Dolly's Birthday in the Bay
A light-hearted birthday tribute to one of America's most beloved musical artists has turned into a fun mid-winter tradition in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
- story by Ellis Anderson, photos by Ellis Anderson and Brenda Comer
But the main attraction of the evening (one that’s pulling people from as far away as Austin, according to organizers), is the Dolly Look-alike contest. Last year, more than fifty contestants – young and old, male and female - costumed as Dolly, then sang and sashayed before an enthusiastic crowd in an attempt to take the top prize.
Organizers are expecting even more contestants this year. Photographer Ann Madden and silversmith Sandy Maggio own Smith & Lens Gallery and are the creators of the annual birthday bash.
“Getting people who attend to commit to even a little bit of country costume makes it a big party,” says Madden. “And folks who go all out just seem to come alive under that big hair. So it’s a fantastic, feel-good, family event.”
Madden and Maggio came up with the idea of artist-themed birthday parties to spice up the Second Saturday Artwalks. They began with a “Frida Fest” in July 2014, to celebrate the birth of legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The premier fest surprised everyone with its instant popularity.
A few months later, the duo proposed a Dolly event in January, “the post-holiday, pre-Mardi Gras slump month” for local businesses. Other Old Town merchants and restaurateurs jumped aboard. The first Dolly Should was held in January 2015 to the delight of spectators, participants and local businesspeople.
The event is self-generated by the Old Town Merchants Association, without any assist from the city. Madden and Maggio say that it only works because most downtown businesses volunteer to participate. A restaurant might offer a country-themed special, while a shop might host a pie contest or hayride. Event publicity takes place mostly through social media.
“This town is just incredible,” says Maggio. “Everybody pitches in.”
Which is made easier since the event is wrapped around such an iconic musical artist. Both women point to Parton as an inspirational figure, beloved for her philanthropy, as well as her music. The star’s down-home simplicity is another reason for her appeal.
“Who doesn’t love Dolly?” says Madden. “For nearly sixty years, she’s been making music without compromise. She’s unapologetically herself.”
As the word of Dolly Should has spread, visitors from out of town are booking trips to the Bay specifically to “stay for a few days, dress up like Dolly and have fun.” Maggio also says she knows several contestants who have been working on their costumes since last year’s event.
“I’ll bet the wigs are already sold out on the coast,” says Maggio.
Maggio’s big dream for this year’s celebration?
“My number one wish is that Dolly would just show up with her entourage,” Maggio says. “I would just die.”
“And of course, I want everyone to think of Bay St. Louis as a fun, happening little place,” she continues. “Because we are.”
Participants in the Dolly Look-alike contest should register between 5 pm and 7 pm at Smith & Lens Gallery, 106 South Second St. The entry fee is $10, with prizes being original “works of art.”
Check back here soon for a full roster of Dolly Should events/times/places.
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