PIGEON FORGE -- Hundreds of Dolly Parton fans will have the opportunity in April to talk about their beloved star, buy and sell memorabilia, meet the leader of her touring band and possibly be filmed for a documentary about her diverse fan base at the second annual Blonde Butterfly Bash, a fan convention to be held during 2003 season opening festivities for Dollywood.
The Bash is a labor of love for Harrell Gabehart and Patric Parkey, two Texas fans who pay all event costs out of their own pockets to raise funds for the Dollywood Foundation.
The festivities will be held from 9 p.m. until 11 p.m. Friday, April 4, at the Green Valley Motel South, 4109 Parkway in Pigeon Forge. Admission is a $1 donation to the Dollywood Foundation.
In addition to vendors from five states, fans will have the opportunity to meet Randy Kohrs, who led Dolly's band the Blueniques on her first tour in a decade last summer opening each of her concerts with his single "Little By Little." Kohrs is currently recording a new album for release later this year on Doobie Shea Records which is slated to include a duet with Dolly.
Kohrs' fiancÚ, Shaunna Larkin, will also be on hand to meet with fans. She and her sister make up the duo The Larkins, who perform regularly at Dollywood as a quartet with their parents. The siblings' debut album will be released in July on Koch-Audium Records featuring Dolly guest vocals on their cover of her classic, "Steady As The Rain." Kohrs proposed to Larkin on stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville during Dolly's concert there last summer.
Filmmakers Valerie Stadler and Tai Uhlman of New York, who are shooting a documentary on Dolly fans titled "For The Love Of Dolly," will have cameras rolling throughout the evening. The film crew has spent the past year traveling across the United States and even visiting London, England, to talk with fans about why Dolly occupies such a special place in their hearts.
Stadler, the film's producer, said they plan to be present filming the crowd during the Bash, so anyone who objects to being filmed will need to alert them soon after they enter the event.
Gabehart, a Southwestern Bell Telephone employee for 25 years, and Parkey, a records retention coordinator for Citigroup, said the event is motivated entirely by their adoration for Dolly.
"She is one in a million," Gabehart said. "Words can't really describe what Dolly Parton is or what she means to her fans and her community."
"The main reason we're doing this is that we decided to do more for Dolly's Dollywood Foundation and Imagination Library, in addition to making our monthly donation to the Foundation," Parkey explained. "The children of today are tomorrow's future, and what better way than to invest in our children and our future.
"We also wanted to do this for the fans," he continued. "It gives them a place to hang out, talk about the Grand Opening and Dolly and to buy, sell and trade rare Dolly items. Vendors this year will be coming from the states of Texas, California, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Mississippi. All will be selling Dolly items, and one of vendors is representing the most popular Dolly site on the Internet."
Duane Gordon of Jackson, Miss., webmaster of the fan site www.dollymania.net and a vendor at this year's Bash, said the couple exemplifies true Dolly fans.
"These guys want to share their love for Dolly with all of her fans and give them a place to congregate and celebrate her music and her spirit," he said. "I think it's a beautiful gesture both to Dolly and the fans that they're willing to host this wonderful event and donate all proceeds to the Foundation."
The Dollywood Foundation supports educational programs in Sevier County and administers the Imagination Library, a literacy program founded by Dolly which is now providing free books every month to children in 200 communities nationwide.
The idea to host the Bash came a year ago when it was announced that the commercially-operated Dolly Collectors' Convention held during Dollywood's season opening weekend each year had been cancelled. Gabehart and Parkey stepped in and initiated their own event, dubbing it the Blonde Butterfly Bash in honor of Dolly's platinum wigs and the use of the butterfly as her symbol for the past three decades. Several hundred fans turned out for the first Bash, and organizers expect even more this year.
Gabehart and Parkey have attended Dollywood's season opening for the past 11 years and even feature a Dolly museum in their Texas home which they show off to fellow fans visiting the area.
The 1,400-square-foot room is filled with several of her gowns, jumpsuits, business suits and stage outfits they have purchased at charity auctions, a working Dolly pinball machine from 1978 and a wig she's worn, among hundreds of other items. The walls are ornamented with hundreds of photos and framed magazine covers of the legend. They also have on display examples of each of her Dolly dolls manufactured since the 1970s as well as several one-of-a-kind dolls of her likeness which they have created themselves.
The pinnacle of their time as fans came in December when they were the winners of a charity auction to spend a night in Dolly's apartment on the grounds of Dollywood and meet her before her benefit concerts for the Dollywood Foundation.
"After meeting Dolly, we have a real feeling of respect and admiration. She is an unselfish human being who believes in helping people and the community. Anyone can say they support their community, but after meeting Dolly, you know that she means everything that she says," Gabehart said.