Oh, by gosh, by golly… August has been one exhilarating whirlwind, and I’ve relished every single moment. Electric pain radiates throughout my body and a shroud of fatigue lies heavy upon my shoulders, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.
The pain I feel means I am ALIVE and living my one wild and precious life.
I traveled with my family to Nashville to help my niece move into her college dorm for her sophomore year. Not including too many details for privacy reasons, but her school is two miles from the heart of the city. Before move-in day arrived, we explored the area, including parts of her campus we hadn’t seen, parts of Nashville we hadn’t seen, and the adorable town of Franklin.
The Nashville highlight for me was walking over The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge towards Nissan Stadium, the home field of the Tennessee Titans, and hearing my favorite band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers! No ticket needed for this concert! The full moon rose alongside us and I literally danced and sang under the bridge (pun intended) to about three-quarters of their show. And I also scored a tour shirt from the merch trailer to wear to their NJ show (more details about this below).
As we strolled away from the stadium and towards the Broadway Street area, the chaos of Music City drowned out Anthony’s voice, John’s guitar, Flea’s bass, and Chad’s drums. If you ever want to feel alive, I highly recommend ensconcing yourself in the Nashville scene, as I actually sensed the festive atmosphere pulsing within my bones and reverberating in my muscles.
Sidebar: Should you find yourself in Nashville, take the time to wait in line for Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. My goodness, it’s worth it. Best fried chicken and crinkle cut fries I’ve ever had.
My niece is a strong and independent young woman who chose to give up part of her summer to be an orientation leader, and every day, she inspires me to be a better person. Her orientation obligations resulted in moving in earlier than the rest of the campus, so we had more room in the parking area, elevators, hallways, and her apartment. Her jam-packed schedule also gave us all less time to dwell on the sadness of farewell, and instead of saying goodbye when it was time to leave, I said, “See you soon.”
We stopped at Dollywood’s Theme Park and DreamMore Resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, on the way home for a day stay over. Upon walking into the theme park, we noticed with curiosity that Christmas decorations were hanging from just about everywhere. We happened upon a sign announcing that filming for a holiday special would be taking place in various areas of the park throughout the day and didn’t think too much of it, until…..
drum roll please….
WE SAW DOLLY!
That’s right, folks! THE one and only, along with JIMMY FALLON!
Completely unexpected and truly an amazing. My sister-in-law snapped pictures of them as my roller-coaster-partner-in-crime nephew and I spied Dolly while seated on a coaster, of course, but would you expect any less from us?
We rode every coaster in the park, two of them twice, and by the luck of the draw, we were seated either in the back row or front row on about half of the rides. Here’s my Dollywood Coaster Report:
- Lightning Rod: OMG. One of the most thrilling experiences we’ve ever enjoyed; we rode in the last row for our first park ride, and in the front row on our last park ride. Exhilarating and different each time! From Dollywood’s website: Themed after a tricked-out 1950s-era hot rod, Lightning Rod ® launches riders from zero to 45 mph more than 20 stories up its lift hill to one of the ride’s first airtime moments. At the crest of the hill, riders face twin summit airtime hills before tackling the daring first drop. Lightning Rod races down the 165-foot drop and propels guests along its 3,800-foot track to a top speed of 73 mph. There is no surprise why USA Today readers have consistently named Lightning Rod ® one of the top-10 best roller coasters in the country.
- Blazing Fury: Indoor coaster, family ride, no drops or thrills but a fun ride and suitable for littles up to adults. From Dollywood’s website: An out-of-control fire is just minutes away from engulfing this 1880s town, and chaos ensues as the town’s residents, a cast of characters ranging from firefighters to gunslingers and damsels in distress, hurry to escape the blaze. Riders scream through town on this indoor roller coaster, taking each hill and curve with great speed as they try to outrun the fire.
- Tennessee Tornado: For those who remember the Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Great Adventure, this is as close to that ride as you’ll get in 2022, minus the headaches and the shakes it inflicted in its later years. We rode front row, and it was just awesome. From Dollywood’s website: What happens when a mighty twister sweeps through an old Tennessee Mining Company? Locals say the swirling winds twisted ore into what we now call the Tennessee Tornado. A force of nature all its own, this triple spiral-looping coaster makes you feel like you’ve landed inside a funnel cloud as you zoom down a 128-foot drop through an actual mountain at speeds nearing 70 mph. It’s enough to make local weather forecasters issue a “Tennessee Tornado Warning!”
- Wild Eagle: Our first winged coaster! This one is up there in my top favorites, such a unique experience, and dare I say, a relaxing ride! From Dollywood’s website: America’s first wing coaster, the first ride of its kind in the U.S., is perched 21 stories above Dollywood and takes riders on a unique experience that feels as if they are actually soaring high above the Smoky Mountains. Instead of having the train on the track, Wild Eagle® seats riders on either side so there is nothing but air above and below the rider!
- Firechaser Express: Talk about theming! This family dual-launch coaster sits on the side of a mountain and is a lot of fun! Similar to Dragonflier (below), this is a good starter coaster for the littles, but provides thrills for all ages. From Dollywood’s website: They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In the Smoky Mountains that’s more than just a saying. Fortunately, it seems like with every big blaze, there have always been a few brave souls willing to answer the call – heroes able to tame nature’s fury and preserve the Smokies for generations to come! Now comes your turn to celebrate that heroic spirit in a new coaster sure to test your mettle, and leave you screaming for more! It’s FireChaser Express – the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster – blasting riders forward and backward!
- Mystery Mine: Part dark, part light, this coaster is a doozy! Hundreds of glowing bat eyes and a projection on the ceiling while in the mine will keep you screaming for more! We rode it twice and loved it each time. From Dollywood’s website; What if there is no light at the end of the tunnel? Find out on Dollywood’s Mystery Mine® steel coaster where a 1,811-foot track travels through an abandoned coal mine. Uncertain encounters and amazing maneuvers await, including a hair-raising 95-degree, 85-foot vertical drop that plunges into darkness!
- Thunderhead: A massive wooden coaster, I found this one to be a little rough but it’s well regarded in the coaster world. From Dollywood’s website (note the words “rough and tumble terrain”-that’s how I’d describe this ride): An old sawmill once moved lumber out of the mountains at Thunderhead Gap. Wood is still the focus, but now the operation known as the Thunderhead is the wildest ride in the woods! Carefully situated between two mountains, this massive wooden coaster stands tall among the mighty trees and takes advantage of the area’s rough and tumble terrain to create a daring ride featuring a 100-foot drop and a top speed of 55 mph.
- Dragonflier: One of their newest coasters, Dragonflier is another great starter coaster for the littles. The free sensation and unique seat designs make for a really fun ride. From Dollywood’s website: One of the most playful creatures inhabiting the Wildwood Grove’s creekside, Dragonflier mimics the flight of a Smoky Mountain dragonfly as it speeds through the terrain in a twisting, unpredictable path. With the rush of wind and the thrill of flight, there’s nothing more exhilarating than a ride on the wings of a dragonfly!
We also rode the train, which was a restored World War II coal-and-steam-powered train, and got drenched on the rapids.
And did someone say, “Cinnamon Bread?” Named the best cinnamon bread in America by Travel and Leisure magazine, the iconic pull-apart bread made fresh at the Grist Mill melted in my mouth and was so good it didn’t need any icing, nor did I care about the carbs messing with my sugar levels.
After our park day ended, we enjoyed the pool and hot tub area before retiring to our room for the night, and yes, I happily slept in a bunk bed. Every item on the buffet breakfast at Song and Hearth the following morning was simply delicious.
In my humble opinion, Dollywood’s theming, from the smallest of details to every single aspect of each ride and coaster, surpasses its Orlando and Anaheim big name competitors. Both the theme park and the DreamMore resort were clean and meticulously landscaped, and every employee we encountered pleasant and helpful. An affordable escape off the beaten path with less crowds and more value than its big name rivals, Dollywood quickly became one of my favorite places. In 2023, a new coaster called Big Bear Mountain will be added to the theme park, and the new HeartSong Lodge and Resort adjacent to DreamMore will officially open for visitors, so I have two good reasons to return to Dollywood!
We tooled around Gatlinburg for a few hours before heading to Virginia with a quick drive through Virginia Tech on the way to our hotel for the night, and we rolled back into the Jersey Shore on Tuesday with a suitcase of wonderful memories.
By choice, I didn’t have time to rest. The day I had waited far too long for had finally arrived, and I woke up on Wednesday, August 17, ready to pop with anticipation like a kid on Christmas morning.
I had never seen my favorite band in concert prior to hearing them perform from a distance while standing outside their Nashville venue five days earlier. The reasons for this no longer matter because I finally crossed off the number-one item on my lifelong bucket list:
I SAW THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS LIVE IN CONCERT AT METLIFE STADIUM, AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.
The ones who have provided the soundtrack to my life since my high school years took the stage with explosive energy and sheer delight. I jumped, and danced, and sang, and screamed, and got lost in the joyous moment of every song they played, which was the absolute best set list of the tour, By The Way (again, pun intended).
My concert comrades and I stood for the entire show, and it was just an electric, epic evening, everything I could have wished for and more. Anthony, and Flea, and Chad, and JOHN who returned for the Unlimited Love album and tour, playing their hearts out with a palpable intensity and exuberance, and constantly expressing their gratitude to the audience… it honestly couldn’t have been any better.
The Peppers’ music has been my constant companion since I was in my teens and carried me through some dark and dismal life episodes. There’s something about Anthony’s voice that simultaneously soothes and energizes me. Time and time again, their music helps me cope with whatever life throws at me, either as a result of my own choices or by happenstance, and on more than one occasion, I’ve felt like they wrote certain lyrics just for me.
And they are still here, rocking with as much fire and spirit as they did when they first came together as a band.
I cannot wait for the release of the Peppers’ SECOND double-album of 2022 titled Return of the Dream Canteen in October. I sincerely hope a tour to support Canteen album follows, and if one does, I will most definitely be there.
Since the concert, I’ve enjoyed a jaunt to Six Flags Great Adventure with my brother, youngest niece, and two nephews, and witnessed the retiring of Paul O’Neill’s number before a much-needed Yankees victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at the house that Ruth built in celebration of my treasured friend’s birthday.
I’m still relishing my carefree summer days while trying my best to ignore my school emails and meet my upcoming magazine deadlines as summer’s end looms in the distance. There’s a time for everything, and I’ve learned to trust the seasons of both my calendar and my life.
I will continue to wake up each day with a zest for living and an intention to experience something wondrous each day, no matter the date on the calendar, the temperature outside, or what’s on my to-do list.
Thank you for joining me on my journey. I’m glad you’re here.
With love and gratitude,
“It’s Time For Peppers, Life, and Dolly” was posted on jillocone.com on August 24, 2022. Views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the writer, who was not endorsed or compensated in any manner by any entity; views do not represent any of my employers. Copyright 2022, Jill Ocone. All rights reserved. Contact email@example.com with reposting, licensing, and publishing inquiries.