Dolly Parton
Knoxville News-Sentinel
June 21, 2003
Parton kicks off Dollywood's KidsFest
By Cliff Hightower

PIGEON FORGE - When Dolly Parton stepped onto the stage, the crowd exploded.

"Hello!" she said.  "Welcome, everybody, to the opening of 'KidsFest!'"

The Sevier County gal was at her namesake theme park, Dollywood, Friday to promote the opening of a new festival, "KidsFest," that is billed as the largest children's festival in the South.

Parton said starting KidsFest was a perfect idea because of the work she already does with Imagination Library, a program that encourages children to read.

She said she loves children and KidsFest will be a way to help her show that love.

"We're the unofficial babysitters," she joked.

KidsFest kicked off Friday with Parton singing "Happy Birthday" to Garfield as he turned 25.  Also present at the show were Larry and Bob from "Veggie Tales," a member of the team from the Purina Dog Chow Incredible Dog Team and members of the ASA Extreme Sports Show.

Each of those attending will do shows over the summer for KidsFest.

Parton said she hopes to expand in the future and have a children's show at Dollywood all-year long.  She said the working title would be "At Granny's Farm."

"We need a new Mr. Rogers," Parton said.  "And, hopefully, I'll be it.  They can call me Aunt Granny, and Carl (her husband) Uncle Poo-paw."

KidsFest will be at Dollywood through August 10.  This is the first year for the festival, and the plan is for it to be a continuing feature.

In addition to KidsFest, Parton also has opened a new Dixie Stampede in Orlando, Fla., that is the largest of four Dixie Stampedes.  The other three are in Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Branson, Mo.

Besides featuring Union and Confederate troops performing on horseback, the new Dixie Stampede will have buffalo.

"We thought it was the American thing to do," Parton said.

She said she'll be staying busy over the next few months, with a show scheduled for July 4 in Washington D.C.  She will appear at the annual Concert at the Mall along with other artists.

She said she is also working in the recording studio on a patriotic gospel album titled "Red, White and Bluegrass."  It will cover some traditional patriotic songs, along with the title track that she wrote herself.

Parton said she is shooting for the album to come out on Sept. 11, and she will begin her "God and Country" concert tour immediately afterward.

Parton is also in awe of a new tribute album of her songs that will be released in October.

Artists on the album will include Shania Twain, Melissa Etheridge, Sinead O'Connor and Norah Jones.

"A lot of these girls have been fans of mine and say they were inspired by me," Parton said, laughing.

But the expression on her face as she ticked off the names of the artists on the album was a giveaway that the admiration is mutual.