Dolly Parton's empire grows

Published: Jan. 31, 2019 at 4:15 PM EST
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The sale of Fee Hedrick to Dolly Parton's Dinner Theater group is final.

“My theater production company just purchased Fee Hedrick Entertainment, and I am so excited to have more family entertainment to present to our guests in Pigeon Forge. In 2019, we’ll operate Comedy Barn, Hatfield & McCoy and Smoky Mountain Opry in the same way folks have come to remember them,” said Dolly Parton. “David, Jim and their team have done a great job with these shows through the years and, for now, we don’t plan to change anything. They are fun family entertainment, and that is the business I’m in.”

In November, the owners announced they would sell to the group producing the Dolly Parton Dinner Shows in Pigeon Forge. Both companies had announced plans to build a pirate show in 2019. David Fee said that's when conversations started about selling.

"You probably heard there were going to be two pirate shows in 2019," said Fee. "That probably didn't make good sense to either of us. But neither was willing to back down."

He said in the end, World Choice brought an offer to the table he and his partner, Jim Hedrick, couldn't refuse.

"We were happy to go forward, but they made an offer we simply could not refuse," said Fee. "As Kenny Rogers says, 'Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run'."

"We were not actually looking to sell. But when you think about it, who can buy you? There aren't too many people. Sometimes when an opportunity comes around you grab it," Fee added.

Hedrick said he's proud a company with the backing of Dolly Parton would be interested in the brands they built. It all started 25 years ago when the duo opened the Comedy Barn Theater.

"To have a company with the clout and the backing of WCI is rewarding to me. My humble little dream is that one day my children will bring their kids to the Comedy Barn and say, 'Hey, my father helped build this'," said Jim Hedrick. "I'm blessed to say we have a team that has followed our vision and followed our dreams and believed what we believed in."

Fee and Hedrick said their understanding is WCI will keep all shows as is for 2019.

Fee planned to stay on as an advisor to see the transition through. Hedrick said he will mostly retire, but use his extra time to work on building affordable housing units in Sevier County.

"Some one, two bedroom apartments, efficiencies if need be, to make some affordable housing for the much needed and respected work force here in the Smoky Mountains," said Hedrick.

The two met at an old Pigeon Forge attraction called Magic World and traveled the world performing on cruise ships before opening their own theater. It's a partnership that lasted for 40 years.

"It has been a fantastic partnership and I believe in my heart we needed each other to make this work," said Hedrick.

"Couldn't have done it with out my partner Jim," said Fee.

“All of these theaters provide a great opportunity for us to package our shows in an affordable way and to focus with Dollywood to bring people to the area,” Fred Hardwick, Chairman of the Board of World Choice Investments said. “Dolly’s enthusiastic leadership will continue to focus on bringing the best in entertainment in an affordable way for the families visiting the Smoky Mountains.”