Cautious optimism marks ’09 Dollywood kickoff

Le Grand Cirque's Imaginé performed during the sneak preview day for season pass holders for the 24th season of Dollywood on Friday, March 27, 2009.

Photo by Briana Scroggins // Buy this photo

Le Grand Cirque's Imaginé performed during the sneak preview day for season pass holders for the 24th season of Dollywood on Friday, March 27, 2009.

Dolly Parton makes an appearance after a sneak preview for season pass holders of Le Grand Cirque's Imaginé on Friday, March 27, 2009 at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. Parton informed the crowd about her upcoming Broadway play '9 to 5,' and her latest children's book, 'I Am a Rainbow.'

Photo by Briana Scroggins

Dolly Parton makes an appearance after a sneak preview for season pass holders of Le Grand Cirque's Imaginé on Friday, March 27, 2009 at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. Parton informed the crowd about her upcoming Broadway play "9 to 5," and her latest children's book, "I Am a Rainbow."

PIGEON FORGE - Bejeweled and decked out in expensive outfits, Dolly Parton has a thrifty side she doesn't wear on her sleeve.

"I'm very cautious of a dollar bill. I respect it. I'm that way like my daddy," she said Friday during a sit-down interview at Dollywood. "The way I grew up, I know how to raise a garden, and if I had to, I'd do it again."

Born in a cabin and raised modestly in Sevier County, Parton's spending habits are derived from those early years. And these days, when economic times are tough, the buxom star is determined not to go flat busted.

"As a country person and as a practical person, I am cautious about how to spend money myself these days," she said. "As for my personal self, I am very aware of the investments I am making."

She's extending that way of thinking to Dollywood, which opens for its 24th season today. It isn't immune to the recession.

Dolly Parton

Photo by Briana Scroggins

Dolly Parton

Last season, the number of park visitors was down 6 percent, a first for the normally thriving theme park, one of Tennessee's most popular attractions.

Parton said Dollywood officials "have no way of knowing" how the recession may affect business this summer, but they've planned for such. "We're apprehensive," she said. "We're hopeful."

Season ticket sales are "looking good, and we are encouraged by that," she said. Those sales are up 7 percent over last year.

Despite the rain and colder-than-normal temperatures for this time of year, Dollywood's "Season Pass Holders Day" Friday looked to be successful. The parking lots were full.

Crowds stood in the rain and wrapped around several buildings, waiting to get into the afternoon showing of Dollywood's new aerial circus show.

Dolly Parton.

Photo by Briana Scroggins

Dolly Parton.

Dollywood postponed plans for a major attraction expansion this season. Parton said the theme park is being "cautious" in moving forward with big projects right now.

"You can't be in a place of business where you try to grow and expand every year and not be cautious. We can't plant millions of dollars into projects we had planned to," she said. "But we've actually put more money into our entertainment things than we had planned to."

Dollywood is introducing two major stage productions this season: the aerial circus show "Le Grand Cirque's Imagine" and the musical "Sha-Kon-O-Hey," containing eight new songs from Parton. "Sha-Kon-O-Hey," opening May 9, is a tribute to the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, marking its 75th anniversary this year.

At Dollywood, one-day admission went up $2 this season to $53.50; season passes, until April 30, cost $77.

Parton's advice for people trying to make it through the recession: "Keep the faith. Keep your eyes on things, and pray for the best."

Le Grand Cirque's ImaginŽ preformed during the sneak preview day for season pass holders for the 24th season of Dollywood on Friday, March 27, 2009.

Photo by Briana Scroggins

Le Grand Cirque's ImaginŽ preformed during the sneak preview day for season pass holders for the 24th season of Dollywood on Friday, March 27, 2009.

As for her own spending habits, Parton said she isn't a clothes horse. When she and her husband, Carl Dean, go on private trips, they are just as inclined to stay at a Day's Inn for a quick overnight stay.

Her husband will check them in, and she makes a dash to the room before anyone can see. They leave quickly and quietly the next morning.

"I am there and gone before anyone can say, 'Hey, there's Dolly Parton!' " she said.

Parton was a penny-pincher in her early days in Nashville, when she was struggling to get her career going. As far as money is concerned today, "I'm still that way, mentally," she said.

"I'm not cheap. I just look cheap."

Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445.

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Comments » 2

Luigi writes:

That Dolly is talented, isn't she? I did not know she could ride a unicycle. However, it looks like she has had so many face lifts that she is looking oriental. Also, that silver out fit make her boobs look smaller.

MaryvilleMom writes:

When I moved down here from up North, I thought it was a joke that there was a theme park based around Dolly Parton. (I didn't actually believe it at first!) To me, she was a caricature. However, now that I have lived in Tennessee, enjoyed Dollywood with my small children, and seen what a friendly, clean, just plain nice theme park it is, and learned about the things that Dolly herself does to help the region where she grew up - I am very impressed with Ms. Dolly Parton. Keep up the excellent work, Dolly! And God bless!

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