Saddle Up event to attract thousands

Feb. 19, 2013 @ 11:39 PM

Get a taste of the Old West this week at Saddle Up, the city’s festival of Western music, food and culture.

“This is our 13th annual one,” said Pigeon Forge Special Events Manager Butch Helton. When planners first conceived Saddle Up, “we were looking to start a new event, replace some of the older ones. We knew that this side of the Mississippi, there weren’t that many programs like this.”

Saddle Up has “grown into one of our most popular events,” Helton said. Last year, Saddle Up attracted about 7,500 visitors. “I look for those numbers to go up.”

At Saddle Up, guests will be entertained by acts including Wylie & the Wild West, the Quebe Sisters Band and Sourdough Slim. Concerts featuring various combinations of artists will take place on Friday, Feb. 22 (3 and 7 p.m.), and Saturday, Feb. 23 (6 p.m.), at the Grand Majestic Theater, 125 Music Mountain Dr.

The acts booked for Saddle Up “are some of the top entertainers in their genre,” Shelton said.

Music also will be featured on Friday at a relaxed Stories & Strings concert (noon, Smoky Mountain Guitars, 2520 Sand Pike Blvd.). “I’ll be asking some of our performers questions about their influences,” said Helton. “They’ll be talking and performing some of their favorite pieces of music, and there’s an all-star jam at the end.”

Two intimate concerts scheduled for Pigeon Forge restaurants Thursday night are sold out.

All the artists have appeared at Saddle Up before. One, T. Scot Wilburn, is debuting a new band, the Shut Up -N- Playboys. In addition to performing in the Grand Majestic concerts, Wilburn will headline a cowboy dance Saturday night at the Spirit of the Smokies Condo Lodge, 2385 Parkway (8:30 p.m.).

Not all the performers are musical. Chris Isaacs and Waddie Mitchell will present their cowboy poetry at the Grand Majestic shows. And on Thursday at Spirit of the Smokies, Gatlinburg photographer Ken Jenkins will host “Capturing the Old West,” a video presentation and western photography exhibit (3 p.m.).

The cuisine of the Old West will be remembered at several chuck wagon events, including a free cornbread sampling that begins Saddle Up on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Old Mill Square (10 a.m.). Chuck wagon chow also will be featured at Smoky Mountain Guitars on Saturday (11 a.m.) and at a noon lunch set for Saturday at Clabough’s Campground, 405 Wears Valley Road.

Saturday’s lunch is a competition event. “It’s the chuck wagon cookoff,” said Helton. “Seven chuck wagon groups have traveled here, and judges will be judging the food.”

Chuck wagon teams “are given the exact same menu, and given the same food ingredients, and they have to come up with a meal,” Helton said. One chuck wagon cook, Kent Rollins, has been featured on the Food Network. He cooks with his Red River Ranch team.

On Sunday, a Chuckwagon Breakfast will be held from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Stages West, with a cost of $5. That will be followed at 10:30 by Cowboy Church.

Helton recalled that Saddle Up began in 2001 as a component of the Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival. “It was really popular, and we decided to break it out into a standing event of its own,” he said.

About 60 percent of Saddle Up guests are visitors from outside the area, Helton said. The Saddle Up audience is “a good mix of local folks and our tourist friends.”

Saddle Up is the last event Pigeon Forge will present as part of this season’s Winterfest. The city’s Wilderness Wildlife Week also is a Winterfest event.

“For what is more traditionally a challenging time of year,” Helton said, “both [events] have been very successful in getting folks to come here in January and February, when things are a little slower.”

kburns@themountainpress.com