The gay superfan’s guide to experience the best of Dolly Parton

The music! The personal drama! The public statements about loving her gay fans! Dolly Parton is a true gay icon, with legions of loyal gay fans within the country music world and beyond.  Dolly gives plenty of love in return, from devoting an episode of her Netflix series Heartstrings to a love story between with two men, to supporting employees at her various venues who are in same-sex relationships and work together.

For anyone who wants to take their Dolly love to the next level, here are some of the favorite spots for superfans to visit:

Dollywood

 
 
 
 
 
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What is it: Dollywood is an theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., with lots of  rides, shops, and musical revue shows, all with an Appalachian country theme. Originally it was called Silver Dollar City, but Dolly had grown up in eastern Tennessee and wanted to give back to the local economy, so she invested in the theme park and they changed the name to Dollywood. With her involvement, Dollywood has grown to become the biggest employer in the region.

 
 
 
 
 
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The Chasing Rainbows Museum (photo above) is particularly interesting, with exhibits featuring personal items from Dolly’s life. There are also bits of memorabilia throughout the Dollywood DreamMore Resort, the hotel attached to the theme park. While you’re there, be sure to eat the cinnamon bread, which is delicious.

Is there a gay scene there? Knoxville is an hour away, and there’s some stuff to do in town.

Will Dolly be there? Probably not.

Dolly Parton’s Stampede

 
 
 
 
 
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What is it? Dolly Parton’s Stampede is a show—part musical review and part rodeo—that takes place in arenas in Pigeon Forge, and also in Branson, Mo., a resort town where there are numerous theaters with musical revues. The Stampede is a spectacle in the best way: performers ride their horses through rings of fire, and perform acrobatic tricks while riding around the arena, and race around barrels in teams of two as the audience cheers for their side. The performers also wave lots flags (American flags usually, although during the Christmas show those flags are red and green) while other performers dance around and sing.

A large amount of food is served throughout the show, and the iced tea is sweet, of course. In the past, no silverware was provided (soup is served in a bowl with a handle), but for the 2019 Christmas show, everyone was granted a fork, because Christmas is fancy.

The Stampede has been the subject of a bit of scandal: in the (very popular) podcast Dolly Parton’s America, which delves into some high-level Dolly Parton love, host Jad Abumrad devotes an entire episode to analyzing the Stampede. The show used to be called “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede,” but the term “Dixie” is a colloquialism for the southern U.S. states that were part of the Confederacy. After the 2016 protests about Confederate monuments in the U.S., questions were raised about why Dolly’s show celebrates the Dixie (translation: fight to keep slavery legal) aspect of U.S. history. For example, when buying tickets, guests choose if they want to sit with the North or the South, with the arena divided in half, and then root for their side’s riders to win various races within the show.

As is the case with many podcasts, host Abumrad fills his podcast with lots of dramatic pauses, and tangents about the socio-political implications of what the shows mean, and suggests that the Dolly Parton empire was rocked to it’s core by the conundrum. He even posed the question, “Is this the place where Dolly finally met her match?”

Anyone who is not from the South but has watched Designing Women knows that Southern pride is a vibrant element of many southerners’ identities, especially a country singer who grew up in rural Tennessee like Dolly. In an interview on the podcast, Dolly acknowledged that appropriating the history of the Civil War into a fun dinner theater show was insensitive, so she took the word “Dixie” out of the name. Otherwise, despite host Abumrad’s best efforts to make it a big deal, Dolly’s fans barely blinked an eye at the name change, and thousands of people continue to pack into the theaters each day of shows. Dixie, or no Dixie, the show’s title still says Dolly Parton.

Is there a gay scene there? No, although those shows in Branson have lots of handsome boys working in the chorus.

Will Dolly be there? No. Her music is part of the show several times, but she does not perform in the Stampede. Most employees that we asked say they’ve never met her. 

Ryman Auditorium

 
 
 
 
 
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What is it: The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. is a live music venue that hosted its first country music concert in 1892, and is now famous for hosting The Grande Ole Opry, a weekly radio show that is recorded in the theater. The Grand Ole Opry broadcast features country music singers, who are “members” of the Opry, performing in front of a live audience. Being invited to join the Opry, and sing at the Ryman, is the highest achievement in country music. Dolly has been a member of The Grand Ole Opry since 1969.

 
 
 
 
 
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Is there a gay scene there? Gay Nashville is a lot of fun, with some fantastic bars and clubs, and drag is very popular. For brunch, go to Suzy Wong’s House of Yum.

Will Dolly be there? Occasionally, yes! Members are required to perform periodically on the show to maintain their place in the Opry. Dolly is a busy gal, but she still finds time to perform every few years. Her 50th anniversary as a member of the Opry was celebrated with a concert that was broadcast on NBC in December 2019.

Questions, comments, and bits of Dolly Parton trivia can be sent to [email protected]