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Laurie Niles

Shopping for Dollywood

August 3, 2009 at 3:23 AM

Tonight we make camp in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, after driving all the way across the country, reaching Washington, D.C., and turning south.

Much of our big family trip has been about theme parks because of my husband's website, So we've hit parks big and small: Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana; Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio; Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, and today, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Robert wrote up these visits very nicely on his site, but I wanted to share a few musical tidbits I picked up today at Dollywood, the park in the Smoky Mountains that features the talents of Dolly Parton, and also has touches of her hospitality (they set out little cups of water for all, free, all day).

When the day began, the rain was pouring, I had a blinding headcold, and no one would sell me a Sudafed on a Sunday morning ("You need to sign in blood with a certified pharmacist, who does not arrive until after 10 a.m.," said the lady at CVS Pharmacy. I think that's what she said, but I was pickled with nasal ooze to really know.) At least I had two pills left, and that would see me through the day.

Lunch time was when I finally got to take those last pills, the sun came out, and we met my favorite person at the park, Miss Lillian.

Miss Lillian played a banjo and walked around the restaurant, trying to get people to find their "inner chicken" by crowing, flapping their arms, clucking, dancing etc. Always wanting to encourage live entertainers, I played along and said, "Cockadoodle doo!" for her (with feeling). She tossed me a fresh biscuit from her basket, in return.

We didn't see Dolly, but we saw a show called Sha-Kon-O-Hey! which included eight songs composed by Parton herself. I was happy to see, amid the singing, dancing, people soaring overhead with eagle-feather wings, that the show featured a five-piece bluegrass band, including a fiddle player who doubled on mandolin. They did not appear to be doing the Milli Vanilli thing; they were actually playing -- a welcome sight.

I also visited Uncle Bill's Music in the Valley;

Here, the lovely lady who ran the store showed me an interesting instrument that I'd not played before, the bowed psaltery, and within minutes she had told me and my daughter many interesting facts about the instrument, such as that it is mentioned in the Bible some 27 times. Then she provided us with a small, curved bow, some music, and let us have at it.

They had a decent selection of Mandolin music -- all Mel Bay, but Mel Bay has the corner on that market, doesn't he? Though one can find zillions of these books online, I haven't found altogether that many opportunities to leaf through these books, in the flesh, and there's no subsititute for that. I found "Texas Fiddle Favorites for Mandolin by Joe Carr" (marked down from $17.99 to $12.88) and snatched it up. It appears to have that balance of ease-to-play yet written in musical notation (as opposed to tab). We'll see!

As I stood at the cashier and the above-mentioned sweet lady rung up my book, I noticed a gorgeous-looking mandolin on the wall. Ooo really nice.

"What kind of mandolin is that?" I asked.

"A Washburn," she said, then quoted a price larger than $1,000. To a violinist, that didn't sound like a crazy price, though I know that mandolins generally cost much less than violins. I signed my name on the receipt, took my music, and turned around to leave. Then I turned back.

"Can I try playing it?" I asked.

"Sure you can," she said, and took it down from the wall. It sounded as nice as it looked, at it was easier to play than my own. Smooth. With a little crook for my right pinkie on the bridge. (Is that allowed? I don't even know!)

Now don't you be worryin'. Well, you can worry that I'm pickin' up a temporary southern accent (another week in the South still!) but I ain't gonna buy a mandolin before I pay off my fiddle!

But after....

From Anne Horvath
Posted on August 3, 2009 at 3:16 PM

Sorry to hear about your cold.  I hope you feel better soon!

And, instead of "Now don't you be worryin'", try "Now don'tchy'all be worryin'"...

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 3, 2009 at 5:31 PM

That was fascinating, Laurie.  I especially liked the store and the video of you playing the bowed psaltery.  I've heard and tried bowed psalteries, and I can tell that the one you played sounded pretty good.  I prefer instruments with a more resonant sound and good sustain, but those qualities are hard to get in such a small instrument with a small sound box.  Congratulations on having self restraint and not buying the mandolin or any other instrument you saw there.  It sounds like the kind of store I'd go nuts in.  I'm looking forward to more of your blogs on your trip.

From Royce Faina
Posted on August 3, 2009 at 7:21 PM

I love Pigeon Forge!  I have allot of extended family there and surrounding areas!  My Family on my mother's side landed in the Smokey Mountains and the Appalatia from Germany, Scottland, Ireland; Scotts-Irish in 1720.  If you bump into any Begley, Vicars or Millers... They're Kin.

I fail to recall exactly where, but in that area of Gattlinberg/Pigeon Forge there is a house called, "The Sears House" sometimes "The Miller House".  It's a Bed & Breakfast that once belonged to my Great, Great Grandfather Albert Miller.  He was a doctor.  My mom would know where.  you can email her at  Dolly Davis is her name.


ps: You did real well with that Psaltry!

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on August 4, 2009 at 5:29 PM

Thanks for the story and the lovely bowed psaltery music.  Lillian's apron is very cute!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 7, 2009 at 10:58 PM

The bowed psaltery was such an interesting instrument, with all open strings. There are people who can actually play it, too (I'm not pretending I can!), like this lady. She uses two bows!

From Kim Vawter
Posted on August 8, 2009 at 5:20 AM

My sister has been playing this instrument for a few years.It is very soft and haunting.She has lots of sheet music especially Christmas carols that we can play together. I play an octave higher or just the same as is written for her. It is wonderful to play music with my sister since we are both relatively new to our stringed instruments.  I had never heard of this instrument before she took it up. Thanks for mentioning it here in

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