I got up on our last morning in Nashville early to work on my blog posts from the last couple of action packed days and let Jeremy and Dan go out into the world to find coffee for our journey. We were sad to leave the airbnb because our hosts were so nice and the carriage house was a super comfy space we barely lived in. We did however use almost every single super fluffy towel they provided.
It was Monday, and time to travel to Pigeon Forge – the smokey mountain tourist trap where my Bluegreen Vacations timeshare condo has a resort near the home of Dollywood. The journey is roughly 3.5 hours and would take us through Knoxville, where we planned to have BBQ for lunch.
The easy drive became a bit of a longer harder drive when the rental car company gave us a Ford Fiesta and we found a lot of traffic heading east, along with some road construction. To take a break from the highway we stopped at a roadside rest stop and tourist information stand and collected more travel brochures and I took a photo opportunity with Dolly.
When we finally got to Knoxville we realized that our clocks did this odd thing – they jumped ahead an hour. What time is it? We couldn't answer that question from inside the car, but we could eat BBQ.
Or so we thought. As it happened, our planned BBQ location, Sweet P's, is closed on Mondays. So we had to abort and change course.
Luckily, we found Archer's just up the street.
Although Archer's did not have the selection of sides that Sweet P's had it provided a solid amount of choices including potato salad and collard greens and 6 different sauces to try on your BBQ rack of ribs or pulled pork sandwich.
The collards were the best I've ever had from a BBQ joint – they had a very light salty taste with a deep but subtle smoke and a melt in your mouth texture. The potato salad was made with sour cream and officially too much for me – even by French food standards it was rich and thick and officially creamy. I shared my portion with my compatriots.
After lunch, still not quite knowing what time it was we tried to go up into the Sunsphere of Knoxville – instead we found a crazy traffic jam and decided to abort. I took a couple pictures to commemorate the moment and we called it good with a three-point turn in the rental car out of the madness. Pigeon Forge awaited our arrival.
On the last leg of the trip into Pigeon Forge we stopped at two wineries my research revealed existed in the area. Turns out all of the wineries in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area are all related and probably part of one megacorp hell bent on selling wine slushies. The lovely lady at the first winery informed us that we did in fact lose an hour – as the time changes to Eastern time about 50 miles before Knoxville. This explained the lack of syncronization between our cell phones and the car clock.
Regardless of the intent of the wineries, we tasted the wines and the wine slushies they had to offer and took a couple home for our evening enjoyment in the dry county (where we would be getting no option to have a glass of wine with our dinner). The majority of the wines at these Tennessee wineries are super fruity, and/or actually mixed with fruit – like raspberry sparkling wine for example. All of their most popular wines tasted like grape juice to me, or sweeter, and one even included Concorde grapes. Tennessee wine is a different beast than my palate is used to, and I am definitely in the minority being a dry wine fan in this region. But when in Rome – I purchased a bottle of the Raspberry bubbly to share at the condo.
Speaking of beasts, it was time for us to enter the belly of the beast and dive into Pigeon Forge head first. Pigeon Forge is a hive of cheesy attractions, dinner theater and shopping. It is designed to be good clean family fun that separates mom and dad from their wallet. There are so many gaudy things to be distracted by built out of bright flashing lights and plaster it is almost overwhelming. It reminds me of Las Vegas, except this place is for ages 4 to 13, and gambling and booze are illegal – so all you have is mini-golf, alpine slides and Ripley's Believe it or Not.
Why are we even here? This is not the place for three childless taste-seeking grown-ups. Its a formula really. One there is complete curiosity. Two my timeshare has a condo in Pigeon Forge called Laurel Crest so it is free to stay here in awesome apartment-like conditions (aka a two bedroom apartment with a kitchen, laundry and other amenities) for free. Well mostly free, because I paid for the timeshare – which means I have to use it.
And part three of the equation is Dollywood. The three of us always wanted to go to Dollywood. We haven't shared the reasons why we all want to go to Dollywood, just that we are in agreement that it is worth going to. As a result, we find ourselves in the plastic bowl of ridiculous shiny things to entertain families of all shapes and sizes to the poor house with a 12% sales and entertainment tax with mostly fried food and pancakes to eat. Yay! Adventure!
On this first night in Pigeon Forge our goal was to get checked in and settled in our condo, then go check out some type of dinner theater. Specifically, we needed to check out Biblical Times dinner theater. Dan didn't believe Jeremy and I were completely serious about this adventure until I was making the phone call to the theater to confirm that we could, still, in fact, buy tickets and attend this night's performance. Our investigation of this bible belt form of entertainment commenced. Dan was concerned we were giving our money to zealots, Jeremy and I assured him it was a cultural experience and an adventure in irony if nothing else. What else did we have to do really?
The establishment is innocent enough from the outside. Even the gift shop doesn't offer anything shocking beyond what you would expect from a gospel loving group dedicated to singing and performing the last days of Jesus on this earth.
The website and lobby promised pyrotechnics, flashing lights, and holograms – so I was pretty jazzed that this might be the most fantastic rendition of the gospel since Jesus Christ Superstar.
The theater is set-up to host a crowd of biblical proportions. Our group on this fine Monday night in April only filled the first five rows – thus making for a sad little crowd in a sea of chairs. It also made two gay guys and Buddhist 3% of the crowd – we did our best to blend in. I lied when the ticket lady asked if Jeremy and I were married. I just said "yes" and in the generic sense, smiled and asked if it was OK to park in the back lot to change the subject. She smiled back and asked no more questions.
During the first half of the show, while we waited for our dinner theater feast of promised "biblical proportions," we were entertained by five talented gospel singers. Each of them testified about how they came to be saved and sang tunes from the whole gospel spectrum. I tapped my feet, waved my hands, and nodded my head enthusiastically along with the hope-filled music.
I genuinely enjoyed the music, and it even made up for the salt-laden and overcooked "feast" that appeared on cafeteria trays in front of us. I was really looking forward to the pyrotechnics when the over 60 minutes of singing and testifying came to a close. We were sent into intermission with just a short sales pitch to buy the albums of the singers featured. So far so good. Maybe I could really do as the Romans do and enjoy this cultural experience despite my obvious "otherness."
The second act started with some projection, cheesy choreography and song … then it started getting a little weird. First it was just the emphasis on, and incorrect description of Passover, and a few other key pieces taken from Judaism. I dismissed this as overenthusiastic Christians connecting with Jesus – who was Jewish after-all. Although, I couldn't shake that there was something odd about the emphasis on the old Testament – wasn't this supposed to be about the passion of the Christ? Why are we talking, incorrectly, about the significance of matza and sin?
For those who don't know me that well – I have a degree in Philosophy and Classics with a minor in religious studies and archaeology. I spent a good portion of my college years in Christian libraries studying Biblical Archaeology among other publications, and reading about the history of the religion throughout the world. I traveled to Rome and Israel. I am a practicing Buddhist but I was confirmed Catholic and voluntarily put myself into confirmation classes where we studies the entire bible for over two years along with the other theoretical concepts that make up the tenants of the Catholic faith. I've visited and spent time in Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and performed faith based poetry in Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist churches. I have studied Hebrew and I am currently on my third round of studying the Kabbalah. I am not a stranger to religious doctrine or the Bible, nor do I dismiss the form someone's faith takes just because it is foreign to me.
So when they started piecing together completely unrelated sections of the old Testament, primarily from Leviticus, and relating these obviously edited, and mostly nonsensical passages to Jewish high holidays and feast days to make an argument for the coming end of times I started to get very suspicious. Something was definitely not quite right. Where was my warm and fuzzy gospel singing? Or the joy from the possibility of redemption through the love of Jesus and God? And where were the pyrotechnics, lazers and holograms?
When the entire piece switched to the reestablishment of Israel as a state, and the return of the Jews from the diaspora back to their homeland, with extreme Israeli flag waving. And the return of the Jews to Israel being the whole foundation upon which an entire theory of the coming Jubilee, end of times, and reclaiming of all things lost in this dark world filled with sin – my stomach sank. It sank further as they brought out the best-selling Rabbi scholar, it sank more with the song and dance number about the Feast of the Tabernacle in front of a waving flag of Israel. It hit bottom when it was so obvious this entire show was a build-up for some kind of strange-Christian-Zionist sales pitch conspiracy theory about the coming end of the world after the four blood moons. This was not the teachings of the gospel. I felt bad for the beautiful people in the audience absorbing the brainwashery for no other purpose than book sales, religious nationalism, and who knows what other underlying sinister purpose.
Jeremy and I decided that it was time for Dan to take his heart medication and we walked out of the theater before they completed the final song of the show. I just could not handle anymore – this was no longer about faith, joy or hope. It was about twisting people's minds to control them and breeding hate where there should be love. The entire show was structured such that simple people of faith, who do not have a good basis in scripture, could be led to the proverbial mind-slaughter and have their sincere faith and love of god become the key to turn them into haters. Whatever or whoever funds Biblical Times dinner theater it is not an establishment with the goal of uplifting and exalting humanity or the gospel of Jesus.
In short, I will not be liking Biblical Times Facebook page. End of tirade.
We returned to our condo, debriefed our varying experiences at the weird dinner theater, and shared a wine slushie before going to bed. Tomorrow would be a full-day of mostly meaningless tourism in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg – and that would be completely OK.