March 22, 2023
Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by Public Relations Intern, Tessa Brainard
As the I Will Always Love You Celebration is underway, those of us who work at Dollywood are reflecting on the timeless, iconic songwriting that Dolly has gifted the world. With so many amazing songs in her catalogue, there are countless favorites among her fans.
We all have a song that is forever on repeat in the back of our minds. Whether we’re hooked by a catchy beat, a beautiful guitar or soul-moving lyrics, we can all relate to that illuminating feeling of finding our new favorite song and the feeling of nostalgia when reconnecting with an old beloved tune.
Have you ever wondered how these songs came to be, or what was running through a songwriter’s mind as they put the pen to paper? If you’re anything like me, you need to dive deep into the story behind a song in order to get the full experience.
As part of the I Will Always Love You Celebration, the Songwriter’s Showcase is Dollywood’s first-ever behind-the-scenes look into the stories behind some of guests’ favorite country and bluegrass songs. I was lucky enough to watch songwriter and Showcase host Victoria Venier (songwriter behind the critically acclaimed “This Is My America” project) perform with songwriters Mark Narmore (songwriter for Craig Morgan, Josh Turner and John Michael Montgomery) and Steve Williams (songwriter for Craig Morgan, Kristin Chenowith and the Oak Ridge Boys) on March 13 in the Showstreet Palace Theater.
To learn more about what Dollywood guests can expect from this experience, I sat down with Venier after the show.
Q: Tell me about yourself, how did you get your start in music?
Victoria: My mom said I basically came out singing. She said I sang before I talked, so I think God just put music in my soul. Sometimes you get gifted that; it just comes from somewhere, and you’re not sure where. I was always predisposed to going towards musical things.
I was a commercial music major at Millikin University. Then, I got my first publishing deal. I started co-writing with some established writers and signed my first publishing deal a couple years later. I became a staff songwriter from Ingram Lebron Music; then I wrote for Dan Hodges Music and Universal.
Q: How would you describe your role in the show, and how did you come to be part of this Showcase?
Victoria: I worked with Dollywood last year, so they called me when they were putting together the I Will Always Love You Celebration. I’m also the president of the Gatlinburg Songwriters’ Festival, so I write with a lot of people, and I have a lot of relationships in town.
Q: How would you describe the Songwriter’s Showcase to our guests who will be experiencing it for the first time?
Victoria: Expect to hear the stories behind some of your most favorite songs. Even though, say, George Strait, recorded something, there’s a whole story about how it was written, how it got pitched.
Q: Since the Songwriter’s Showcase is new this season, how do you feel that it’s different from other music/entertainment we have at Dollywood?
Victoria: You can’t get this experience anywhere else. This is really an immersive experience for the audience to know the songwriter, how the song was written, the craft, maybe even how Dolly influenced our songwriting. We have had so many guests come up to us after and say they have never seen anything like this before.
Q: Since the Showcase is part of the I Will Always Love You Celebration, how do you feel that the legacy behind that song and the songwriting behind it carries over into this Showcase?
Victoria: I talk about that at the beginning of the show. When a song is great, it transcends genres and it transcends time. Obviously, that song (I Will Always Love You) has done both, whether you like Whitney Houston’s version or Dolly’s version. You can talk about so many of Dolly’s songs like that, not just that one.
I think it [the Showcase] just celebrates the iconic moments when the perfect artist meets the perfect song.
Q: What do you think is the most important trait of a songwriter and how does the Showcase highlight this?
Victoria: I think songwriters need to hone their craft. I’m around people who write every single day; they’re constantly at it, constantly upping the ante. Some people are excellent lyricists. They’re maybe not as great at the musicianship, but their lyrics just can’t be beat. Other times, you get with a really great musician who’s not a good lyricist. I try to cowrite with people who challenge me and make me think. I always want to be better and be moving forward. Our biggest payoff comes from when an audience resonates with a song you’ve written.
Q: What are you most excited about for the Showcase over the next few weeks?
Victoria: Playing with people like I’m playing with today – my friends, my cowriters - getting to share this moment with them and being immersed in this experience. What an honor to be able to represent this stage for this reason. There’s a lot of great people coming in these next few weeks, and I am super excited. They’re all my friends, which makes it even better.
Q: What is something about being a songwriter or the songwriting process that people don’t usually ask about but you would like people to know?
Victoria: It’s not something that we necessarily can choose not to do, because it’s in our souls; we need to create. I think that when you can take a story, even if it’s not your own, and you can put it to a melody and all of a sudden, you’ve created something amazing.
More information about the Songwriter’s Showcase and the I Will Always Love You Festival can be found here: https://www.dollywood.com/themepark/festivals/i-will-always-love-you