Dolly's Remarks

Text from Dolly's appearance on Friday, April 1, 2005, at Dollywood's Celebrity Theatre to celebrate the park's 20th season opening.

Members of the Moscow Circus folk band played as they entered the Celebrity Theatre from the rear and walked through the audience. On stage, they completed their song before performing a rendition of “Rocky Top,” at which the crowd went wild. Their music was followed with performances by an aerialist and dog trainer. Afterward, a video played on a large screen above the stage. It started with clips from Dolly's 1982 interview with Barbara Walters in which she said she dreamed of creating a Disneyland-style theme park in the Smoky Mountains. The footage next showed the groundbreaking for Dollywood and moved through scenes from various seasonal openings and events at the park featuring Dolly through the years as well as outtakes from some of her commercials for the park. It ends with Dolly in her lumberjack costume for the opening of the Thunderhead wooden roller coaster in April 2004. Dolly enters the stage.

DOLLY: Happy birthday! (Applause and screams.) How you doin'? Woah! (Applause and screams.) 20 years! Can you believe it? Boy, thank you so much. I was back there lookin' at that screen. How'd you like that last outfit? I looked like Paul Bunyan in drag, didn't I! (Laughs.) I tell you, I look at that stuff and I think, “What was I thinkin'?” when I see some of those outfits. But it's really been great.

We want to welcome all of you to this big celebration. I cannot believe that it has been 20 years but it has been an amazing 20 years. You know, 20 years is a long time. See, I was in my 30s when we started this 20 years ago, and here we are 20 years later, and I'm still in my 30s! (Laughs.) I always liked that line: 39 and holding. And, believe me, I am holding on to everything I can! (Laughs.)

Well, anyhow, we're glad to have you here at the park. This is so great and I know that you LOVE the Moscow Circus. Wasn't that great? (Applause.) Woo! Boy we, we lucked out with them! Yeah, really. We're gonna have them here for quite a while now, and I know that you're gonna go out and tell everybody. And that's just one of the great things we've had goin' on in the last 20 years, and I'm sure you saw the Barbara Walters special that I did back in '02, remember that (Dolly laughs), '82 I guess. And I was just feelin' that somethin' back then like a Dollywood here in the Smoky Mountains would do a lot of good for the folks around here because I'd watched my family and other families around here struggle to make ends meet and I wanted to create a place for families to have fun but also to give folks good work and have enough money to raise a good family of their own. And, of course, it was a dream I had about a park like Disneyland in the Smokies. And I think we've pulled it off pretty good! (Applause.)

It's just one of the most gratifying things that I've ever done. Thanks to you – you're making it happen!

I just want to share with you some of the things that we have done over the last 20 years. We don't usually talk about money – it ain't about the money we spend or the money we make. It's about having something great for everybody and when you have something good you're gonna make money anyhow. But a lot of people do want to know, and I know we have a whole lot of press here, and they're interested in the things that we have done over the past 20 years, so if you don't mind, I'll put on my business hat for a minute and tell you that we have invested more than 210 million dollars in the Dollywood Companies over the past 20 years, and, of course, we employ more than 2,000 folks a year. And we've paid out nearly half a million dollars in salaries over that time. That's a lot of money! (Applause.) But it's been money well spent. It's well used, I'm sure.

Of course, we're proud to say that we have welcomed more than 30 million guests over that period of time. And we created the Dollywood Foundation and the Imagination Library program. (Applause.) Yeah, boy, we are proud of that! We are now in 40 states and in more than 500 communities. And, of course, through Dollywood and Dixie Stampede we have given over 20 million dollars to the Dollywood Foundation, to the American Eagle Foundation, the United Way, Young Life, and other community projects. (Applause.)

And, of course, we also became the No. 1 paid attraction in Tennessee, and we're real proud of that. (Applause.) Yeah!

'Course, Dollywood is at the top, in the top 10 percent of all the theme parks in all of North America, and we're pretty proud of that, too. 'Course. (Applause.)

Back in those early days, there was one person that believed in my dream from the very start, and when I told her what we wanted to do around here, she said, “Well, when do we start?” I'd like y'all to join me in welcoming the former City Manager of the Year and our City Manager of Pigeon Forge, Earlene Teaster. Earlene, will you come on out? (She enters the stage to applause.) Hey, how ya doin?! (They hug.) Did I get my hair caught in your glasses? Let's get that out. OK.

EARLENE: Well, thank you, Dolly, for that wonderful introduction, and thank you for being here. And thanks to all of you folks out there for being here today. I want you to know that this is truly a great day for Dolly. It's a great day for Dollywood. And it's especially a great day for the city of Pigeon Forge. We are so proud to be a part of the program today, and I want to just take a couple of minutes in a minute and tell you a little bit about our relationship with Dollywood over the past 20 years. How much fun that has been, working with Dollywood and the things we've done, just exactly what it has meant to the city of Pigeon Forge.

Now, if I talked about everything they've done we'd probably be here all afternoon so time is limited, but I am just going to talk to you a little bit about what has happened here in the very beginning of Dollywood. Let me say just a thing or two about Dolly first. You all know that she is a wonderful, wonderful, full-blooded Sevier Countian. (Applause.)

DOLLY: Proud of it! Yeah! A redneck! The original redneck woman!

EARLENE: And we're proud of her. We're all rednecks here! Anyway, you know, she grew up, went to school here, and then launched her own career just immediately after graduation. And over the years I know that I have personally heard her say time and time again that she would like to come back home and do something. She would like to give back to the community. And, good Lord knows that she certainly has! And we're glad to have you.

So Dollywood has just contributed an awful lot to the city of Pigeon Forge. We know now that Dollywood still is the, the most visited park around and millions of people literally come here every year to see Dollywood. And when they're coming here to see Dollywood, there is a spin-off and it helps the entire city of Pigeon Forge. And that's really what she intended to happen, I believe.

The group here at Dollywood has been wonderful to work with. I just couldn't begin to tell you from the administration all the way down to the repair and maintenance people we've never had any problem just period in working with them, and I just think there's not a lot of places that can say that. But they're truly a great group of people. And I guess I just would like to call your attention to the very first year that Dollywood opened. Our gross business in Pigeon Forge grew at a very rapid rate – about 47 percent the very first year. Now our amusement tax, which is a highly promoted tax in our area with all of the attractions, it grew an amazing 63 percent. Now that's in a year, and isn't that amazing. All because of Dollywood. (Applause.)

DOLLY: Hooray for Dollywood! (Applause.)

EARLENE: Then we have one other source of revenue that grew tremendously, and that was our lodging tax. It grew a whopping 37 percent. So, you see, it's just been a, a business. And you can tell exactly what Dollywood has contributed to Pigeon Forge and what Dollywood continues to contribute to the city of Pigeon Forge. So, Dolly, I will just say on behalf of all the elected officials, all the folks here in town, thank you for the first 20 years and good luck on the second 20. I hope you're around to, you know.

DOLLY: You will be. You'll still be 39! (Dolly laughs.) But, truly, thank you so much. Those are real impressive numbers, just like you said. I just get to stand up here and be the star, but it takes a whole group of people like you and all these other folks back in here that made it happen. And I'm just so proud that I got to be part of that dream and proud to be here in Pigeon Forge and be able to, to do all the things that you say that we're doin'!

EARLENE: Literally there have been hundreds of people that have contributed to the success of Dollywood for the past 20 years. There's a very special person that's our next speaker that I want you to meet and, and welcome. She was wonderful to work with during her tenure here at Dollywood. She's a wonderful person now doing a tremendous job for us down in Nashville representing Pigeon Forge well. So, would you help me welcome please Miss Susan Whitaker, our commissioner of tourism from the state Tourism Commission. (Applause.)

DOLLY: Hey Susan! How are you? How's that governor of yours?

SUSAN: Hey! Good, right now. He's one of your biggest fans. I know you know that.

DOLLY: “King Phil,” we call him around here.

SUSAN: And he sent me with something to tell you today. I wanted to let you know, first of all I have a lot of fun working as the tourism commissioner, but the first thing that people always do inevitably when they find out this is my job is not, you know, what it's like in the Smoky Mountains, although that's always important. They just want to know “Have you ever met Dolly Parton?” (Dolly laughs.) And I can tell them, yes, that I worked for her and it was some of the most fun times I've ever had.

DOLLY: Thank you.

SUSAN: But the governor has sent his greetings and he also has sent a proclamation. (She reads the text of a Day of Recognition proclamation in honor of Dollywood's 20th anniversary. Afterward, the audience applauds.)

DOLLY: Yea! You just hold that there. Yeah, that's very nice. I said “your governor,” 'course he works with you every day, but he's “our” governor here in Tennessee. He's actually been very good helping with the Imagination Library, so I've had the opportunity to work with him personally. He is a very nice man and he's helpin' out a lot and he'sbeen helping the children, too. But, you know, it's been a great 20 years, as we mentioned, but we're just getting started. Let's talk a little but about the next 20 years. Whaddya say? It's gonna be busy. (Applause.)

So we better get started right now. See, we're hoping that in the next 20 years, well, in fact, we already know that in the next 20 years we're going to invest at least another 160 million dollars in Dollywood, continuing to build more rides and produce more shows and prove we are one of the best theme parks in the whole wide world, not just around these parts in Tennessee. In fact, we plan to spend another 30 million dollars just in the next three years alone, so we're hoping you'll see a lot of great stuff in that time.

'Course, we doubled our attendance in the past, I mean in the first few years of Dollywood, and of course if you continue to help us out we're going to actually double that through the years, maybe even more, and the park did more than two and a half quarter million. What's that say? Go back. (Laughs.) 'Course I am reading off of a paper. I don't want to get any of these facts wrong. The park did more than two and a half, two and a quarter million guests last year and if we are blessed and we have your trust and we plan to double that attendance in the next 20 years. So just think, we could be at 5 million visitors a year. We're going to expand. We got a lot of land to do that, and as you know, every year we try to add something else.

'Course we plan to have the Imagination Library continue to grow as well, and in 2005 we gave out 2 million books, and we expect to distribute more than 100 million books over the next 20 years. (Applause.) All over the world, hopefully. And that sounds like a lot, and it is a lot. But we'll keep dreaming and Dollywood will keep growing, but as I mentioned to Earlene a minute ago, none of this would have happened without the help of some very, very special people. You, of course, but there are some other folks out here. So, could I have the house lights up? Because I want to give a special thanks to these folks right here in the front row. Yeah, Earlene Teaster is probably back down there, and the Pigeon Forge Planning Commission, the Pigeon Forge City Council past and present. Y'all have been behind me all the way. And where are you down there? Oh, Earlene, you're down there! (Men and women in tuxedoes carrying large present packages enter the stage.) Oh! I think somewhere I got lost on my paper. But that's alright 'cause this is a special thing, too. And you're gonna stand right there and help me out. So, where are the folks from Pigeon Forge? Earlene now that you're down there, will y'all stand up and take a bow 'cause you done all this great work. (Applause.) We couldn't do it without you! Thank you very much.

And, of course, my partners, the Herschends. I don't know where they are. They're somewhere, yeah, there they are! Will you stand up, Jack and Sherry? (Applause as Dolly lists additional names.) And all the folks at Dixie Stampede are down there. But Jack and Sherry, we've been talking right from the very beginning. And these two folks, as I mentioned, are the ones that really, you know, were behind me from the very start, and I couldn't have done it without you. Sherry didn't want to stand up here in this dress and look like this. She coulda done it. She's blonde and pretty and all that. (Laughs.) Much prettier than me. You wanna put on this garb?

Of course, we were talking about all of those big numbers a while ago. I forgot to talk about the 100 million dollars that I've spent on cheap clothes and cosmetic surgery and all that stuff. (Laughs.) I don't know what happened to all that.

But, anyhow, I also want to thank Ken Bell. I don't know if he's down here in the audience or not. Where is he? Oh, he is here. There he is, over here! (Applause.) Yeah, there he is, over there. Now, of course, he manages the whole team here at Dollywood, and Ken's been with the park since the very beginning. And he's translated all of my dreams and all of yours into reality here at Dollywood. So, thank you, Ken. You're the best. (Applause.)

And, of course, Barbara Joines. She's the general manager here at the park, and she and her staff of over 2,000 very special employees are probably the main reason that families keep coming back year in and year out. Where's Barbara? Is she somewhere? Anyway, wherever you are, they'll find you. They can see all you.

But I just want all of you to know that I love you, too. I appreciate all of you. And, of course, with our Imagination Library, we can't forget the guy responsible for that. I want to say a special thanks to David Dotson at the Dollywood Foundation for his leadership. And, of course, last but not least, the man that made all of this possible for me because he's the one that I started working with back before we actually got with Jack and Sherry and the Herschends. Ted Miller. I call him my “Little Engine That Could.” He is the Little Engine That Could, and did and will and had. (Applause.) So, anyway, thanks to all of you for helping me bring the love of reading to as many kids as possible.

And, of course, the last group of people I want to thank are you, my friends and fans and the press. Yeah. Anyway, you've made it to Dollywood year in and year out and you are really the ones that have made it what it is. We can dream and we can put all these big numbers up on the screen, but none of that could work if we didn't have the folks like you to help us make it all come true. So I sing it all the time, but truly, I will always love you. And just to show you how much I really do love you, I have a special gift for each of you. And, of course, we're going to celebrate our anniversary with you. So, can we have the house lights even brighter, please? 'Cause we have these folks that came out here we're gonna have a special little party for you. They're going to go out and do something special while I get in my little party favors. They're all dressed up. I'm not ready, and this is going to take a little time. So let me get backstage. And they're gonna go out and kinda give you something special, and I'll be right back to tell you what it is! OK! (Applause as Dolly leaves the stage.) And it's sorta like a, kinda like a church offerin' in reverse. (Laughs.) But I'm back here doing some stuff so you just let them get out there and give you our little stuff.

And don't you dare take more than one of those pictures, 'cause you can't see me, but I'm lookin' at you! (Laughs.) Be fair, now. Be fair. Oh me! Ow! No, don't put it there. Hey, turn this microphone off. They're gonna hear something they're not supposed to! (Laughs. The people in tuxedoes pass out envelopes to everyone in the audience. Long pause before Dolly speaks again from backstage.)

How they doin' out there? 'Bout to get all these things handed out? Hey, we should've planned some music or something. I shoulda done “Rocky Top” or something while I was back here puttin' on my new wig. (Another long pause.)

Are you close to having it all done? Is that a yes or a no? Hey, you know what, I'm just gonna come back out there 'cause I'm dressed. I can if I want, can't I? They said for me to stay back here but I'm comin' back out there. (Dolly returns on stage with a top hat, cane, and bow tie added to her outfit. Cheers.) I've already changed my outfit. We got no music or nothin'. This is cute, huh? Actually, it didn't take me that long to get in this. They just told me to get off the stage for a minute while they handed that stuff out. So, anyhow, I'll just come out here and do something and talk to you while they're getting that. Inside the envelopes we've got something special for you. It's a picture of me! Not really. (Laughs) Anyway, so if any of you do want a picture you can take one. I know Debbie Poole does. She's back there with her camera!

So how many fans do we have back there? (Loud cheers.) Let me ask you how many of these fans, how many of you came to see our show back in the fall? (Applause and cheers.) Yeah, we're actually are gonna be doing a whole bunch of stuff this summer at Dollywood. I'll tell you about that. We're just killing time with these envelopes. But you know we have the KidsFest planned for midsummer. We got a lot of special things for all the kids on that and, of course we have the Imagination Playhouse, which is a new thing the kids are gonna love. We're gonna take a lot of the artists and a lot of the musicians who play here at Dollywood. They're actually going to be putting together a show, three of the books from the Imagination Library, and bring those books to life, and I've written some of the music for that. So we're looking forward to the KidsFest.

And in the fall, of course, we're gonna have our big ole festival. And I'm trying to plan a special for TV. I'm gonna go to CMT, and if they don't want it I'm gonna to go to GAC, and if they don't want it I'm gonna go somewhere else. We're wanna do a 20th year special this year and, of course, a lot of great artists started here at Dollywood. And we're gonna have them on, of course, along with some of the other artists that've played here and so on. We're hoping to have a special. It'd be a good year for it, don't you think, after 20 years? (Applause.) To do a special of some kind.

Anyway, so when y'all are ready. Again. We'll let you open then. Are you ready? You are? So, is everybody, you do have your little envelopes? You do? Hold 'em up in the air. Wave 'em. Let me see. Oh yeah! Woo-hoo! Ah-huh!

So, you know, you just wanted to know what is so special about the envelopes. Well, I'm not Oprah. It's not a car. (Laughs.) But you might need a car to use it because what we have done, over the years, you have been so good. Everybody that's in the house here today, you are going to get something special. Do you have the drumroll it says on the cue cards? Inside your envelope is a 20th anniversary “platinum blonde” super pass! That means that you can come to Dollywood for the next 20 years free! (Applause and wild screams as thousands of balloons and butterfly confetti fall on the crowd.)

Of course, that envelope is worth about $5,000 each, and you were worth every penny of it and more to me. So, anyhow, I just want you to know that we're gonna be excited about the next 20 years. God bless you!

You know what. You know what we did when we first opened the park. Well, we did the song “Hooray for Dollywood.” And I think it'd be appropriate for us to sing it now, don't you? Hit it, boys! (Dolly leads the crowd in the song as lyrics flash on a screen behind her.)

Yeah! Thank you. God bless you. Have fun! Thank you. Now that my part is over you can go home! (Dolly leaves the stage. A staff member takes the stage and explains the details of the 20-year season passes to the crowd.)

See photos from the weekend here.