The thing I love most about live entertainment shows is that they are immersive experiences that educate you about another place and time. Some shows are a little more immersive than others. Take for example, The Lumberjack Feud dinner and show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
I recently visited the high energy show where the members of the audience become feuding lumberjack families, the “Dawsons” and the McGraws,” for the evening. The setting is circa 1930s when the logging industry was big business in the region.
When I walk into the auditorium, I am pegged to be a part of the show and asked if I would be game to participate in a pole climbing competition. My insatiable curiosity and zest for constant new adventure was interested. I could see the enormous 60 foot poles in the back of the room.
While I have never actually climbed anything more than a tree as a child, I was up for the challenge. I signed the “if I fall, it’s my fault” waiver. I was even promised a “cookie” if I won the competition. A cookie? Really? With that, I was IN! However, I did not realize at the time, that my definition of cookie and a lumberjack’s definition of cookie were two different things. Nonetheless, I was committed.
The evening unfolds with jaw-dropping competitions between feuding lumberjacks from each family. The host is engaging and explains how each of the 18 competitions relates to the kinds of tasks that lumberjacks use for their extreme physical labor jobs. Throughout the evening, the show is accompanied by archive footage, photos and audio that give me a true sense of the history of the Great Smoky Mountain Region.
As the evening progresses, competition is fierce as the two families duke it out for the last bit of land to log before the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is officially dedicated in 1940.
Authentic athletic lumberjacks use their hands, axes and chainsaws to demonstrate the log roll, underhand chop and speed climbing. The feuding family atmosphere is a fun environment. While the lumberjacks wield sharp objects cutting through logs with precision, the Lumberjills cheer on the crowd in between their own competitions. Athletic Timber Dogs even get into the action performing stunts that have the crowd cheering for both sides.
Late into the show, it is my turn to try my hand at being a lumberjack. I really had NO idea what I was in for. A very beefy, young lumberjack suited me up with leg braces that had a large spikes the size of railroad spikes on the inside of each foot.
He explains the rhythm and system I will use to climb the giant pole that suddenly seemed much taller than it appeared from my seat at the back of the auditorium. I am to stomp my right foot into the log, then my left foot a little higher, then I swing a huge braided rope above my head and use it to pull up my body weight. I am told to repeat the process until I pass the second line on the pole.
While the instructions sound pretty simple, I was getting the idea very quickly that putting it into action was much more difficult. When the announcer said “GO” I was off! The instructions were like a mantra in my mind, “left foot, right foot, swing the rope, pull myself up.” I was fiercely focused knowing that someone one the other side of the room was doing the same. The McGraws were counting on me!
I was so focused in fact that I tore up the pole like a rabid raccoon and won the competition without even knowing it. The lumberjacks yelled for me to stop, the crowd had already cheered for my win…and I was still going. You can see in the video my exuberant reaction when I realized I won and led the crowd in another rousing applause.
Check it out:
Exhausted from the climb, I gained a new respect very quickly for the work of lumberjacks. I love this show because I was exposed to a way of life and a kind of historic time that I might not otherwise have been exposed to.
Yes, I got my “cookie” too. It was a chunk of wood that I will display as a sign of strength and a symbol of the adventurous thrill that comes with stepping outside of your comfort zone.
For more information on the Pigeon Forge region, check out MyPigeonForge.com.
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