MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — When the applause dies after tonight's final show at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, it will mark the close of the popular dinner show's 19-year history as a beloved Grand Strand attraction.
Soon, the show's buckaroos will be replaced by buccaneers.
The arena that has been home to horses and buffalo will be transformed into a watery wonderland with an indoor lake where pirates will roam. Pirates Voyage Fun, Feast & Adventure is set to open in June.
And while cast members and some fans are taking the change in stride, the Stampede's departure spurred some sadness and uncertainty.
Lon L Linke, the show's master of ceremonies, has been with the organization 22 years and said the people working with the Stampede are "the best in the world. Our talent level is hugely high."
Linke expressed thanks for the people in the community, saying they've had days in which, within a number of shows, they've entertained 5,000 people. He wasn't specific about his future plans but praised Parton, who "made it very easy to raise families" for performers in what is an uncertain career field.
"There's a lot of emotion," Linke said. "Our local support has been unmatched."
Nicole Bargerstock, who has been in Myrtle Beach for six years, is a rider in all the acts and has the distinction of playing the Christmas angel.
"I moved here specifically to work for the Dixie Stampede," said the Pittsburgh native, who plans to continue riding for the Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. "It's the best job I've ever had. We have amazing audiences."
The Dixie Stampede is built around equestrian escapades, including a North vs. South competition, specialty acts, trick riding and dressage. The current Christmas show tweaks that format, changing the competition to the North Pole vs. the South Pole and adding a live Nativity scene replete with townspeople, camels and a trained dove.
The new venture will capture the feel of pirates and their seafaring ways, said Larry McCoy, director of marketing for the show. He said the history of pirates along the Carolina coast played into the new direction.
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