Pigeonholing Pigeon Forge

On the way from Asheville, NC – where Bear in Heaven played an off the radar show on our first night off – to Nashville, TN, we hit our first road snag. Route 40W, the main road through Tennessee, was closed for miles and miles due to a rockslide at the Tennessee/North Carolina border. With the power of one GPS and one iPhone (thanks, Chuck!), we managed to find an alternate route…straight through Great Smokey Mountain National Park.

On the way, we passed through two of the most spectacular, fascinating, visit-worthy towns in our fair country. The first was Cherokee, NC, existing in semi-antiquity and full-on tourist drawing insanity, just before the entrance to the Park on Route 19S. There is even an attraction called the “Gold Mine,” at which you can sift through narrow troughs of sand in search of flecks of gold and precious gems. Aside from being a somewhat depressing bastardization and/or mockery of Cherokee culture, Cherokee is chock-full o’ backwoods campgrounds, classic country inns, dozens of boiled peanut stands, and hundreds of Ma’s diners and restaurants. It is the picture of Appalachian outdoorsmanship, and made me hearken nostalgically to my days of preparation for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail – a feat that I have not yet managed to attempt due to the commitment required of a full time musician.

The drive through the Park was a steep and harrowing – albeit beautiful – one. The snowy mountain passes wound upward and downward frequently, traversing the mountainsides diagonally for over thirty miles. All the while, we marveled at the spectacularly tall conifers, rocky streams, and breathtaking views from various overlook points along the road. After almost an hour of driving in second gear without cell phone service (which was, admittedly, a bit of a relief), we emerged from the Park into a sort of Americana fantasyland, the likes of which I had never even considered possible.

By far the more imposing and impressive of the two towns surrounding Great Smokey Mountain National Park is Pigeon Forge, TN. Immediately upon exiting Route 19S and getting onto Route 441N, Pigeon Forge smacked me like a golden magic dueling glove. We drove through the countless outlet malls, chain restaurant-filled shopping centers, NASCAR Go-Cart Speedways, and theme parks – i.e. Santaland (Theme Park and Zoo), Christmas Place, and MagiQuest –than I can count. Dolly Parton beamed down from every other billboard advertising her famed Dollywood, and I nearly seized with shock and/or laughter as we passed a bear petting zoo (in which humans can pet bears, fortunately not a petting zoo for bears). I felt a strange mix between the cynical judgmentalism of a northeastern elitist and the joyous overstimulation of a child at seeing a world so far removed from any that I had seen before.

Stopping to spend time in any of these places would have been a spectacular event, and unfortunately a luxury that time did not afford us yesterday. We arrived in Nashville just in time to load in and soundcheck for a late show…apparently the scenic route took us quite a bit out of the way. We shacked up late last night (Cymbals Eats Guitars didn’t start their set until midnight due to the late start time of the show) at the Hotel Indigo in downtown Nashville, a posh three-plus star hotel that our shiny new tour-manager/sound-guy Jeff locked down for us using his handy Priceline iPhone app. He swears by it, and it has definitely saved us a good several hundred dollars in our first week of the tour.

Today we’re making the reverse drive to Knoxville for a show in Volunteertown, before moving on to Atlanta for a set on Paste Radio and a show at The Earl tomorrow night. Then comes Harvest of Hope and our first trip to Florida, shortly before we venture into Texas for what promises to be an exhausting/exhilarating four days at SXSW.

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~ by Jacob Hyman on March 11, 2010.

One Response to “Pigeonholing Pigeon Forge”

  1. I used to work in Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg. That place is pretty unreal!

    Attended your show in Atlanta and want to say you guys were awesome! I’ve put some videos & photos I took up on my web site at http://www.whaun.com/2010/03/freelance-whales-the-earl/

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