Blog for Zip line Attraction in the Smoky Mountains
Located in Pigeon Forge, TN and near Gatlinburg and Sevierville.
By Ross Bodhi Ogle
Posted on March 31, 2020
The music theaters of Pigeon Forge are on hiatus for the indefinite future, but we at Smoky Mountain Ziplines thought we might take advantage of this lull in the schedule to look back on the history of this unique form of entertainment in the Great Smoky Mountains. The presence of theaters in this area dates at least back to the 1970s, and one of the venues founded that decade - Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre in Gatlinburg - is actually still in operation today, making it the longest continuously running show in the area.
However, what we wanted to do this week was spend some time reminiscing about the shows and theaters that have gone by the wayside over the years. Some date way back; some are more contemporary. But if you ever attended any of these shows, we hope our little trip down Memory Lane will help you cherish your memories of that experience.
This show starred comedian/clown Billy Jim Baker, portraying his most notable character, Elwood Smooch. Dressed in overalls and wearing a jaunty cap and blacked-out teeth, Elwood's onstage antics involved lots of hayseed humor, all couched in the context of hillbilly pride. Each performance included live music and lots of feel-good vibes about life in the South. The theater was located on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge, across from where the Titanic Museum Attraction is today.
For decades, this was the place to go to hear the music of Elvis Presley. The theater made a name for itself with its signature tributes to the King of Rock and Roll, performed live by a rotating array of Elvis tribute artists. One of the more notable headliners, Lou Veto, was the resident Elvis at Memories for years and years. During the past couple of decades, Memories expanded its focus from Elvis to musical tributes of all kinds. The rotating cast featured artists paying tribute to the likes of Cher, Kenny Rogers, Rod Stewart, Patsy Cline, the Blues Brothers and many, many others. Each performer not only sounded just like the original artist, but they usually were dead ringers for them as well. Like Hillbilly Hoedown, the theater was located across the Parkway from where the Titanic Museum Attraction is today.
This theater was part of the heart of the music theater scene in Pigeon Forge from the late '90s and into the mid-2000s. Country artist Louise Mandrell starred in this visual and musical feast of a production that showcased her many talents. She sang, she danced and she played more than a dozen instruments over the course of each performance, plus she delivered a wide variety of musical styles to her audiences. This was one of the more big-budget shows in Pigeon Forge, and that was reflected through numbers like the dance routine on the giant keyboard from the movie Big and Louise herself flying in over the audience. The venue itself seated some 1,400 guests and today, it's home of to the Smoky Mountain Opry.
Making its debut in the mid-'90s, this Dollywood-sponsored theater was one of the first big venues to usher in the modern era of the music theater in the Smokies. The theater seated around 1,500 guests, and the star of the show was James Rogers, who performed an array of songs from the worlds of country and gospel music. In case you're wondering whatever happened to the theater itself, it now has the façade of an upside-down institute of higher learning built over the front of it. Yep, it's now the home of the WonderWorks attraction in Pigeon Forge.
The '90s was a time when some of the bigger names in country music were making their homes here in the Smokies. Multi-platinum Grammy winner Lee Greenwood led the way by opening a large theater with his name on it in the mid-'90s. He sang all his hits (and much more) and of course closed out every show with his signature song, "Proud To Be An American." The theater was located in Sevierville, on Tenn. Hwy. 66, between Interstate 40 and downtown.
The venue still stands today, in the heart of the Governor's Crossing development in Sevierville. When it was built in the 1990s, it was originally the home of a wide-ranging musical spectacular that covered a lot of bases in terms of style and genre. For a while, there was even a live daytime game show there, hosted by Bob Eubanks from The Newlywed Game. The original lineup of shows only lasted a few years, and then the facility began to bring in an ever-changing series of shows, including one starring Chinese acrobats.
That's it for this week. The shows we've covered today are only a few of the ones that have come and gone in Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg over the years. So while our Pigeon Forge zipline adventure is on hiatus for the next little while, we hope you've at least enjoyed taking a quick little journey back in time to remember the Smoky Mountains of the not-so-distant past. We may even come up with more for next week…