Does Dolly Parton Know What’s Happening at Her Stampede?
She helped fund a COVID-19 vaccine. But her theater is telling callers that masks are optional in a town where the virus is still killing.
Dolly Parton became a true hero of the pandemic when she put $1 million into vaccine research and appeared in a video of herself getting the shot in March.
She marked that occasion by singing an a cappella version of her anthem “Jolene” that should have convinced all who heard it.
“Vaccine vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine vaccine, because once you’re dead, that’s a bit too late.”
She ended the song and the time had come for the shot.
“I'm going to mask up first, though,” she said. “Get my hair back around so I'll look good.”
So, 10 months later, how do you explain that the box office at Dolly Parton’s Stampede show in the epicenter of a major COVID-19 outbreak is telling potential ticket buyers that the show has no mask requirement?
“You can wear a mask if you want to but we’re not really enforcing any rules,” a woman who answered the ticket line at the Stampede in the tourist town of Branson, Missouri, said last week. She said anyone worried about social distancing could request a barrier.
When The Daily Beast tried to confirm with the company that runs the stampede that the employee was accurately conveying the policy, spokesman Pete Owens said in an email that the show was “strictly following the current CDC guidelines” and conveying that to guests in pre-show emails that included a health assessment.
Owens added that there were regular COVID announcements broadcast on the property and signs inside “that clearly communicate that self-health assessments are required for all staff and guests and that masks are required for those unvaccinated.”
That was before the CDC announced Tuesday that because of the surging Delta variant, it is now recommending that even the fully vaccinated “wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.”
Make no mistake: That very much includes Branson, which has been packing tourists into its bars and shows as the highly contagious variant spread through town with lethal speed.
Over the weekend, 27 people died of COVID-19 in southwestern Missouri. A few moments is all anybody needs to check the transmission rate on the CDC site under Missouri and Taney County, which comprises Branson. A bright red box lights up.
“HIGH,” it reads.
And yet on Wednesday, the ticket line at Dolly Parton’s Stampede was still saying much the same thing as last week.
“We do not require a mask,” a woman answering the phone said. “If you want to wear a mask, you can. They are not required.”
The Daily Beast contacted Parton’s primary publicist, Marcel Pariseau, about what the box office has been telling callers despite the new CDC recommendation. In its inquiry, The Daily Beast further noted that Parton is a hero of the pandemic and asked if she was aware of the situation at the Stampede and whether she had contemplated requiring masks and/or vaccination for those who attend the show.
Pariseau responded by passing off the inquiry to Owens, who replied, “The team at Stampede in Branson is reviewing the new CDC recommendations.”
“The communication with guests remains congruent with what we told you on Friday. It is consistent with the wording on the CDC website; the Stampede website, confirmation email and signage all say: ‘The main show area is at 100 percent seating capacity. If you are fully vaccinated then no masks are required. If you are not fully vaccinated, we suggest you wear your mask at all times except when eating.’”
The box offices at the other major Branson shows were saying much the same as the Stampede on Wednesday.
“You can wear them if you want, not wear them if you want,” the Pierce Arrow Show said.
“There is no mask mandate,” Branson’s Famous Theatres said.
“Not at this moment,” the God and Country Theatre said.
God and Country was the site of a town hall hosted by two local state legislators—Sen. Mike Moon and Rep. Brian Seitz—on Monday. They demonstrated that Branson is seeing a spike in right-wing lunacy as well as COVID-19.
Moon compared those who favor mask mandates and vaccinations to the British during the American Revolution.
“Look around us—there are people who may not be wearing red coats, but they want us not to live free,” he said.
He further compared them to the Nazis.
“It didn't start with gas chambers,” he said. “It started with one party controlling the media, one party controlling the message, one party deciding what is truth?”
He asked the maskless crowd if they were going to just watch and do nothing.
“Don’t answer this question out loud, but think about what your answer will be,” he said. “When you’re presented with a battle, which we are, what are you willing to give up?”
The lunacy continued on Tuesday at a meeting of the town aldermen. One public commenter denounced the “censorship” suffered by anti-mask Dr. Stella Immanuel of America’s Frontline Doctors, who has accused the medical establishment of employing DNA from space aliens and proposed treating illness with demon semen from your dreams.
That speaker also told the aldermen a “criminal document” on the internet details how Dr. Anthony Fauci and others “have been colluding on generating a disease and then coming up with a patent for that and then patenting the product or antiviral that they would like, to, have used and excluding, everything else that’s been going on ever since AIDS.”
A second speaker thanked the aldermen for not instituting COVID restrictions that would hurt “the bottom line.”
“We’re still booming regardless of what the fear tactics and everything going on out in the media is,” he said. “And I’m grateful that you’re allowing us to prosper.”
The lone person in the chamber wearing a mask stepped up. She spoke truth to power, meeting craziness with historical fact.
“George Washington, on Feb. 5, 1777, ordered that the entire Continental Army be inoculated against smallpox,” she said. “There were no opt-outs.”
She went on, “Washington saw inoculation as the way to win and his soldiers believed in him. That is leadership.”
“Leadership is not taking a poll saying our people don’t want this, so let’s get rid of it,” she said.“Leadership is doing the right thing, even when it is difficult, because leadership is foresight and it gives an unwavering commitment to the people.”
She noted that Branson is “the epicenter of the Delta variant as well as its origin here in the Midwest. And I think we need to take responsibility. Not only for the people visiting our town before its residents.”
Instead, she noted, the aldermen would not even affirm that the vaccines are effective.
“You’re waffling. And willful ignorance is influencing people because you are in a position of power and we put you there because we believe that you would lead.”
She went on, “So five or 10 years from now, by which time I pray that this is all gone, I hope that… you can look back at what you have done while you’re sitting in these chairs and ask, ‘Hey have I done enough?’ Are you going to look back at the dozens of deaths in our communities as the vaccine was made available and say, was it enough?”
A seven-minute stroll away, Dolly Parton’s Stampede was putting on another show where the ticket sellers say masks are not required. Maybe the great hero is not aware of what is really going on at the venue that bears her name. It seems impossible that the same person who appeared in the video getting the shot back at the start of March was aware of what fans were being told.
“Hey, it’s me, I’m finally gonna get my vaccine,” she announced then. “I’m so excited. I’ve been waitin’ a while. I’m old enough to get it and I’m smart enough to get it. So I’m very happy that I’m going to get my Moderna shot today. And I wanted to tell everybody, I think you should get out there and do it too.”
Dr. Naji Abumrad of Vanderbilt Medical Center, who credits Parton’s early donation of $1 million with expediting the development of the vaccine, gave her a first dose of Moderna.
“About the vaccine,I think we all want to get back to normal, whatever that is,” she said. “I just want to encourage everybody because the sooner we get to feeling better, the sooner we are going to get back to being normal.”
She then said words that should have changed so many more minds than it did.
“So I just want to say to all of you cowards out there. Don’t be such a chicken squat. Get your shot.”
Maybe that is what the signs at the entrance to Dolly Parton’s Stampede should say. And every show could end with that new version of the old anthem.
“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine...”