Candy Co. a sign provides an inkling as to where all this is going: ``Dolly loves candy, and she used to beg her sister Willadeene to make homemade candy every day. Dolly was so persistent that her sister used to say, `You'll just have to have sweet dreams, 'cause I'm not making you any candy today.'''

The park used to be Silver Dollar City before Dolly put her name on it. The Silver Dollar's mountaineer motif remains. So you find long-rifles at the shooting range, a flume ride called Smoky Mountain Rampage and a wood-burning train that circles the park spreading secondhand smoke. It's an Olde Tennessee kind of place, full of biscuits and gravy and twangy guitars but without clear focus on the star.

Fans march right past WDLY Radio Square, Aunt Granny's Dixie Fixins, Lid'l Dolly Dresses and the Lucky 7 Mine to scrutinize the exhibits in Dolly's Museum. This is her rags-to-riches story under glass, a yearbook from Sevier High School, old costumes, posters, record albums, Grand Ole Opry programs. But even in the museum, Dolly Parton's transition from poor little girl to big rich star is difficult to grasp.

Those who study the pictures note that the child never did have hair that looked quite genuine, or a tomboy body or a frown. Her museum shows a quick sprint up the ladder, from singing on grocer Cas Walker's little radio show to the Opry microphones in Nashville at age 13 to spangles and Cadillacs, network TV shows and movies with the likes of Jane Fonda, Julia Roberts, Burt Lancaster and Miss Piggy.

Not far from there, just across the Dollywood Express tracks, visitors come upon the Tennessee Mountain Home, a replica of the two-room cabin where Dolly spent part of her childhood. The sign there says, ``These mountains and my childhood home have a special place in my heart. They inspire my music and my life. I hope being here does the same for you.''

The message is clear: Go with the syrupy, sentimental flow. Picture a country girl with dreams and aspirations in a family poor as church mice - but, mind you, loving, God-fearing, proud and fiercely loyal.

Isn't this town called Dollywood the sort of place where you would want her to grow up? Isn't the W in Dollywood always represented by a butterfly because Dolly realized as a child that Monarch butterflies had a kind of magic dust on their wings and couldn't fly without it?

Over in Daydream Ridge, the little kids mess around in the Critter Creek Playground. Up in Craftsmen's Valley, people are making all sorts of things and selling them too: rustic furniture, wrought iron decorations, woodcarvings, even full-size carriages with a $5,000 sticker price. The Village and the Country Fair are right next to each other. It's an easy walk from the Magic Shop and Mountain Laurel Mercantile in the Village to the Country Cookout Pavilion and the battling dodge-em cars of Dolly's Demolition Derby.

Adults have not been neglected. They line up at a ticket counter in Pigeon Forge and reserve seats for all the musical extravaganzas Dollywood schedules. The big names of country and western perform at the Celebrity Theatre. Other acts turn up at Back Porch Theatre, Valley Theatre, Wings of America Theatre and the Pines Theatre.

According to the Dollywood guidebook, those who turn up at the Heartsong Theatre (next door to the Whistlestop Grill) get nothing less than ``a unique multi-sensory musical/film experience'' where Dolly Parton's music and the magic of ``Naturound'' put them into a Smoky Mountain cove. There they hear, in narration and song, ``a powerful story about her deep feelings for family, friends, faith and values.''

Dolly's theme park isn't entirely about uplift, of course. A new section combines the subtly decadent Dollywood Boulevard and its Silver Screen Cafe with the Pines Theatre (a rock 'n' roll venue), the 5 & Dime and several other shops evoking the '50s - the store facades that might have been around during Dolly's teens.

There visitors can examine a collection of restored cars, including a Rolls-Royce on Dollywood Boulevard and the Fords and Chevys scattered around Red's Diner, Lee's Auto Parts (classic-car souvenirs), Cas Walker's (Coca-Cola memorabilia) and the '50s-era automobile dealership that leads to the Rockin' Roadway car track.

Dollywood provides just about any version of the old days that anyone might care to sample. We all know that Dolly has her naughty side, but her amusement park traces Wholesome Living all through the American centuries and it comes out as the other side as clean and pure and delicate as a butterfly's wings.

Dollywood is open on most days from early April through Dec. 31, but the schedule varies. It's best to write ahead (1020 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, Tenn. 37863-4101) or call (423) 428-9488.

The one-day daily admission includes everything except food, carnival games and celebrity concerts. Cost: 12 and over, $26.99; ages 4-11, $18.99; seniors 60 and up, $22.99. Parking is $4.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, Box

Photo: (1) Dolly Parton's theme park in the mountains of Tennessee contains idealized versions of Dolly's childhood hangouts, including this gas station.

Robert Cross/Chicago Tribune

(2) Dolly Parton

Box: On Location (See text)
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:TRAVEL
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 11, 1997
Words:1097
Previous Article:TREASURE ISLAND FUTURE IN LIMBO.
Next Article:TAKE 5; PARTY LINES : ALL THE KUDOS GO TO BLOOMIES.


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