‘I Don’t Want to Ever Hurt or Offend Anyone’

Dolly Parton‘s Stampede used to be called Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. The overall concept was the same — it was a dinner theater that involved a four-course meal and trick riders riding horses around a 35,000 square foot arena.

But when the experience was called Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, the show that played out by the horse riders told the story of the Civil War. There were two teams: the North and the South. Today, the Civil War battle and all nods to anything Dixie have been removed. Here’s how it happened, all thanks to a woman named Aisha Harris.

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Dolly Parton in front of Dollywood. She's in a white dress with red trim.
Dolly Parton | Ron Davis/Getty Images

How Aisha Harris changed Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede

Back in 2017, there was a movement in Charlottesville, Virginia to remove two Confederate statues. When a group of people, including the KKK and Neo Nazi, gathered to defend the statues, things quickly turned violent. One person died and 19 people were injured after someone drove their vehicle into a group of protesters marching peacefully in downtown Charlotte.

In the days following, a writer named Aisha Harris (who was working at Slate at the time) pinged one of her colleagues on Slack. She asked them if they’d heard about Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Harris decided to fly to Pigeon Forge (from New York, where she was based) to do a write-up on Parton’s dinner theater. The resulting article is funny, sharp, specific, and highly critical. She received a lot of backlash for the piece.

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“[Dolly Parton] was born not that long after Gone with the Wind came out, so I can understand why that sort of love of this fake Southern identity—I can see how that could creep its way into her work,” Harris told journalist Jad Abumrad on the Dolly Parton’s America podcast in 2019. “But it’s 2017 now and it baffles me that 30 years later this show still exists.”

Aisha Harris’ article resonated with Dolly Parton and her team

Pete Owens, vice president of marketing and public relations for Dollywood, said on the podcast that after Harris’ article came out, the Parton team got together for a discussion. They came to the conclusion that they should make some changes to the show, including removing all plantation imagery and references to the Civil War. They also removed “Dixie” from the name.

“You know, I like to imagine that maybe she had a change of heart and if that’s the case then I appreciate her even more,” Harris said of the changes made to the show.

Not all Parton fans were pleased with the changes, though (hence the backlash Harris received). Protests even broke out in front of the dinner theater. But, today, the changes are still in effect. Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede is no more.

Why Dolly Parton changed Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede

In an interview with Abumrad, Parton spoke about why she ultimately made the changes.

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“A lot of my things that I do wrong, just out of pure ignorance really, because you grow up a certain way and you don’t know,” she said. “The Dixie, we always thought way down in the land of Dixie, it’s like a Dixieland or Dixieland music, Dixie. You know, I just thought of Dixie as a part of the, part of America. And it was offensive cause, like I say out of ignorance, you don’t know that you’re hurting people. Never thought about it being about slavery or any of that. But when it was brought to our attention, and some woman wrote about it and I thought, well Lord have mercy, I would never want to hurt anybody for any reason.”

Parton continued: “I just wanted to fix it cause I don’t want to ever hurt or offend anyone. And so I did it as a good faith effort to show that it was never meant to cause anyone any pain.”

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