Pigeon Forge, Tennessee: A Country Music Paradise At The Foothills Of The Smokies

By Michael W. Stout

Now that the kids are out of school and you've finally received your tax refund check, it's time to start planning your summer vacation. There's no better place for country music fans to spend their vacation than Pigeon Forge, Tenn., located approximately 35 miles southeast of Knoxville at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After all, Pigeon Forge caters to country fans with attractions like Dollywood, Dixie Stampede, the Louise Mandrell Theater, the Lee Greenwood Theater and Country Tonite. Once suppertime rolls around, there are plenty of country music-oriented places to head as well, including Lee Greenwood's own L.G.'s On The River restaurant, Alan Jackson's Showcar Café and the Alabama Grill.

International country music superstar Dolly Parton kicked off the 14th season of her very own theme-park, Dollywood, back in April, introducing two brand new additions: the Tennessee Tornado roller coaster and the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum. The Tennessee Tornado takes riders on a trip they won't soon forget, as it is the world's first spiral-loop roller coaster, plunging, looping and diving at an amazing 65 m.p.h., at times nearly 200 feet up. In addition to this thrill-ride, Dollywood has teamed up with the Southern Gospel Music Association to open the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum, which pays tribute to Southern Gospel Music (a close cousin to country music) and the artists who have shaped and influenced this genre of music. There are displays of memorabilia, as well as a must-see animatronic quartet.

In addition to these exciting new attractions, visitors to Dolly's very own park will be treated to a heaping portion of music and variety shows, starring various members of her family, as well as craft demonstrations by some of the most talented artisans and craftsmen throughout the country.

You can't leave Pigeon Forge without first stopping by the Louise Mandrell Theater for a high-energy, multi-million dollar musical production for the entire family. Louise, who co-starred with her sisters Barbara and Irlene in the early 1980s in the smash variety show "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters," will have you stompin' your feet and clappin' your hands as she offers up everything from country and gospel to rock-n-roll and big band music, with even a little magic thrown in.

You'll be amazed by Louise's showmanship and instrumental ability as she wows the crowd with her trademark fiddling, as well as her ability to pick the guitar, play the accordion and even dance a big piano number. Be sure to arrive to the show early, as Louise signs autographs and poses for pictures in her theater's lobby prior to each show. Louise is a true class act with a heart of gold.

If you and your family are big fans of music, horses, North/South rivalry and food, then The Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show is a must for your bunch. A production of Dollywood, this is an experience you won't soon forget, as Dolly herself guarantees that it is "the most fun place to eat in the Smokies!" While you are digging into a four-course meal with your hands (that's right, no silverware allowed), you will be amazed by the strength and ability of the 32 horses included in this 35,000 square-foot indoor production, along with trick riding, ostrich races, comedy and a heaping portion of music as big as your very own whole rotisserie chicken. Be sure to arrive early for a pre-show, consisting of some of the best pickin' around by a group of national instrumentalists performing in a "dry" family saloon. The music, as well as the food, is finger-lickin' good!

Fans of country music superstar Lee Greenwood won't want to miss a live performance of their favorite country crooner at his very own theater. This year, Lee is performing his very own show, "Portrait of America," which is touted as a "spectacular red, white and blue salute to the music, people and spirit of America at its best!" Lee's smash hit, "God Bless The U.S.A.," is just one testament of the entertainer's pride in our country, as is evident throughout this energetic show filled with country, gospel, Hollywood movie hits, Motown and songs from the Las Vegas strip. To make a complete evening, stop by Lee's very own restaurant, L.G.'s On The River for a fine dining experience. Fans can't miss with such good music and good food.

For a sure-bet good time, pack up the family and head to see Country Tonite, which was voted "Best Show of the Year" in 1998 and was named the Best Live Country Show in America three consecutive years by the Country Music Association. Not only will this fine troupe of entertainers dish out some incredible country music, they will also serve up some toe-tappin' dancing and split-your-side comedy. And as a bonus to you parents, two children 12-years-old and younger are admitted free with each paid adult (as does the Lee Greenwood Theater).

When it's time to take a break from all the fun and get a bite to eat, country fans won't want to miss restaurants by two of country music's most beloved acts: Alabama and Alan Jackson. Artists of the Decade in the 1980s, Alabama, offers fans a glimpse into country music inside their Alabama Grill, a Hard Rock Café of sorts done country style, jam-packed full of memorabilia from several of the biggest names in country music. Since Alan Jackson and classic cars go hand in hand, it is only right that his eatery be called Alan Jackson's Showcar Café, with some of Alan's personal classic vehicles on display, as well as his first tour bus and personal momentos and family photographs.