On March 10th of this year I went to Season Passholder’s Day at Dollywood- the official kickoff day for the 2023 season. I’m only just now writing about it because it feels like it’s been a whirlwind since then, and I have a big show rapidly approaching that has a little something to do with that day at Dollywood.
I woke up at 5:30am that morning, as eager as if it were Christmas morning. I hit the road by 6:30am and made it to the front gates of Dollywood by 9am. I checked into the media tent where I met up with a few other Dollywood Insiders who would also be capturing the day for their own content creation and blog posts.
I was happy to see my friend and fellow Insider, Angie, and grateful she was there as I’ve often felt like an outsider with the Insiders. This has been my first year with the Insiders and when you enter any established group of friends or co-workers, it can take quite a while before you feel like you actually belong. Angie was also a first year Insider and so we connected over not feeling connected.
Since Dollywood Insiders are considered a part of the media at Dollywood, we were ushered into the theater first where we were given incredible seats just a few rows from the front of the stage. I noticed that the teleprompter in the back of the theater had an introduction for Dolly Parton, signaling we would for sure get to see her. What I love about seeing Dolly is there’s no show before her that you have to wait through in order to see the headliner- she is the show– beginning, middle and end. There’s no host that tries to warm up the crowd, she doesn’t need that, there’s just an announcer that comes over the speakers, introduces her and she walks out.
She did her whole PR monologue that she has to do for media covering the event, then she took the time to thank us all in a more personal way without the teleprompter. She answered questions from the media and was absolutely hilarious. When asked how she managed to “do it all.” she flawlessly retorted, “I’m on drugs,” and the audience erupted in laughter. She followed up by saying “in all seriousness,” she got her energy from creating and hoped to continue to do good for herself and other people as long as she had a working bone in her body. “I ain’t got time to get old,” she said.
She ended the event by singing “I Will Always Love You,” something I’m not sure I thought I would ever see in my lifetime. I was torn between recording it and simply watching it. I did a little of both, making sure I had time to just sit in the moment, but it was still hard to wrap my head around it all.
Afterward we went to eat lunch in the park with the rest of the media. I tried to act normal as if we hadn’t just experienced something once in a lifetime, especially now that Dolly doesn’t tour anymore, but I kept saying “I think I just need time to absorb this.” I tried to engage in conversation, but I was mentally and emotionally distracted.
After lunch, Angie and I walked around the park getting all the content we needed for our upcoming blogs and vlogs. I knew there’d be a parade at 4pm, which isn’t so much a parade as it it just Dolly being driven around the park in an open air car, waving to fanatics like me while we shake pompoms and wave posters that say “I LOVE YOU, DOLLY!”
I really wanted to stay for the parade. I had attended the Dolly parade the year before and I knew it was spectacular seeing Dolly up close. The absolute only reason I debated not staying was that I had a chance to meet up with Debbie, the woman who booked me for a big event I’d be performing at this April, next week, in fact. She would only be in Pigeon Forge that weekend, just five minutes from Dollywood where I happened to be only for that day. The event was for over 9,000 women where I’d be performing comedy amongst other speakers and musicians.
I finished getting all my content around 3pm, only an hour before the parade.I wrestled with myself about what to do. Should I stay for the parade, push back my meeting with Debbie, making my two-and-a-half hour drive home that much later and get home crazy late? While Dolly is certainly worth getting home late over, I also hadn’t seen my husband in over a week who’d been traveling on business, and I knew he was finally home. In addition, I was also speaking at a women’s retreat the following morning and I knew being out incredibly late and waking up tired and unprepared would probably not be in my best interest. Nonetheless, I still would have done it for Dolly.
Something inside me kept telling me to not miss the meeting with Debbie, besides, I got to see Dolly sing “I Will Always Love You,” as far as I was concerned, I already won at life that day.
And so, I chose myself. I decided to go to the meeting about something I’m trying to do with my future. I choose taking care of myself right now in order to be a better version of me, instead of waiting around for an hour to be one of the masses trying to get a glimpse of someone else living their dream.
I got in my car knowing everyone would have amazing photos and videos of the Dolly parade, I’d probably see it later on social media and kick myself for not staying. I felt like a traitor for choosing myself over an icon worthy of other people’s attention.
“I’m sorry, Dolly” I said as I started my car, “I will always love you.” And I drove out of the park in the direction of my own dreams.
I think the Dreamer in Chief herself would be proud.
Next week is the big event, over 9,000 people- my largest audience to be in front of to date. Wow. I’m so grateful for the time I spent with Debbie that day, going over the process of events and reassuring me that I was the perfect fit.
All too often I let nerves or insecurity get in the way. I know I am capable, but then I doubt myself, assume I’m an outsider and tend to flail under the pressure I put on myself to be accepted. “We chose you for a reason,” Debbie said, “it is by no mistake that you are joining us. I prayed for each person I invited to perform, and God led me to you. You’re supposed to be there.”
Ditching Dollywood early that day was worth hearing those words, and the reminder I keep clinging to when I think about performing in front of that many people.
I’m supposed to be there. I can do this.