i grew up listening to dolly parton jolene and nine to fivewho loves her music and is in awe of her philanthropy, her Southern accent, her dazzling guitars and her rhinestone-embellished outfits.
She may have been to Glastonbury, but I haven’t been to Nashville, so I joined Tennessee’s Dolly Trail, which offers a rich selection of Parton’s front, from shows showcasing her clothing, instruments and platinum records Museum, to the countless stories about her collaborators, songwriting and journey to fame.
The landlocked state, which borders eight other states, including Kentucky to the north and Alabama and Mississippi to the south, is known for its country music and Tennessee whiskey, where distilleries produce throat-searing moonshine, which A spirit that was once illegal during Prohibition.
But I came for Dolly, so I headed to Nashville, known as Music City, the state capital where she lived, where people and tourists flocked to listen to music from country and jazz in the famous Broadway pub. Symphonic bluegrass and pop. Here, even crossing the street is a musical interlude, as country tunes play from low-profile speakers in the street.
During the day, party buses laden with bachelorettes dancing in shiny cowboy hats and faux cowhide jumpsuits join the crowd in cheers, while other revelers ride party bikes to the screeching beat and drinks of various types. A BYO drink. At dusk, downtown becomes a neon hub for eat and drink, country, pop, blues, jazz and everything in between.
Broadway, Nashville, at night
Dolly may be absent from these regular local nightly festivities, but she’s there once you start exploring the musical history of the place at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where there are walls of gold and platinum albums and memorabilia from the country Who’s who of stars, including Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Garth Brooks.
Elvis Presley’s 1960 gold-plated Cadillac parked near stage costume cabinets adorned with metal embroidery, tassels and rhinestones. The Taylor Swift Education Center is also open, featuring song-inspired artwork and a colorful mural inspired by Dolly Parton’s Multicolor Coat.
A short bus ride away at RCA Studio B, which opened in 1957, we discover more footage of Dolly’s journey, and the fact that she turned down Elvis’ request to record her 1973 song I will love you forever (Reporting by Whitney Houston bodyguard 1992), Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reportedly demanded that she get half the publishing rights to the song in order to seal the deal.
Music Row’s studio, concrete and soulless from the outside, contained a star storyboard, recording equipment and a sense of intimacy.dolly records jolene and I will love you forever Here, Elvis asked for mood lighting while recording a plethora of hits, including are you lonely tonight
Continuing to the Ryman Theatre, the 19th-century former tabernacle and home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1945-74, I imagined the conversation and pre-show atmosphere of a private tour of the dressing rooms, some of which are still alive and well.
But Dolly Parton’s footprint has spread far wider than Nashville. One of 12 children growing up in rural Tennessee, the Parton family was huge across the state.
Dollywood’s Dream Opera House
Her famous theme park Dollywood (www.dollywood.com) complete with rides, a theater, an eagle sanctuary, and even her own chapel with a resident priest and Sunday services, employing some of her extended family, especially performers.
Fan stays at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa (from $124/approximately £101.29 per room per night for four; dollywood.com/resort/), a massive family resort full of memorabilia, including a “dream box” containing her wishes for the future and a final song that won’t open until her 100th birthday in 2046. Another resort, HeartSong, will open in 2023.
Traveling east to her birthplace in Sevierville County, we meet the Shine Girl (www.shinegirl.com), an out-of-the-way sleek wooden brewery and bar owned and opened earlier this year by Dolly’s niece Danielle. It sells moonshine in a variety of flavors, including red velvet, coconut, lavender, and rose. All of her employees are women.
The 46-year-old military veteran and pilot daughter of Bobby Parton (Dolly’s younger brother), blond, bubbly and with a wicked sense of humor, looks an awful lot like her aunt.
Danielle Parton (left) and Hannah Stephenson of Shine Girl Moonlight Distillery
As the family’s “sparkling” history has involved both sides of the law — some making illegal alcohol, while others have tried to close the distillery — Danielle reflects: “If you’re from the area, someone in your family At one point I was involved, but I was practically self-taught.”
she appeared in tv shows brewmaster On Amazon Prime, while she is eagerly aware of the doors the name Parton can open, she has found her way in college, the U.S. Army and life.
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, Dolly Parton is your aunt?’ I kept wishing someone would strike up a conversation with her and say, ‘Oh my God, are you Danielle’s aunt?’
Visitors are welcome to come and sample, but Danielle never promises she’ll be there.
It’s clear that she loves her hometown. “I love Tennessee. It’s beautiful. I love the Appalachian personality that’s come down here over the years. We really like the ‘mind your own business’ culture. People can do whatever they want, With anyone, just mind your own business and don’t bring it to me.”
If you’re looking for a sense of history and Old Town charm, nearby Sevierville Town Center is the place to be. This is also where Dolly grew up.
Our guide, Sevierville County historian Carroll McMahan, who went to the same school as Dolly and knew her like everyone, told us with a smile, showing us the children Dolly enjoys burgers at her favorite ex-local Red’s Café, a new al fresco eatery with a butterfly in homage to her hit song love is like a butterfly.
In front of the landmark Sevierville County Courthouse built in 1896, we admire the bronze statue of Dolly, a young woman sitting on a rock, strumming her guitar casually, first unveiled in 1987.
The town is just a short drive from attractions including Anakeesta, a hilltop adventure park (anakeesta.com website) in Gatlinburg, which has the mandatory mountain coaster, but feels more like a more natural experience, with certified botanical gardens, stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains, and regular sightings of black bears, cardinals, and Americana goldfinch.
Its new nighttime trail, Astra Lumina, features a variety of colorful light installations and atmospheric music to accompany each section of the forest trail.
There are other towns east of Nashville that have ties to Dolly. She sang on Knoxville’s radio show and performed there during the 1982 World’s Fair.
The city’s landmark, the Sunsphere, occupies the site and looks a lot like a giant microphone, opening last year as a viewing platform that offers 360-degree views of the city and the Great Smoky Mountains. Other legacies of the fair are worth admiring, including the amphitheater, which some say looks like Dolly’s bra…
An artsy town just 1 mile from the University of Tennessee with its own theater and a variety of local festivals featuring performing groups, it’s a great walk and a 45 minute drive to the Appalachian Trail for those who want to breathe People with country air.
Hotels including The Tennessean (from $199 / about £162.08 per room per night; www.thetennesseanhotel.com) offers guests a calmer, quieter Nashville experience, with its stunning Market Square and nearby urban wilderness, 1,000 acres of protected wilderness offering multi-use trails.
In the city centre, there are tributes to the singer, most notably her dramatic mural on Strong Alley near Gay Street. There’s a huge LGBTQ+ presence, as well as some whimsical shops, including glittery crafts and bric-a-brac (there’s even a pet chicken named Dolly Poulet).
Soon, my wonderful trip to Tennessee will be over, but in the words of one of its most iconic country music divas, I will always love you…
How to plan your trip
Delta (delta website) from London Heathrow to Nashville from £479 (economy) or £780 Delta Premium return.
For more information on Tennessee, visit tnvacation.com.
Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame
great smoky mountains
Tennessee Theater, Knoxville