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Pilgrimage to Dollywood: A Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee

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A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel magnolia spirit. She is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans. In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, then take her to Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills; the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; to Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade,” featuring the star herself as grand marshall. Morales’s adventure allows her to compare the imaginary Tennessee of Parton’s lyrics with the real Tennessee where the singer grew up, looking at essential connections between country music, the land, and a way of life. It’s also a personal pilgrimage for Morales. Accompanied by her partner, Tony, and their nine-year-old daughter, Athena (who respectively prefer Mozart and Miley Cyrus), Morales, a recent transplant from England, seeks to understand America and American values through the celebrity sites and attractions of Tennessee. This celebration of Dolly and Americana is for anyone with an old country soul who relies on music to help understand the world, and it is guaranteed to make a Dolly Parton fan of anyone who has not yet fallen for her music or charisma.


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A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel magnolia spirit. She is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans. In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, then take her to Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills; the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; to Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade,” featuring the star herself as grand marshall. Morales’s adventure allows her to compare the imaginary Tennessee of Parton’s lyrics with the real Tennessee where the singer grew up, looking at essential connections between country music, the land, and a way of life. It’s also a personal pilgrimage for Morales. Accompanied by her partner, Tony, and their nine-year-old daughter, Athena (who respectively prefer Mozart and Miley Cyrus), Morales, a recent transplant from England, seeks to understand America and American values through the celebrity sites and attractions of Tennessee. This celebration of Dolly and Americana is for anyone with an old country soul who relies on music to help understand the world, and it is guaranteed to make a Dolly Parton fan of anyone who has not yet fallen for her music or charisma.

30 review for Pilgrimage to Dollywood: A Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee

  1. 5 out of 5

    J. Boo

    Travelogue of an English academic and lifelong Dolly Parton fan who dragged her boyfriend and daughter along on a week's trip to Tennessee to see various country music attractions. I have sneaking suspicion that one motivation for the book was to be able to write off a vacation on her taxes, but it's still a decent read. A few legitimate insights, and "Pilgrimage to Dollywood" is helped a lot by Morales' determination that she was going to have a great time on the trip. A less interesting effete, Travelogue of an English academic and lifelong Dolly Parton fan who dragged her boyfriend and daughter along on a week's trip to Tennessee to see various country music attractions. I have sneaking suspicion that one motivation for the book was to be able to write off a vacation on her taxes, but it's still a decent read. A few legitimate insights, and "Pilgrimage to Dollywood" is helped a lot by Morales' determination that she was going to have a great time on the trip. A less interesting effete, professorial author would've sneered his way through Hick Country, but Morales was sure she'd have a lot of unironic fun, and did, and her enthusiasm rubs off. Some weaknesses and blind spots in her analysis, but honestly that worked in favor of my enjoyment of the book - analyzing analysts is both an enjoyable and useful metacognitive activity. For the record, a couple of years ago I went to Dollywood and had a blast. Great fun. Even talked my mom into her first (and, I'm sure, last) ride on a roller coaster. Looking forward to the kids providing me with an excuse to go again.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    It sounds like an unlikely movie plot: A British professor of classics sets out on a tour of iconic country music destinations, culminating at the theme park devoted to the life of Dolly Parton. But the classicist in question, Helen Morales, is a true fan of country music and had long wanted to witness “the sheer outrageousness” of Dolly’s theme park. Free e-book for April at The University of Chicago Press University. It sounds like an unlikely movie plot: A British professor of classics sets out on a tour of iconic country music destinations, culminating at the theme park devoted to the life of Dolly Parton. But the classicist in question, Helen Morales, is a true fan of country music and had long wanted to witness “the sheer outrageousness” of Dolly’s theme park. Free e-book for April at The University of Chicago Press University.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/f... http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/f...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    I'm not really sure what i was expecting when I decided to read this book about Dolly Parton and Dollywood, but whatever it was, this far surpassed and was much more serious and scholarly than I expected. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and entertaining as well. But it also gave me food for thought, plus an extensive bibliography to consult on various topics covered, not least of which are Dolly and Dollywood. Confession: once upon a time in the far distant past, a friend and I plotted a road tri I'm not really sure what i was expecting when I decided to read this book about Dolly Parton and Dollywood, but whatever it was, this far surpassed and was much more serious and scholarly than I expected. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and entertaining as well. But it also gave me food for thought, plus an extensive bibliography to consult on various topics covered, not least of which are Dolly and Dollywood. Confession: once upon a time in the far distant past, a friend and I plotted a road trip to drive from NYC to Tennessee, specifically to Dollywood with a side trip to the not too distant Chattanooga. Not sure what happened to those plans - the road trip never happened - but it's always been in the back of my mind to check out Dollywood. (Yes, we are both Dolly fans though nowhere close to being superfans. I also admire her as a businesswoman - phenomenal!) Morales here brings her version of a Dollywood road trip to enjoyable life, reanimating thoughts of doing something similar, assuming this pandemic at some point allows for such trips again. I'm enough of an optimist that I've sent my would-be road trip partner a link to the book and said: remember our plan? What about the book? Okay, okay, here we go. Morales is English, now on the faculty at UC-Berkley, CA. In 2010, finding herself at odds with her 'new country', and not acclimating nearly as well as her partner and their daughter, Morales set her eyes on a pilgrimage to Dollywood, having been an ardent Dolly fan since childhood. Why call it a 'pilgrimage'? Morales is a classics scholar, specializing in myth and the concept of pilgrimage. Hmmm, seems a pretty good fit to me, because of course Dolly Parton like Elvis triggers fans making tracks to the locations associated with them -- Graceland for Elvis of course and Dollywood and Pigeon Forge for Dolly. Pilgrimage is a journey, one, as discussed in this book, where the journeyer learns something or embraces something important to self. I've certainly made a few pilgrimages in my time, a certain overnight train ride to Venice a la Helen MacInnes' spy thriller and a trip to Lido Beach there a la Thomas Mann's novella both come to mind. I got it and dug into my read with enthusiasm. Morales and her family expand this pilgrimage to include Elvis, Loretta Lynn, and Nashville, starting the road trip in Memphis. Along the way they explore both the south and its history, and a slice of America. Being English, they are tourists, but not mere visitors; they are familiarizing themselves with their new country. Visit to a park and the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis lead to a discussion about racism in America and the history of the south and the Confederacy in a more academic way than you might think a book would that's describing a pilgrimage to Dollywood. Morales also does not shy away from commenting on the political conservatism, the insularity and even misogyny still evidenced by country music and its manifesters. Christianity and patriotism as espoused by Dolly do not escape scrutiny either. This is not by any means a deep analysis or criticism by the author, but merely observations and thoughts from someone who at the time of writing was essentially an outsider, an immigrant. It was great fun, and there were even a number of photos scattered throughout of the places visisted. I found myself frequently humming or hearing in my head many of Dolly's songs (she is I believe the most successful country musician alive or dead, having written for herself and others over 1500 songs during her career. She's not done yet). This was no accident as Morales links her songs and their lyrics to many of the places visited, and in fact Dollywood is steeped in them. I also learned a couple facts I had not known: one was about Dolly's song made famous by Whtney Houston, and the other was that Dolly, one of the shrewdist and most successful businesswomen in entertainment today (and largely because she maintained control), is co-owner of the production company that brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I actually give this 3.5 stars. It bogged down a little too often into scholarly discourse and analysis to give it a higher rating, and maybe there was also a little too much discussion and insertion of Dolly's songs and lyrics. That may only bother me - I'm one of those rare lovers of vocal music who can never ever remember lyrics or even pay much attention to them or care that much about them. To me lyricas are just another instrument contributing to the total sound. So reading passages regularly including lyrics and song titles...not so thrilling. Morales starts the book with a discussion of pilgrimage, and ends it with her own conclusion on pilgrimage: It is not that the journey is its own reward, but that the journey affects how you experience the destination. NOTE: Just as I finished this review, my digital subscription to The New Yorker chimed with an article alert – on Dolly Parton! https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20....

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    A lot of my reviews start by admitting that I wasn't the target audience for this book. I was the target audience for this book. Helen Morales is a scholar of classical antiquity who is also a huge Dolly Parton fan. I am also a student of antiquity and have been a huge fan of Dolly since a friend in New Orleans said "we gotta teach you about country music" and showed me how many amazing musicians there were back in the 60s and 70s. I jumped at the chance to read this book. This book reminds me a A lot of my reviews start by admitting that I wasn't the target audience for this book. I was the target audience for this book. Helen Morales is a scholar of classical antiquity who is also a huge Dolly Parton fan. I am also a student of antiquity and have been a huge fan of Dolly since a friend in New Orleans said "we gotta teach you about country music" and showed me how many amazing musicians there were back in the 60s and 70s. I jumped at the chance to read this book. This book reminds me a bit of The Accidental Feminist. There is a similar tone of amateurish investigation, but Morales cops to being a non-expert on a lot of things. Her specialty lies in the level analytical gaze she casts and a clear ability to do diligent research. There are lots of little bits of Dolly and country music trivia that you can glean from this book, and the end of the book includes maps and information about all of the places she mentions in case you want to recreate her pilgrimage. Morales also brings in references to Classical topics, sometimes fluidly, othertimes a little more awkwardly. Morales is razor sharp and shows her keen analytic powers frequently in this book, but she also lingers over some of the quiet, simple things that she experienced on this pilgrimage. There are touching and humorous moments with her husband and child, who accompany her on her Tennessee Odyssey. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether you are a Dolly fan or if you're one of those people who "just doesn't like country music" (that was what I said to my friend in New Orleans).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Adrian De la Noye and his young associate, Jim Reid, have been summoned from their Boston law firm to Newport by an elderly client who wishes to revise his will on the eve of his marriage. Not surprisingly, his two children – the never-quite-sober Lady Chloe and especially the threatening and overbearing Nicholas – object vociferously, openly questioning their father’s state of mind. Initially Adrian attributes this to their objection to the marriage generally, but when he discovers that his cli Adrian De la Noye and his young associate, Jim Reid, have been summoned from their Boston law firm to Newport by an elderly client who wishes to revise his will on the eve of his marriage. Not surprisingly, his two children – the never-quite-sober Lady Chloe and especially the threatening and overbearing Nicholas – object vociferously, openly questioning their father’s state of mind. Initially Adrian attributes this to their objection to the marriage generally, but when he discovers that his client is communicating with his long-deceased first wife by séance, and that he believes his first wife has explicitly chosen the decades-younger Catherine Walsh to be his new bride, even Adrian begins to ask questions. Part Twenties Girl, part Agatha Christie, Newport is a delightful little read. The characters are well drawn and the story is entertaining to no end. Interspersed throughout the present day action Adrian’s memories of the last time he was in Newport , and though this tactic can sometimes be quite distracting, in this instance it worked well.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Naomi Krokowski

    This highly entertaining account of classics professor Helen Morales’ road trip with her partner and nine year old daughter offered not only good guidance and tips from a longtime Dolly Parton fan, but a wonderful outsider’s perspective. Morales grew up in Great Britain listening to Parton songs, taking both inspiration and comfort from them. Her pilgrimage to Dollywood includes several other Tennessee attractions: Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Loretta Lynn’s Hurricane Mills, and Nashville’s Parthe This highly entertaining account of classics professor Helen Morales’ road trip with her partner and nine year old daughter offered not only good guidance and tips from a longtime Dolly Parton fan, but a wonderful outsider’s perspective. Morales grew up in Great Britain listening to Parton songs, taking both inspiration and comfort from them. Her pilgrimage to Dollywood includes several other Tennessee attractions: Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Loretta Lynn’s Hurricane Mills, and Nashville’s Parthenon, Civil Rights Museum, and Country Music Hall Of Fame. These are places I’ve daydreamed about visiting, and I thoroughly enjoyed Morales’ honesty and intelligence in writing about her trip.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Brothers

    I read this book after hearing its author speak during the Dolly Parton podcast everyone's been listening to. The book reveals a little more about Dolly than you learn in the podcast, but I really think its focus is so narrow. The pilgrimage is personal for the professor telling her tale, but I didn't enjoy the ride. I appreciated her scholarship, but there's just something very flat about her connection to Dolly. I wish she'd waxed more poetic on that part of her story. I read this book after hearing its author speak during the Dolly Parton podcast everyone's been listening to. The book reveals a little more about Dolly than you learn in the podcast, but I really think its focus is so narrow. The pilgrimage is personal for the professor telling her tale, but I didn't enjoy the ride. I appreciated her scholarship, but there's just something very flat about her connection to Dolly. I wish she'd waxed more poetic on that part of her story.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adrienne Boettinger

    I really wanted to like this book. I heard about it while listening to "Dolly Parton's America," a spinoff podcast from Radiolab, and it sounded intriguing. Plus I love Dolly Parton and a while ago did a vacation to Tennessee very similar to the one described by the author (Memphis and Graceland to Nashville to the Smokeys and Dollywood, with a stop at Loretta Lynn's restaurant). But I couldn't really get into the book, which is strange considering how brief it is. I really wanted to like this book. I heard about it while listening to "Dolly Parton's America," a spinoff podcast from Radiolab, and it sounded intriguing. Plus I love Dolly Parton and a while ago did a vacation to Tennessee very similar to the one described by the author (Memphis and Graceland to Nashville to the Smokeys and Dollywood, with a stop at Loretta Lynn's restaurant). But I couldn't really get into the book, which is strange considering how brief it is.

  10. 4 out of 5

    C

    I liked it! I probably should have realized from the title that it would be just as much (if not more) about the trip to Dollywood as the actually time in Dollywood. A few other Tennessee hotspots were visited. This gave good context and contrast to Dollywood. However, as someone coming to book for Dolly content, it made it a bit slow starting. Overall, a thoughtful, relatable, and challenging take on Dollywood and our expectations of country music heroes.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jill Title

    This was great! Such a fun “intermission” read between the heavier stories and topics our book group often chooses. I learned a lot of fun facts and really enjoyed the witty commentary and story telling. Just a lovely book. :)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    The points the author was making were intriguing and authentic. Something was disconnected for me about the writing. The podcast in which it was mentioned, and led me to read it, was far superior (“Dolly Patton’s America”).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Im slightly less impressed by dolly Parton's America now knowing that this book basically handed them an outline for the podcast, but only referenced it in the first episode. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ good read- some critique and some admiration. Im slightly less impressed by dolly Parton's America now knowing that this book basically handed them an outline for the podcast, but only referenced it in the first episode. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ good read- some critique and some admiration.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karen Nevotti

    This book reads exactly as if it was written by a professor of Classic Greek Studies . . . because it was. It’s very dry, and I guess I don’t understand why the author was so desperate to find meaning in Graceland, Hurricane Mills (Loretta Lynn’s home), and Dollywood.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Some moments of truly bad cultural misunderstanding, but so engaging and vivid. Morales combines personal and academic (mostly) for the good.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Clivemichael

    Fascinating slice of life from a different perspective.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Absolutely loved it. Presents the perspective of a Dolly Parton fan but also goes deeper.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Autumn Macgregor

    It was ok. Definitely not what I expected. She got a little to theological for me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael McCue

    Reading books about travel and pilgrimage usually makes me want to go too. I did like Pilgrimage to Dollywood but at the end of the book I am sure I do not want to go to Dollywood or Graceland or most of the other sites visited in this story. The visit to Graceland especially sound like a terrible rushed crowded and controlled experience. I would not have liked that. The author is an English classics professor teaching at the University of California in Santa Barbara. A big fan of Dolly Parton s Reading books about travel and pilgrimage usually makes me want to go too. I did like Pilgrimage to Dollywood but at the end of the book I am sure I do not want to go to Dollywood or Graceland or most of the other sites visited in this story. The visit to Graceland especially sound like a terrible rushed crowded and controlled experience. I would not have liked that. The author is an English classics professor teaching at the University of California in Santa Barbara. A big fan of Dolly Parton she set out to visit a number of sites in Dolly's home state of Tennessee including Elvis Presley's home and shrine. Graceland, and Dolly Parton's amusement park Dollywood. Morales's observations of American culture and music were very astute but I will not be following her steps. Pilgrimage to Dollywood was one in a series of books published by the University of Chicago Press on literary tourism and pilgrimage. The other that I read was Freud's Couch, reviewed by me somewhere on Goodreads. I am looking forward to the next one in the series and I hope the University of Chicago Press makes it one of their monthly free e-books.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I always enjoy stories of self discovery through travel, but I find they can sometimes feel a little preachy or far fetched. In fact, sometimes I end up hating them, because of the jealousy I feel. This book is a great example of a self discovery voyage I can relate to, a story of a fairly quirky voyage to a not so exotic locale, but a deeply personal journey tied to a childhood memory. This book is well written and a good mix of fun travel stories contrasted with the difficulties of reconciling I always enjoy stories of self discovery through travel, but I find they can sometimes feel a little preachy or far fetched. In fact, sometimes I end up hating them, because of the jealousy I feel. This book is a great example of a self discovery voyage I can relate to, a story of a fairly quirky voyage to a not so exotic locale, but a deeply personal journey tied to a childhood memory. This book is well written and a good mix of fun travel stories contrasted with the difficulties of reconciling a childhood ideal to the reality you find as an adult. It also sounded like an incredibly fun trip and I found myself desperately wanting to make the trip to Dollywood to experience it for myself. I also loved all of the directions and itinerary information in the back of the book that make it easy for you to make the pilgrimage yourself. This book gave me a lot of the same feelings I had while reading another book that is similar and I loved very much, The Wilder Life.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joyce Berzenski

    From the title and the picture on the front of this book I was expecting a rollicking, fun trip to Dollywood. Unfortunately, not so much. This book read more like a graduate thesis, which was born home by the 6 pages of notes at the end. There was lots of history in this book, of all the places the author went on her trip. And it really helps to be a Dolly Parton fan, as she mentions many of her songs by title. If you don't know the songs, you wouldn't know why they are applicable. This is a sli From the title and the picture on the front of this book I was expecting a rollicking, fun trip to Dollywood. Unfortunately, not so much. This book read more like a graduate thesis, which was born home by the 6 pages of notes at the end. There was lots of history in this book, of all the places the author went on her trip. And it really helps to be a Dolly Parton fan, as she mentions many of her songs by title. If you don't know the songs, you wouldn't know why they are applicable. This is a slim book, only 138 pages, including all of the Notes. Still, it took me 3 weeks to read it, maybe because I had a hard time picking it up. I could always find something else to do. But when I was reading it, it was interesting enough to warrant 3 stars.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Drucilla

    So I'm not a big country music fan and I could probably count the number of Dolly Parton songs that I've listen to on one hand, but I've "experienced" Pigeon Forge so that was reason enough for me to pick this book up. I really enjoyed it! It's not longer than it has to be and it's very insightful. Morales writes from both a fan's perspective and as an outsider (she's English) and her analysis is fascinating (and uncomfortable at times). There are times she gets a little too philosophical, but t So I'm not a big country music fan and I could probably count the number of Dolly Parton songs that I've listen to on one hand, but I've "experienced" Pigeon Forge so that was reason enough for me to pick this book up. I really enjoyed it! It's not longer than it has to be and it's very insightful. Morales writes from both a fan's perspective and as an outsider (she's English) and her analysis is fascinating (and uncomfortable at times). There are times she gets a little too philosophical, but they're generally short sections. While it might only appeal to a niche group, it's quite an enjoyable read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A travelogue by an academic (classicist; and an American immigrant to boot) who is an ardent Dolly Parton fan: based on these ingredients, I was excited to read this, a free e-book selection from U Chicago press. But it felt too disjointed -- neither academic enough, nor pop enough -- more like a blog or magazine article than the kind of insightful and introspective writing that I expect from a book (and even more so from a university press book).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicole G.

    April's free ebook from University of Chicago press. April's free ebook from University of Chicago press.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katy B

  26. 4 out of 5

    Simone

  27. 5 out of 5

    Linda Guse

  28. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Ooten

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julie Morris

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle Nunez

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