Parton welcomes Dollywood's 2016 season

J. H. Osborne • Updated Mar 25, 2016 at 6:37 AM

PIGEON FORGE - "Lightning Rod," Dollywood's highly anticipated new roller coaster, didn't open last week as originally projected. But the rest of the theme park did and superstar Dolly Parton visited Thursday to promote the 2016 season, as well as the multiple projects she has in the works.

As usual, Parton delighted the horde of media and onlookers who flock to her appearances in the park with a steady flow of humor. At one point she said she might just run for president. "I've got the hair - it's huge," Parton said. "And we don't have enough boobs running, right?"

But she also shared some good news for fans of "Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors," the NBC television movie based on one of her signature songs about her childhood in East Tennessee: a sequel might be forthcoming.

As for the next entries to come from the multi-movie deal, as publicized earlier,  Parton said "Jolene" is the next of her songs to become the basis of a film, to be followed by "The Seeker." There are hopes the latter will spin off into a regular television series, Parton said, in the vein of "Highway to Heaven."

"Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors" attracted a network record of more than 15.8 million viewers. It was the most-watched movie on network TV in more than three years and will be released on DVD May 3.

On the music front, Parton will bring her Pure & Simple concert tour home with a stop at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge on Nov. 15 to benefit her Imagination Library. The Pure & Simple tour is Parton's first North American concert tour in more than 25 years and takes her to more than 60 cities across the United States and Canada.

Tickets go on sale to the general public on July 1. Dollywood season pass holders will have an opportunity to purchase concert tickets before the general public. Additional details about Parton's November Pigeon Forge concert stop will be released at a later date.

Parton's set-list during the tour includes a number of hit songs, with a few new offerings from her double-disc album Pure & Simple with Dolly's Biggest Hits. She also will be playing a number of hits that have not been heard live for decades.

Parton's Imagination Library is a literacy program administered through the Dollywood Foundation,  which provides an age appropriate book each month to children from birth to age five in participating communities. To date, the Imagination Library has provided more than 70 million books in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

During her appearance Thursday at Dollywood, Parton said Imagination Library is one of the things of which she is most proud, and the program also will benefit from her upcoming marriage — to her husband of nearly 50 years, Carl Dean.

The two plan to renew their wedding vows in a ceremony on their golden anniversary next month, Parton confirmed Thursday.

And they’re going to make the event a moneymaker for her Imagination Library program.

"We’re going to sell pictures to the tabloids that are always saying we’re divorcing," Parton said. "And then we’re going to donate all the money to the Imagination Library."

As for "Lightning Rod," its track and entry building served as backdrops for Parton's appearance and she wore a flame-patterned ensemble she said was designed to match the flame motif on the "hot rod" ride vehicles for "Lightning Rod."

Parton has long stated, without hesitation, that she has not and will not ride Dollywood's thrill rides. She joked Thursday that if only "Lightning Rod" were open, she could have broken that no-riding streak.

As announced last week, park officials repeated on Thursday that the ride manufacturers had asked for more time to complete the commissioning of "Lightning Rod" and said that as soon as a new opening date is known, it will be shared with the public.

"Lightning Rod" is located across from "Red's Drive-In" in Dollywood's "Jukebox Junction." The ride's main entry is a new structure designed to look like a service station from the 1950s. It replaces the old "Cas Walker's" store. "Cas Walker's" is still represented nearby, as a false storefront.

"Red's Drive-In" has been expanded and updated.

Parton, speaking from a stage a few yards away, pointed out "Jukebox Junction" reflects actual places from her childhood. "Cas Walker's," "The Pines Theater" and "Red's Drive-In" were all real places of which she has fond memories.

The real "Red's" was where Parton had her first hamburger, she said, but she had to follow that up with a do-over: she had the first one right after a visit to the dentist. So her father took her back later for her second try

In keeping with the 1950s theme of “Jukebox Junction,” Parton closed out her appearance with one of her early songs, “Puppy Love.”

Dollywood's Festival of Nations continues through April 18.

Featuring the traditional music, dance, food and art of nations from around the globe, Festival of Nations reminds guests of shared similarities while embracing unique, time-honored traditions. The headline show for 2016, Mother Africa, returns after its Dollywood debut in 2014. This renowned show combines skillful acrobatics, live music and traditional dance to delight audiences through a world-class demonstration celebrating Africa's diverse traditions. Major touring stage shows, internationally known performance groups, various roaming musicians and more make Festival of Nations a fun, educational and exciting experience. Authentic international cuisine and the daily celebrations by visiting nations throughout the park provide guests with an escape around the world without leaving the heart of the Smokies.

The park's 2016 festival lineup includes: Dollywood's Barbeque & Bluegrass - May 13- 22, 2016; Dollywood's Great American Summer - June 11-Aug. 7, 2016; Dollywood's National Southern Gospel & Harvest Celebration presented by Humana - Sept. 30- Oct. 29, 2016; and Smoky Mountain Christmas - Nov. 5, 2016-Jan. 4, 2017.

For more information about Dollywood,  visit www.dollywood.com or call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD. For more information about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, visit www.imaginationlibrary.com.

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