Sha-Kon-O-Hey! is the most elaborate show in Dollywood’s 24-year history. Parton recorded the songs from the musical on a CD titled Sha-Kon-O-Hey! All proceeds from the CD’s sales will benefit the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The CD is available at Dollywood or online at www.SmokiesStore.org.
Cascading waterfalls, scenic elements and new stage effects on a lush set at Dollywood transport the audience back to the Great Smoky Mountains during the 1930s, when change was insurmountable. A 45-minute musical journey exposes the hidden land of Sha-Kon-O-Hey!, where a storyteller guides a hesitant family as they say goodbye to the area that becomes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Welcome to Sha-Kon-O-Hey!, the latest attraction at Dolly Parton’s award-winning theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. An actress, songwriter and icon of country music, Parton was once again in the spotlight at the premiere opening of Sha-Kon-O-Hey! on May 9 as part of the celebration for the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Parton, an East Tennessee native and the official international ambassador for the 75th anniversary of the Park, wrote the songs for Sha-Kon-O-Hey!. From her 24th annual homecoming parade to addressing the audience at Dollywood, Parton was decked out in stylish, shimmering colors that represented her beloved mountain heritage.
“Having grown up and lived in the heart of these beautiful mountains, my love for this area is deep and genuine,” Parton said. “The mountains have inspired so much of my music.”
Parton wrote eight songs for the new musical, which will run at Dollywood through Oct. 31. The premiere raised more than $102,000 and welcomed more than 1,500 attendees.
Parton recorded the songs from the musical on a CD titled Sha-Kon-O-Hey! All proceeds from the CD’s sales will benefit the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The CD is available at Dollywood or online at www.SmokiesStore.org.
“This park and the mountains have been so close to me through my lifetime,” Parton said. “And every dime that is made off that CD and all the eight songs that support the musical will benefit Friends of the Smokies. It really is a great organization that helps pay for a lot of projects that the park service cannot afford to pay for, so it’s a blessing to me to give a helping hand to the Friends organization and to the National Park that we all love and cherish.”
Sha-Kon-O-Hey! is the phonetic spelling of “Shaconage,” the Cherokee word meaning “land of the blue smoke.” It’s also the most elaborate show in Dollywood’s 24-year history. The audience is introduced to Scots-Irish settlers, railroad workers, lumbermen, Cherokee warriors and moonshiners brought to life by a cast of eight singing dancers and 10 acrobats along with a live, six-piece band with fully orchestrated accompaniment.
With state-of-the-art special effects, the musical unfolds amidst the audience illuminating the spirit of the mountains. Resonating throughout the musical is the theme that by the land becoming a national park, natural resources and cultural history will be permanently preserved and treasured.
After the premiere of Sha-Kon-O-Hey!, Parton shared insights with the audience about her love of songwriting and telling stories. The musical’s director, Paul Couch, had mentioned the idea of what they wanted this show to be, Parton explained.
“They said they needed a song about the railroad, and they needed a song about this and about that, so it was easy for me to kind of plug myself into that and become the loggers and the railroad men and all that,” Parton said. “So I just become whatever I am writing about, and I get my inspiration from anywhere—same with 9 to 5. I wrote the musical. I had written that theme song years ago, 30 years ago to be exact, and it was about women working and people in the office, and of course I just wrote whatever the situation was for the characters, but it’s something I do. I get that gift from my momma’s people. They all write. They all sing. They all play musical instruments.”
Parton plans to write more musicals for Dollywood and has already written a new one titled “Coat of Many Colors,” after her hit song from 1972. She received four Tony nominations this year for her Broadway musical 9 to 5.
With a show like Sha-Kon-O-Hey! Parton found a way to revisit memories of childhood trips to Cherokee with close family and friends.
“When we were kids, we lived way back in the mountains, and we didn’t have a car back then and daddy didn’t even drive at that time, but we used to have kinfolks that used to come up and take us to the Smoky Mountains. We thought that was the neatest thing in the whole wide world to be seeing these Cherokee. So different relatives and different friends in our early childhood would make a deep impression on us by letting us go to the mountains and have picnics and get bologna and stuff we didn’t have at our house.”
Eastern Band of the Cherokee Principal Chief Michell Hicks was in attendance during the May 9 premiere of Sha-Kon-O-Hey! Hicks said he thought the production was very good and appreciated Parton’s respect for the Cherokee culture.
Wherever she goes, Parton draws a wide range of fans spanning many ages, ethnicities and backgrounds.
Thirty-year-old Rebecca Swilling of Cleveland, Tenn., fell in love with Parton at the age of seven when she saw her sing “He’s Alive” on TV.
“She is who she is,” Swilling said.
Dr. James Grubb had the thrill of his life when Parton winked at him after he yelled “Dr. Dolly” to her during Parton’s homecoming parade at Dollywood. Parton recently received an honorary doctorate from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Grubb, a professor at Tennessee Wesley College in Athens, Tenn., holds season passes to Dollywood and claims to have been to the park more than 50 times.
“I am a fan and I love her because she’s larger than life,” Grubb said.
From the front gates to the emblem on the gift shop bags, the Dollywood tradition offers country charm and friendly hospitality from those employed there. It only seems natural, as Parton is perceived as one of the warmest and humblest celebrities in the entertainment business.
Seventy-year-old Eve Taylor has worked at Dollywood for nine years at the front gates of the park at the number six turn stile.
“It’s a good place to work,” said Taylor, “and I’ve enjoyed working here because it’s one big family.”
Taylor’s husband, Everett, has worked at Dollywood in the maintenance department for the past four years.
The 150-acre adventure park tucked away in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., won the Golden Tickets 2007 Publisher’s Pick for the best theme park. Dollywood is open nine months a year and offers more than 40 rides and attractions, including the Thunderhead rollercoaster, which was named the world’s No. 1 wooden coaster twice. Dollywood includes live entertainment including country, bluegrass, gospel and mountain music. The park also features dozens of crafters demonstrating Eastern Tennessee traditions. For more information visit www.Dollywood.com.