I wonder how many of Dollywood’s visitors notice the music playing in the background throughout the park? I always notice it, and I have observed how it has changed over the 30-plus years I have been visiting. A friend once told me her cousin had never visited Dollywood because they didn’t care for the music they assumed Dollywood plays. With this in mind, I recently had the opportunity to ask some “soundtrack” questions to Chuck Ferguson (Dollywood’s Technical Operations Manager) and Roger White (Entertainment Supervisor) and this is what I found out:
KH: It seems like it used to be all or mostly Dolly’s songs playing throughout the park – what changed that?
Answer: We still include Dolly’s music in the playlists, probably two per hour. Her music and songs are the bedrock of her career and life, so we want to make sure we honor that. We also think our guests expect to hear some of Dolly’s music throughout the park.
Additionally, since the creation of the Adventures in Imagination area, we have a space that is “all Dolly all the time” so to speak. Chasing Rainbows Museum, Dolly’s Closet and the My People, My Music show, which has taken up residence in the Dreamsong Theater, are all very Dolly-centric, so we don’t want to overdo it! All of the park music in that area is Dolly, too.
KH: Speaking of Adventures in Imagination, I think I’ve observed there are different songs for different areas and lands of the park – how do you choose which songs play where? And what is the reasoning behind that? What is your aim for what songs play in each section – what kind of mood are you trying to set?
Answer: Each area of the park is designed to evoke a certain time period and mindset. For example, Jukebox Junction is 1950s. Craftsman’s Valley reminds us of the late 1800’s. Wildwood Grove takes us to Dolly’s childhood imagination.
All of the music is designed to represent elements of each area in the park. Overall, we are attempting to create a positive mood by evoking a memory or creating a fun atmosphere that is relevant to the selected area of the park.
KH: What about the different seasons? Do you have different soundtracks for each season?
Answer: Yes, each season and festivals within the seasons have different tracks according to where you are in the park.
KH: How are the songs chosen?
Answer: We have a very extensive library of music that is constantly being updated. Our team makes selections after considering the parameters of the areas of the park, the time of year and current festival.
KH: How many songs are in each “loop”?
Answer: We try to keep the loop to an hour, so it depends on how many we can fit into that time slot.
KH: Who chooses the songs that play throughout the park? One person or a group of people?
Answer: Roger White creates each playlist with approvals from Paige Bales, Director of Entertainment. There is also input from our Product and Planning Team, especially when it’s a new area or festival.
KH: How do you change out the songs?
Answer: The entire park playback system is computerized, so it’s as easy as updating the files for each zone.
KH: How often do you reevaluate the songs that are played?
Answer: Each playlist is reevaluated every year and for each festival.
KH: Do you have a list of criteria that songs have to pass to be played? If so, what’s on that list?
Answer: 1) Family-friendly 2) Fun 3) Evokes a memory or positive vibe 4) Familiarity
KH: Are there any songs you play that might be surprising to guests?
Answer: I think the simple variety of songs and musical genres would surprise some of our guests. It runs the gamut from Dolly Parton and Fleetwood Mac to James Brown and the Jonas Brothers! A really fun time of the year is Festival of Nations when there is music that features each culture represented at the event.
KH: Anything else you want to add or anything else you think would be interesting for people to know about the music at Dollywood?
Answer: We spend a lot of time working on each playlist in the hope that it enhances our guests’ experience equally as much as park décor, theming, food and entertainment.
I’m sure visitors would agree that the music playlist definitely adds to the guests’ experience in the park. What music have you noticed as you walk through the park? How has it enhanced your park experience? If you’ve never really stopped to listen to the background music at Dollywood, on your next visit, be sure and take the time to pay attention and give a listen!