East Tennessee wildfire relief

Wildfires in Gatlinburg, TN 2016We’ve received a number of questions and suggestions about relief efforts for the many residents of East Tennessee who have been burned out, or lost their employment because of the recent wildfires near Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. A good many of the people affected are bluegrass artists and musicians who work in the various tourist attractions in that area.

Christmas is usually a big season in Sevier County, with a number of special events that bring in visitors by the thousands, but many facilities and roads in the region are still closed, leaving these performers out of work at the end of the year.

Of course people have been quick to look for ways to offer assistance to all the residents whose lives or livelihoods have been impacted by the fires, so help is on the way. And because of the concentration of bluegrass fans and pickers in East Tennessee, they are among the first to come forward.

Here are a few ways you can join in the relief efforts.

Unsurprisingly, Dolly Parton, whose Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge helped make this part of the state such a tourist draw, has stepped up quickly through her Dollywood Foundation. They are soliciting funds now to reach their goal of being able to offer $1,000/month to families who lost everything in the fire until they can get back on their feet.

Parton is a native of the region, and owns several properties along the strip in Pigeon Forge. Many of her employees have been affected by the wildfires. She created this video to publicize her efforts, and to request donations for their local assistance efforts.

Donations can be made at the Dollywood Foundation web site.

Ole Smoky Moonshine, which has three distillery locations in the area, is trying to get back online as quickly as possible. The shop in Sevierville remains open as it was not in the fire zone, and the Pigeon Forge spot reopened today. They are hoping to have the Gatlinburg location up and running again by the middle of next week. All of these facilities hire bluegrass bands to perform while they are open, and the staff has tried to rearrange schedules so that the Gatlinburg bands can get a shift at least every other day until they open back up.

As many as seven Ole Smoky employees lost everything in the fires, and a GoFundMe page has been established to raise money for their immediate needs.

Gary Brewer will be soliciting funds for fire relief at the Shepherdsville Music Barn in Kentucky, starting with tomorrow’s concert with The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. If you attend these Friday night shows, please consider a donation at their Mercy Table. Door proceeds will also be given to relief efforts.

Lorraine Jordan has created a special ticket for her Christmas in the Smokies festival, running next weekend at the Ramada Inn & Smoky Mountain Convention Center in Pigeon Forge. Proceeds from these $15 general admission tickets for Friday and Saturday nights will be given to the Dollywood Foundation’s relief fund. A who’s who of bluegrass entertainment will be appearing at the festival, on top of all the other Christmas activities in town.

Lorraine asked that we remind everyone that one of the best ways you can help the local economy is to come and visit. Despite the destruction along the hillsides, the fires didn’t damage the main strip to speak off, and Pigeon Forge is open for business.

“We are blessed that the fires have been contained and that the area where we host the festival is free of any problems. As the promoter, I feel that the best way to help the community is through Dolly Parton’s My People Fund. Please join us in helping out the victims of this terrible experience by coming to the festival and supporting the area economy with your tourism dollars and your ticket donation.”

Moonstruck Management is currently working on a large benefit concert for early February in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. Josh Trivett and his team have plenty of experience in event production, so this should be a really big show. We’ll share those details as soon as they are announced.

The Gatlinburg Christmas Parade has been cancelled for this year, but people there expect to have everything back open sometime next week. Sadly, some area landmarks are gone, but the biggest part of what you may remember from downtown Gatlinburg is still going strong.

Area merchants and venues ask that if you had made plans to be in town in December, please don’t cancel because of the fires. Check with them to see if they are open, and come on down!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.