- “Leave your cell phones on because they don’t work here anyway! Isn’t it wonderful?”
- “Apply an extra layer of sunscreen – even if you just put some on.”
- “Drink some water – even if you’re not thirsty!”
Welcome to what we affectionately referred to this weekend as “Bonnaroo Light” – the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra concert at Cades Cove to celebrate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 75th birthday. The quotes above were from Dale Ditmanson, the park’s superintendent, as he kicked off the afternoon festivities at 3 p.m.
The fun actually started much earlier as KSO and park officials had encouraged holders of “car passes” to arrive at least three hours ahead of time. And arrive they did! Although the average attendance per car stated in the paper – five – seemed a bit high, about 1,200 passes were sold. I’d put the attendance between 3,000 and 4,000.
The picnic spreads were amazing – of course everyone brought about twice as much food as they needed. And the methods for sneaking alcohol into the park were creative, as well. Some emptied water bottles and re-filled them with vodka or gin or rum. Some filled ketchup and other condiment containers with bourbon or scotch. But everyone was discreet and well-behaved. And the rangers were friendly and tolerant. Several rangers strolled through the crowd passing out garbage bags.
The show started with the “Star Spangled Banner.” One fellow, returning from a visit to the Port-o-Potty, was overheard asking his friends, “What is the proper protocol when you are in the outhouse and the National Anthem is played?” Hilarity ensued.
The concert itself was lovely. Maestro Lucas Richman took advantage of the setting to do some creative programming. The theme from “The Civil War” television mini-series was haunting in the East Tennessee hills. And we all laughed as songs from “The Sound of Music” evoked images of the Alps as we sat in the cradle of our own beautiful mountains. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander dazzled on the piano and joked that everything was just like it was when, as Tennessee governor, he performed in a similar setting 25 years ago at the park’s 50th anniversary. After local soprano Katy Wolfe Zahn delivered a soaring rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer,” Janet Testerman Crossley, sitting with us, cracked, “They’ve recorded my voice again!” And, once again, Maestro Richman, who is Jewish, proved that nobody can top him when it comes to delivering Christian classics. “Amazing Grace” was, well, amazing – on the part of Alexander and the KSO.
Just like Bonnaroo, getting in and out of the concert area was half the adventure. A young bear cavorting very close to the road caused a traffic back-up going into the event. Wild turkeys greeted visitors as they neared the concert clearing. Leaving near dusk, some guests pulled over to take pictures of a mother bear and her cub across a field and others (us!) stopped the car to photograph a gentle herd of deer.
We thought briefly about our friends enjoying Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffet at Bonnaroo in that Manchester, Tenn., field a few hours away. But then we smiled to ourselves. We knew we’d be sleeping in air-conditioned comfort in our own clean sheets that night!