The Robert F. Thomas Chapel,  Dollywood

The Robert F. Thomas Chapel, Dollywood

There’s a famous line from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra:  It beggared all description.  I think I learned what this phrase meant today (3/22/15.)

While there are many incredible things at Dollywood–the food, the shops, amazing craftsmanship, the rides–but for us, the shows are the main reason we come.  My previous experience at Dollywood was during the Christmas holidays, when the shows were truly unparalleled, but what we saw today at the Festival of Nations truly blew it out of the water.  So, while we did walk around, visit shops, and buy things, today’s experience was truly about the shows.

To begin with, we weren’t planning on being at Dollywood as early as we were.  We had planned to attend Cowboy church–a local church service (broadcast internationally) that features country music artists.  A friend had recommended it as an amazing experience.  But, when we pulled into the Comedy Barn, there were no cars in the parking lot.  We went in and asked the workers, and they told us the church had moved.  With a bit of digging, we discovered the church was not meeting for the next two weeks.  Still wanting to attend church on a Sunday, we googled where Dolly went to church.  We didn’t find out where Dolly usually attends, but we did discover there was a chapel in Dollywood with an 11:30 service, so we still had a chance to make it–without even rushing!

The view from the choir loft waiting for the service to start.

The view from the choir loft waiting for the service to start.

When we arrived, the chaplain was asking for volunteers for the choir, and since mom and I both sing, we decided to join.  Service was an incredible one.  Chaplain Joey Buck started by sharing that God had brought us specifically to this place–especially true for us, since we had planned to be someone else.  He brought an encouraging message from Ps. 51, challenging us that God was a God of renewal, that He didn’t and wouldn’t give up on us, and that He gives us joy and meaning as we walk with Him.  The service was interspersed with hymns and sharing.  While different from my home church, it was an incredible experience, and I’m glad we ended up with God’s plan A.  I also think it is awesome that Dolly has employed a full-time chaplain for her staff for 30 years: a true testimony of how much Dolly gives back.   For more about Smokey Mountain Resort Ministries, check them out at http://www.smrm.org.

The Invaders Steel Orchestra

The Invaders Steel Orchestra

After church, we meandered towards the Valley Theater to check out The Invaders Steel Orchestra. We bought a few things at the glassblowers and were informed that Dollywood offers guests the option of Package pick-up. If you buy something other than a stuffed animal, they can have it delivered to the front of the park for you to pick up on your way out! An awesome convenience for people who already have a lot to carry.

The Invaders Steel Orchestra is a group from Trinidad and Tobago. When the show first started, I had been anticipating something that was like Drumline. Instead, the first song was a mellow, islandy melody which reminded me of hold music (The music you hear when you’re placed on hold.) Steel drumSo I wasn’t very impressed until the one of the performers began to share a bit more. I learned that Trinidad and Tobago are the most southerly of the Caribbean islands. While two separate islands differing in industry, they together make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The instruments they were playing are steel drums made from 55 gallon oil drums, and they were created in Trinidad and Tobago. What I had mistaken for a synthesizer playing the melody was actually the drums. These varying drums, some of which looked like overgrown mixing bowls, created the most beautiful melodies. They vary in pitch and sound, in some cases resembling the instruments for which they are named, like the cello, guitar, or bass. When they played everything from Amazing Grace to Offenbach’s Can Can, I was blown away. I had been expecting drums–this was incredible skill which involved picking a selected spot on the drum to represent each note. Unbelievable!

The Alash Ensemble Throat Singers from the Republic of Tuva

The Alash Ensemble Throat Singers from the Republic of Tuva

Since we had about an hour and a half until the next show, we browsed various shops along the way, finally making our way to The Heartsong Theater to see Alash Ensemble. This group from the Republic of Tuva (Located between Siberia and Mongolia) was the first show I’ve ever experienced that truly “beggared description.” From the moment they began singing, I knew there was no possible way for me to describe what they do. These “Throat Singers” are able to shut out certain tones in their voice so what you hear coming out is literally two distinct sounds in two very different registers. Like trying to decipher a good magic trick, we looked for something else that could have been making the noise we were hearing: Nothing.

Stilt walking acrobatics

Stilt walking acrobatics

While they played accompanying instruments, they were not moving their fingers appropriately to produce the sounds we heard. There was no trick! Mom and I both left saying it was the most unique thing we had ever witnessed! To find out more information on the Alash Ensemble–and to hear this incredible phenomenon for yourself–check out their website at http://www.alashensemble.com Play the video in the left hand corner to hear a sample! (By the way, they really are country–they sing about pretty girls and fast horses…)

We were able to make our way to the next show at a leisurely pace, so we spent time on the lookout for the Zebra Stelzentheater from Germany. These stilt walkers simply rove the park, posing for pictures with tourists and showing their acrobatic skills. We saw two different groups–one with alien looking costumes, and one with late 1700’s costumes. They were a fun interlude.

Los Pampas Gauchos

Los Pampas Gauchos

It was then time to check out the much anticipated Los Pampas Gauchos. This group from Argentina totally blew me away. It was the second group to truly leave me speechless. Not only did they perform incredible dancing, but they blended it with comedy, acrobatics, and a variety of dangerous items including knives, whips, and bolas. Additionally, they boasted a cast containing both the 2013 and the 2014 winners of the Malambo dance contest. (Malambo is a mix of tap, instruments, and basic showing off.) Each dance was more incredible than the one before. When they came out and danced with Bolas (a throwing weapon made up of a cord with a ball attached to the end, meant to be thrown and wrapped around an animal’s legs), it was stunning! Definitely a show not to miss! To experience a bit of the show for yourself, check out this YouTube video from the 2012 season! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Q21Zo0_RA8

Timber acrobatics

Timber acrobatics

Finally, we ended our day at the Showstreet Palace Theater to take in Timber! This group hails from the small town of Saint-Alphonse-Rodriquez, Quebec and brings their experiences of farm life combined with unbelievable acrobatics. Since I had missed the part about them being from Quebec, I was surprised when the songs they sang were in French. But, we soon recovered and thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was slower paced than the enthusiastic gauchos, but also included feats of incredible balance, juggling axes (legitimate axes–you could hear the clang of the metal, and they ended each trick throwing them into a tree trunk), running logs, spinning inside wheels, and a variety of other tricks. You can check out their show at http://www.cirquealfonse.com/en/shows/timber/

Alas, the park was closing, and it was time to leave Dollywood for another day. We will be exploring some other territories tomorrow, so probably won’t be back to Dollywood until later in the week. I can’t wait to see several of these shows again!

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