GATLINBURG, Tn. — The towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are joined at the hip. The hip is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We spent the better part of a day driving through the park, which stretches south and into the sky. We hiked up to Clingman’s Dome—at 6,643, it’s the very top of Tennessee. There, Jilly filled the mist with bubbles and danced on the observatory, waiting till the sky cleared enough to be able to see half of the state laid out before us. At dusk, we approached the edge of the park and discovered a field of grazing elk.
Drivers were extremely courteous and careful. In our entire day drive, we only encountered one ass. He was from New York.
Though it was full dark, we made the last-minute decision to turn away from our cabin and hit Gatlinburg for some live music. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re in Tennessee.
Gatlinburg is a little more sedate than Pigeon Forge, but there was still plenty to see at nearly 10 p.m. There was a fat lady singing outside the circus museum, and greater-than-life-size superheroes across the street at the superstar car museum.
I was headed to the superheroes when I heard banjo music and Melani called me back—there was the live music I was looking for, just hanging out ripping tunes on the wide sidewalk.
I sent Jilly over with a dollar bill for the upturned hat and a lady in pioneer costume grabbed her little hands and did the polka while her companions strummed away. Within moments other children had joined till there was a dance party going on outside a discount jewelry store.
We had crossed the street but hadn’t stopped giggling when we encountered a second group of performers and Jilly was caught up again with even more children—where were all these kids coming from?—in a joyful square dance and a semi-successful chicken dance.
We had stumbled upon Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales, a troupe of singers, dancers and other artists who take to Gatlinburg’s streets to surprise and delight tourists.
We capped off the night with live music, margaritas (virgin for our preschooler, natch) and key lime pie at the brewery.
Gatlinburg doesn’t sparkle and holler the way Pigeon Forge does. But it puts on a good show and makes outsiders—even Northerners—feel welcome for a spell.