It’s the North Pole versus the South Pole during Christmas season performances.
By Hope S. Philbrick
As the lights dim throughout the 35,000 square foot arena, signaling the show is about to begin, my host dining companion leans over and whispers into my ear: “Some people come for the food, some come for the show.” It soon becomes clear that there’s no need to choose, of course. Enjoy it all!
In fact, arrive early and enjoy the show before the show. Start by walking past the horse stables to get a peek at some of the show’s stars before they’re racing around the “stage.” Then head to the Dixie Belle Saloon to listen to top-notch bluegrass musical performances during the pre-show opening act. The featured players are award-winning musicians who’ve worked with Dolly Parton and other top talents.
Year-round, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede is an action-packed dinner show that’s family friendly. Glance around the arena on a weeknight during the school year, however, and odds are that you’ll spot more adults than kiddies. While youngsters surely enjoy the bright lights, pretty horses, chicken races and Santa visit (during holiday season performances), grownups will appreciate the skill required to stand astride two racing horses, race around obstacles driving a wagon team, jump on horseback through a ring of fire, dance precise choreography, play a banjo while holding it overhead and spinning around, and the myriad of other impressive feats achieved by this cast.
Dixie Stampede features 32 magnificent horses and world-class riders. While horse and riders thrill with daring feats of trick riding, the show also serves up music, dance and comedy along with competitions between each side of the auditorium (referred to as the North and South Poles during the holiday shows). Volunteer audience members participate in some aspects of the friendly competition such as a ring toss, piglet race and other amusements—inspired by Dolly Parton’s childhood games with siblings and cousins.
All the while, everyone in the audience is served a finger-licking-good feast. Sip creamy vegetable soup from a handled bowl and then dig with bare hands into a juicy whole rotisserie chicken, slice of hickory-smoked barbecued pork loin, potato wedge, corn on the cob, biscuit and flaky apple turnover. Wash it all down with your choice of non-alcoholic beverage. The food is genuinely delicious, a true feat given that more than 1,000 folks are typically served within a short timeframe—there must be one heck of a massive kitchen hidden somewhere on site!
The show has multiple acts and highlights many different animals—including chickens, pigs, and (for the holidays) doves, sheep and camels—but there’s no doubt that the horses are the true animal stars. In Pigeon Forge, Dixie Stampede stables 40 horses total (32 appear in each performance, while eight rotate through breaks). “The majority are quarter horses,” says Woody Peek, director of media relations. “There’s everything from paints to pintos in all the different color combinations. We also have pull teams, Percherons that are 17 hands high. All of them are trick horses, and we have several horses that were trained in dressage. Our show is a tribute to equestrian; we aim to show off the skills of the rider and horse.” Each cast member is assigned two horses, for care and bonding between horse and rider.
Earlier this year, Dixie Stampede unveiled a completely new look after a $2.5 million renovation that included new lighting, special effects and an expansive wall of 12.5 million LED bulbs. The video wall backdrop has left some guests believing the arena is open air—Spoiler Alert: it’s not.
“I’m more excited than ever for Christmas and can’t wait to share our new adventure with everyone,” said Dolly Parton in a press release. “Thanks to all of the exciting changes we’ve made, we hope this year’s Christmas show will leave our guests with more Christmas spirit than ever before.”
- The Christmas at Dixie show runs through Saturday, January 2, 2016.
- Most of the Christmas show is secular, but there is a nativity scene about midway through the performance.
- The Dixie Belle Saloon opening act begins 50 minutes prior to the main show. Plan ahead so you don’t miss it.
- Ticket price includes admission, the Dixie Belle Saloon opening act, four-course feast, and main show.
- Vegetarian meals are available upon request.
- Alcoholic beverages are not available.
- Facilities are fully accessible for individuals with special needs.
- The Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction features live animals, dramatic lighting, sound and pyrotechnics. If you have allergies or medical conditions, please take precautions prior to entering the facility.
- Odds of Encountering Children: Generally high, but varies. During my recent weekday visit the audience was comprised primarily of adult couples.
Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Reserve tickets for the special holiday show by calling 1-800-356-1676 or visiting www.dixiestampede.com.
In addition to its home in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction operates in Branson, Missouri. Pirates Voyage, another Dolly Parton Company, operates in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
– Photos & video courtesy Dixie Stampede
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