Fans gather for Dolly Parton parade
Dolly Parton's Annual Homecoming Parade kicked off Springfest here yesterday, and thousands of people lined up on both sides of the Parkway more than an hour before the start time of 6 p.m., eager to see Parton, the Grand Marshall.
Paul Allman and his wife Betty were visiting from Kentucky. They are fans of Parton and have been to Pigeon Forge many times, but this was their first time seeing the homecoming parade. The couple set up lawn chairs in a shaded area on the median of the Parkway.
"Oh, Dolly is my husband's favorite singer," Betty said. "We didn't even know about this parade until someone told us about it recently."
"If I ever got rid of this one," Paul said, pointing to Betty, "I'd like to marry Dolly." He laughed and quickly added, "I should say, that's just an old joke I have."
Louis Monroe is also a Parton fan who was experiencing the parade for the first time. "I like to listen to her," he said. "I've been to one of her concerts, and I really like the way she sings. I enjoy Dixie Stampede. I think she's a really nice lady."
When another person who was awaiting the start of the parade overheard Monroe talking, she asked, "Oh, so you know Dolly?"
"I know her real well," Monroe replied, "from seeing her on TV."
Bobbi Wells, an East Tennessee native, said her daughter loves Parton's music and comes to the parade every year. Wells recalled the time before Parton came to fame and built the strong presence she now has in Sevier County.
"You drive through this little town, and it wasn't much back in those days," Wells said. "I never would have dreamed that Dolly would do so much to build this town up and help people. She didn't forget where she came from and the people in her hometown."
Wells is particularly impressed by the way Parton carries herself.
"She's a wonderful person, and she tells it like it is," Wells said. "You can just tell she loves life. Most people, if they get the kind of fame she has, they would get all high and mighty and walk off, say to heck with them back there, and that would be the end of it. But that's not who she is.
"I would love to have a face-to-face conversation with her, not about her fame or her career, just normal stuff, because she seems like she would be an interesting person to talk to."
The parade of floats, marching bands, vehicles and organizations began on River Road near traffic light seven and traveled north along the Parkway. Dollywood's newest ride, the FireChaser Express, was the predominant theme in the parade, and the Pigeon Forge Fire Department's new 100-foot ladder truck was featured behind Parton's float.