A sign welcomes all visitors to KidsFest. See more pictures here!
DOLLYWOOD -- Every adult longs at some point to be a child once again, and even when you’re a living legend it’s no different. So Dolly Parton indulged her inner kid on Friday. Dressed as a doll from a storybook, she spoke and sang in a child’s voice for the crowd at one event, frolicked with a famous gargantuan red dog at another and introduced some adventurous vegetables. Along the way, she also handed out $60,000 in college scholarships, honored the national teacher of the year and presented several children with summer-long passes to the park.
So were the scenes at the opening of the third annual KidsFest, a celebration dedicated to children at the 125-acre Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Dolly in her doll outfit.
A capacity crowd of special guests and media crowded into the Heartsongs Theatre Friday morning to take in a performance of The Little Engine That Could by the Penguin Players in Penguin Group USA Presents Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse, a series of three new, 20-minute musicals based on children’s books representative of Dolly’s Imagination Library literacy program, currently active in 503 communities across 40 states and providing more than 2.2 million free books annually to children. After a duo warmed up the crowd with some children’s songs, Dolly’s first appearance was via videotape, as a pre-recorded Dolly offered “The KidsFest Song” and the story of how the series came to be.
“My friends at Penguin Books asked if I could do something to maybe bring these books to life,” she explained. “Well, you can’t say no to a penguin! So we created my Playhouse to share the magic of these books.”
Then the taped Dolly and live actors from the show sang the new song she wrote for it, “I Believe In You,” with a very catchy “woo-woo, woo-woo, woo-woo-woo, I believe in you” chorus to open the show. She has written two additional songs for the other shows in the series: “Song Of Friends” for Officer Buckle And Gloria and “You Gotta Be” for My Lucky Day.
Dolly and the cast on stage.
At the end of the play, which mixed live actors in toy costumes with puppet trains, a doll said, “Hey guys! Before we sing the last song, don’t you think that we should have all the Dollies on stage?” Then the “real” Dolly entered dressed as a doll from the storybook and, in a child’s voice, joined in with the pre-recorded Dolly for the show’s closing, a reprise of “I Believe In You,” at one point peering at the television screen above the stage and shouting, “Who’s that singing?!”
Posing for photos, she pointed out the bows on her head and back and her Mary Jane shoes, joking in her child voice, “Now, I can’t talk too serious in this silly outfit, now, can I,” adding that later she would see everyone in a “real, grown up outfit!”
That “grown-up outfit” turned out to be a black and white pinstripe skirt suit studded with rhinestones. Introduced by Dollywood Foundation Executive Director David Dotson as “the jewel in America’s crown,” she entered the Celebrity Theatre following the live stage show of Clifford the Big Red Dog, again to an audience comprised of invited guests and the press.
The mail carrier, Clifford and Emily Elizabeth.
On stage, she announced the recipients of the annual Dolly Parton Scholarship Awards, which provide $15,000 each to a graduating senior at the four high schools in Sevier County, Tenn., thanks to the Dollywood Foundation, Tennessee State Bank, Dixie Stampede, Citizens National Bank and the Sevier County High School Alumni Association. This year’s recipients were David Salvetti, Gatlinburg-Pittman High School; Emily Hedrick, Seymour High School; Becca MacMahan, Pigeon Forge High School; and Lori Gibson, Sevier County High School.
Salvetti, Dolly, Hedrick, MacMahan and Gibson.
She also presented the Dolly Parton Chasing Rainbows Award, which the Dollywood Foundation gives in association with the National State Teacher Of The Year Organization to an outstanding educator who has overcome hardship and inspired his or her students to achieve greatness. Each recipient must have been his or her statewide Teacher Of The Year in the past.
This year’s recipient, James Gallagher of Philadelphia, Pa., overcame family alcoholism and abuse as a child to teach more than 500,000 children and adults in his lifetime, even after he lost his sight.
"It is heavy,” Dolly said of his multi-colored trophy as she handed it to him. “That’s how I built up my chest -- giving these things away!”
Dolly and Gallagher.
Gallagher thanked Dolly for the honor and said he was using his award to support a children’s library outside of Philadelphia for its “No Room For Hate” section. He also recalled when he saw Dolly, Kenny Rogers and Bill Cosby perform at the University of Pennsylvania several years ago and only paid $10 for his ticket. He was sitting in the front row, he said, but because he was nearly blind all he could see were hues of color instead of shapes or faces. Since that time, he has had surgery to correct his vision.
“I knew today when I came to Dollywood I was going to see the color of the rainbow,” he said. “And look, look at the award. That’s the color of the rainbow on it. I didn’t know that ahead of time.”
He added that he brought apologies from the City of Philadelphia. Honored guests of the city are given miniature replicas of The Liberty Bell, which is housed there, but Dolly was never presented with one when she visited. So to correct the oversight, his congresswoman sent him with one for her.
After photos, Dolly called all children in the audience down to the foot of the stage to dance as she sang “Song Of Friends,” from the Imagination Playhouse’s Officer Buckle and Gloria, before announcing that every child in the audience had received a special VIP Kids Club pass allowing them free admission to the park for the duration of the festival and on their way out of the theatre would each receive a goodie bag containing 20 special prizes in honor of the park’s 20th anniversary season.
Dolly announces the children's gifts..
Her only fully public appearance during the day was a parade through the park grounds at 5 p.m., which concluded with a red carpet walk for the visiting children’s characters in the park to watch the world premiere of the new film VeggieTales’ Minnesota Cuke & the Search for Sampson’s Hairbrush, which will be released on DVD and VHS on June 28. Dolly greeted an invitation-only crowd inside the Showstreet Theatre before the doors opened to the public and the show began. The cute movie follows the Indiana Jones-inspired cucumber Minnesota Cuke as he travels the world in search of the brush used by Sampson of hair fame and teaches the lessons of strength coming from God and the power of loving one’s enemies.
Dolly in her parade.
The festival continues daily through Aug. 7 and in addition to the year-round rides and attractions at the park also includes Mad Science Movie Magic, which uses the films of MGM such as The Pink Panther and Legally Blonde to show children the science behind their favorite flicks; a turbo action ride based on a pickle-chasing adventure for SpongeBob SquarePants (which temporarily replaces the park’s Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure Ride); Jest in Time Circus of Fools, including a trick-performing Jack Russell Terrier (though July 20 only); the bikers and skaters of the ASA Extreme Sports team; the SkipSations jump rope team (July 17-24 only); and strolling characters Trapper with Baxter Bear, Cas with Walker the Bluetick Hound and Patches the Scarecrow with Piggy and Miss Penny.
One of the ASA Extreme Sports Team's BMX riders.
Look for many more photos from the festivities in coming days!
I'd like to offer special notes of appreciation to Dolly, Pete Owens, Kay Poole and all of the personnel in the Dollywood media relations office, and the site's readers. Thank you!