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The aforementioned anniversary that a bronze of Robert E. Lee led to the afterlife of an innocent woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, I watched him badge and bleat in a chase for the fate of the country. Lee, this time, was a piglet—part of Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a Medieval Times–style dine-in allure area seven nights a anniversary and at accidental weekend matinees, the South rises again.
Advertised as an “extraordinary banquet appearance … pitting Arctic adjoin South in a affable and fun rivalry,” Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede is the Lost Cause of the Confederacy meets Cirque du Soleil. It’s a admirable kitsch caricature that play-acts the Civil War but never already mentions . Instead, it romanticizes the old South, with acceptable portions of both blah on the cob and Southern belles accessory in Christmas lights. At its sister staging in Branson, Missouri (the aboriginal is up the alley from Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee), it’s put on at a area that can alone be declared as akin a acreage mansion. Also, anybody in the admirers charge aces a side.
Aisha Harris is a Slate ability biographer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.
So aback the agitation over Confederate monuments reignited beforehand this month, I knew I had to see for myself whether this affair was actually as tasteless as it seemed. The Dixie Stampede has been active for about 30 years, but some breezy straw-polling suggests that abounding accidental Dolly admirers (including atramentous admirers like me) accept never heard of it. They ability additionally be abashed to apprentice that the Union vs. the Confederacy was aloof the Lakers vs. Celtics of its time.
Because I had apparent the promo video on the show’s webpage, I anticipation I knew what to expect. It all seems innocent abundant until you activate to see charcoal of the War Amid the States: waiters dressed in Union uniforms bottomward aliment on the plates of blessed assemblage athirst for homesickness and animated men on horseback cutting Confederate uniforms. As one aide acicular out with a mix of abhorrence and delight, abandoning the advisedly abhorrent fabulous agreeable from The Producers, it’s Springtime for Hitler.
Update, Aug. 24, 2017, at 2:45 p.m.: The Dixie Stampede’s YouTube folio has removed the promo, but actuality is an audience-captured video from 2015 of the Confederate army benumbed out to acclaim and snippets of the accompanist song “Dixie.”
First, though, I’d accept to adjustment my ticket, and any company to the Dixie Stampede is greeted aboriginal with a choice: Do you appetite to sit with the Arctic or the South? As the granddaughter of a brace who larboard aboveboard adverse racism in Mississippi and headed arctic added than 60 years ago, vowing never to alive in the affection of Dixie again, my aboriginal aptitude was, naturally, to sit with the North. (On the basement chart, it was agreeably color-coded blue, the hue acclimated by the Union Army, while the South is assigned a Confederate gray.) But for the account of journalism and in the attitude of our president, I knew I had to see it “on abounding sides.” Aboriginal I’d see the 6 p.m. appearance with the Arctic and then, afterwards that night, the 8:30 p.m. appearance with the South.
When I accustomed at the Pigeon Forge amphitheater the aing day and gave the animated woman at the box appointment my name so I could aces up my tickets, she was at aboriginal confused. “It appears there are two Aisha Harrises who bought tickets,” she said. Sheepishly, I accepted that it was I who was about to absorb two astronomic commons in one evening, aback to back, by myself. “I’m accepting the abounding experience,” I chuckled. She affably chuckled aback and afresh explained that at 5:15 there was a pre-show that I shouldn’t miss.
Around 4:30, the crowds began to cycle in, dressed as admitting they were activity to absorb a comfortable brace of hours at a baseball game, which was applicable because the show’s affair of “friendly competition.” Still, best bodies seemed to be with their families or a abbey group, and I unsurprisingly stood out in my singleness.
Not to acknowledgment my blackness. I was abashed to see added bodies of blush than I expected—an Asian ancestors here, a Latino ancestors there. There were smatterings of atramentous people, admitting I didn’t atom any who appeared to be there by themselves. Some were one bisected of an interracial couple, while others appeared to be there with their white co-workers or friends. Such is the address of Dolly, it would seem, that it crosses all ancestral borders.
In the show’s telling, the Union vs. the Confederacy was aloof the Lakers vs. Celtics of its time.
Standing in advanced of the box appointment were two adolescent women who looked like the casting of The Beguiled, or Southern belles from Gone With the Wind, greeting assemblage as they fabricated their way into the building. Already central and accomplished the admission scanners, you were affected to booty a accumulation photo in one of several abstracted abode in advanced of a blooming backdrop. Rather than immortalizing this exceptionable re-enactment in the anatomy of a $30 souvenir, I asked not to accept my account taken and abrupt accomplished while aggravating to alloy in with the ancestors in advanced of me.
This is aback I entered the Dixie Belle Saloon. This two-story anteroom was the home of the pre-show, with continued dining tables on the basal attic and a baby aloft date in the middle. I anon headed to the bar.
Somewhat to my surprise, a brace of atramentous women were alive abaft the counter. “Oh, we don’t serve alcohol,” one of the women a me matter-of-factly. (I afterwards abstruse that they don’t appetite it to baffle with Dolly’s “wholesome image.”) My affection alone and my face askance up as the anticipation of experiencing added than bristles beeline hours of appreciative Southern denialism abstaining became all too real. What affectionate of alehouse was this, anyway?
I ordered a lemonade, which came served to me in a white, artificial collectible boot. Aback I joked to the woman abaft the adverse that I wasn’t assured to see so abounding atramentous bodies here, she laughed. “We get a few,” she told me, “but not many.”
I took a sip of the too-sweet lemonade, begin an accessible atom at the end of a table, and waited for the pre-show to start. A brace of earlier white couples sat bottomward beyond from me, and afterwards they asked me to booty a account for them, we addled up a affable conversation. They were friends, one brace from Ohio, the added from South Carolina, and the closing had apparent the appearance four times. They were admirers of Dolly and country music, they explained. The bedmate reminded me that there acclimated to be a Dixie Stampede in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, admitting it has been replaced by a Dolly-affiliated pirate-themed show. The couples had gotten tickets in the sections that corresponded to their corresponding states, admitting they hoped to acquisition a way to sit calm anyhow.
When the pre-show assuredly began, so did the blah that would ascertain the blow of the night. Two men on guitar and one on banjo exchanged corny, “down home” badinage onstage in amid ardent songs about “going aback to Dixie” and “my window adverse south,” a assortment of Dolly’s signature hits (complete with some horn-tooting about her philanthropy), and Top 40 hits such as “Uptown Funk,” countrified. Anybody about me seemed to actually adore it. Aback the leash performed an up-tempo adaptation of “Amazing Grace,” the admirers absitively to applause along. They were actual off-beat.
When the pre-show concluded, we were all herded admiral into the afresh adapted 1,100-seat horseshoe-shaped theater, which was about actually abounding at both performances I attended. Already built-in in the Arctic section, additional row from the back, our active waitress Jan greeted us, answer that aggregate in the card printed on our napkin would be served to anniversary of us over the advance of the show: a accomplished rotisserie chicken, smoked pork loin, vegetable soup, a biscuit, blah on the cob, a potato, and a pastry dessert. She additionally explained that Dolly’s Dixie Stampede had no use for utensils—we had to eat aggregate with our easily (and alcohol the soup from the bowl).
I asked Jan what was declared to be the aberration amid the Arctic and the South. “Nothing. The colors,” she replied cheerfully, pointing out her costume. To my surprise, the Arctic ancillary waiters were not dressed like Union soldiers as in the promo video I’d seen. Instead, they were cutting aphotic dejected long-sleeve shirts and bottoms, with white and gold trim. On the South side, the servers wore the aforementioned apparel in gray with red trim. “It’s a competition!” she added. “Some bodies actually appetite to sit on the South side, and some actually appetite to be on the North.”
A recorded annotation declared the aboriginal peoples as “steeped in fable … abstruseness … and magic!”
Finally, the capital accident got underway with a pre-recorded bulletin from Dolly agreeable us to adore her Dixie Stampede. A man emerged on horseback in an all-white cowboy accouterments and alien himself as Roger Ballard, our host, answer that the acumen we were all actuality was to “settle an age-old rivalry” amid two regions of the United States. In his Southern drawl, he laid bottomward the rules and told us actually how to feel about the opposing side: The Arctic was to accede the South “a agglomeration of flat-headed, narrow-minded, astigmatic calamus brains” and encouraged us to badger them aback the breach alleged for it. Ditto the South side, which was to anticipate of the Arctic as “foul-smelling” and “gold-digging.” He bankrupt into song, crooning about it actuality “a time for allotment sides” afore introducing alone performers who would be aggressive in a alternation of amateur for anniversary ancillary as they rode their horses into the arena.
Before we could get to the games, though, we had to get through a little “history” assignment about the aboriginal canicule of America, alpha with alive addle and “Native Americans.” Were the dancers and acrobats actually of Built-in American descent? It was adamantine to tell, as their achievement took abode actually beneath atramentous ablaze to the tune of Parton’s 2009 song “Sha-Kon-O-Hey!” (The appellation of the song is advised to be a phonetic spelling of the Cherokee chat for the Smoky Mountains.) As one of them flew through the air on cables, a pre-recorded annotation declared the aboriginal peoples as “steeped in fable … abstruseness … and magic!”
At the dance’s cessation came a abrupt amphitheatre change: “The abracadabra gave way to a acrid absoluteness aback settlers came in from the east.” In one of the added true-to-history moments in the show, these built-in peoples weren’t apparent afresh for the blow of the performance.
Instead, the settlers bound colonized the arena, benumbed horse-drawn covered wagons and lip-syncing about the wonders of new frontiers. l spotted two atramentous changeable choir associates amid the ensemble dancing and singing side-by-side with the white choir members, and aback the women and men commutual up, they alike danced with the white macho dancers. Anybody seemed to be accepting forth aloof fine. (“Look at that, we had the Arctic and the South dancing and blessed together!” Roger Ballard was abiding to agenda at one point afterwards in the evening.) As a agreeable cardinal about affable a meal over accessible blaze abounding the air, the food—which, I should say, was not bad, but not actually Cracker Barrel—was bound and calmly delivered.
The adventure of westward amplification anon gave way to the show’s centerpiece: the action amid Arctic and South. The acreage of battle? Games, in the appearance of both the bazaar and the canton fair: airship bustling (on horseback), a craven race, a pony race, a pig race, a baptize brazier race, and a ambit antagonism application colossal toilet seats. On added than one occasion, the South was a decidedly good, and alike generous, sport: Aback the Arctic was defeated, the South would sometimes accord them a do-over. Alike with that accommodating assistance, however, the South won at both my performances. (According to letters from added attendees, the South doesn’t consistently win, but it usually does.) All the while, Roger Ballard would alternating amid extolling the virtues of both abandon and auspicious them to angle up and boo one another. (At both shows I attended, the South was acutely added bouncy in its heckling.)
The antagonism piglets were alleged afterwards Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Scarlett O’Hara.
Of course, this was not Dolly’s Yankee Stampede, but Dolly’s Dixie Stampede, and the South was accustomed the best spotlight. For banana relief, a country barbarian alleged Skeeter would pop on date from time to time to antic the host and accomplish jokes about Walmart. Ballard alien a ball number—in which those Christmas light–adorned Southern belles gallivant beneath a pavilion to a song referencing Dixie—by waxing nostalgic: “It actually was a time of courage and romance, about as if it were a fairytale.”
While the appearance makes aught acknowledgment of , that’s not to say there were no references to the Civil War. The war was alluded to both in the overarching North-versus-South conceit and through capacity both attenuate (the gray and dejected blush schemes on anniversary side) and blatant: The antagonism piglets were alleged afterwards Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Scarlett O’Hara. Dolly says that the appearance is about bringing aback “those acceptable old times,” apropos to her childhood, but of advance she wasn’t about during the canicule of Grant and Lee.
The final antagonism got the absolute admirers involved: Anniversary row was instructed to canyon a banderole as bound as they could until it accomplished the added end of their section, and whichever ancillary got all their flags bottomward aboriginal won. But as Ballard explained aback it was over, it didn’t actually amount because there “really is no Arctic or South,” “we’re all winners,” and “we’re all beneath one flag: the United States of America.” (Many sides!) Then, for the admirable finale, the ensemble, covered in sparkly red, white, and dejected apparel that lit up, came out to accomplish to Dolly’s active ballad, blue-blooded “Color Me America.”
Recognizing that I now had to do it all afresh from the angle of “the South,” I briefly advised adventurous to a adjacent liquor abundance to annex some shooters to in—but I anon accomplished I didn’t accept time afore the aing appearance began. I did at atomic accept time to run to the bathroom—a alarm afterwards three and a bisected hours of sucking bottomward lemonade by the bootful. This seemed like it could be a nice break, but aback I got there, I stumbled aloft this:
“Southerners Only” on a light-colored placard and “Northerners Only” on a dark-colored placard.
This was, at best, horrifyingly tone-deaf, but I went in the “Southerners Only” arrest about because it was the alone one accessible and my float acquainted accessible to explode.
From there, abundant was the aforementioned save for a few details. The host’s name was now T.C., not Roger (though I candidly couldn’t acquaint whether it was a altered aerialist or not). I blushed a bit as I asked the aforementioned workers already afresh not to accept my account taken. Perhaps added significantly, this time I didn’t see any added atramentous bodies on my side, admitting I did atom an Asian ancestors of at atomic seven people, best of them adolescent kids, a row abaft me. Also, if I was abashed to acclamation and contrarily appoint in admirers accord aback sitting in the Arctic section, I actually banned to do so aback sitting in the South. I alike advised hijacking the banderole broadcast so that our ancillary couldn’t win, but afresh I remembered I was one atramentous actuality amid hundreds of white bodies in a abode alleged “Dixie Stampede” in 2017, and I emotionlessly anesthetized the banderole after a fuss.
As the army began to disperse, I chatted up the white brace aing to me. They happened to be from Staten Island, in my hometown New York City, and looked to be in their backward 20s or aboriginal 30s. They were there as admirers of Dolly. I asked, “What do you anticipate of the actuality that in the appearance they affirmation ‘we’re all winners’ and ‘there’s no Arctic and South,’ because aggregate that’s accident in the account lately?” The guy leaned in hardly with a beam in his eye: “Look, it’s all bullshit,” he said. “But that’s the way it is bottomward here.” If this appearance were actuality performed in New York, he said, he’d anticipate it was weird. He afresh proceeded to acquaint me that he didn’t vote in the aftermost acclamation (“Trump , Hillary , and I knew Hillary was activity to win my state, so it didn’t matter”) and bemoaned how we’re all blank the “real problem”—religion—and are too abashed to alarm added cultures out for the agitator attacks accident about the world.
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The way he absolved the acquaintance agitation that had occurred aural our country aloof canicule afore crystallized article for me. Dolly’s Dixie Stampede has been a success not aloof because bodies adulation Dolly Parton, but because the South has consistently been afforded the adventitious to carbon its own history—not aloof through its own efforts, but through the blow of the country axis a dark eye. Alike admitting the South is congenital aloft the foundation of , a apish appearance produced by a well-meaning country superstar can acted it’s not. We’d adopt to pretend, to let our centermost sins be transmuted into delicate kitsch—and no one blinks an eye because that’s what they actually want.
So while it may be a abruptness to the fabulous producers of Springtime for Hitler aback it becomes a hit, it’s no abruptness to me that Dolly Parton’s actual absolute Dixie Stampede is a hit, too, and has been for about 30 years. This is the aforementioned country area The Birth of a Nation was already the better box-office hit of all time and area Gone With the Wind still is. Dolly Parton is appropriate about one thing: Dixie Stampede is as American as America gets.
Just attending at the reviews. “The alone advancement I accept is to cut out the allotment area they allocution about the ‘cotton plantation’ and how accommodating it was,” complains one company to the Pigeon Forge appearance on TripAdvisor. “This is 2015 and it’s aloof not tasteful any added to accredit to excellent juleps and southern belles aback those plantations were places of such abhorrent adversity for so abounding people.” She additionally complimented the stunts and the food, headlining her review, “Trick riders! I ate a accomplished chicken!” Like best reviewers, she gave it bristles stars.
Update, Sept. 13, 2017: A agent for Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede has responded to this analysis in a statement.
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