Country star Dolly Parton could’ve simply played songs from her decades long career and left it at that. The audience would’ve been content. That’s what most musicians do.
But last night before a capacity crowd at Hard Rock Live, she told her whole life story, offering anecdotes, explanations and confessions as she took fans behind the country and pop music she plays. It made for a engaging experience that clocked in at two-and-a-half hours (with a 20-minute intermission). You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
“That was a nice welcome,” said Parton as she emerged on the stage while her band appropriately played a few riffs of “Hello Dolly.” Dressed in a glittering white dress, her bleached blonde hair tossed up high in the sky, Parton, 70, looked resplendent. She energetically delivered the rollicking “Train, Train,” encouraging the audience to hoot along as she imitated the sound of a whistle.
After kicking out the twangy “Why’d You Come in Here Looking Like That” she played “Jolene,” a song she wrote “a few years back” about that “red-haired gal with long legs” who was trying to steal her man. We’ve heard the White Stripes (and others) deliver their grunge-y rendition of the ballad — to hear Parton sing it with conviction over a beefy walking bass line was a real treat. You can tell the real-life incident still rubs her the wrong way. Toward the end of the first set, she broke into a medley of songs she loves — “American Pie,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” An audience sing-a-long ensued.
Parton’s material ran a wide gamut. She touched upon gospel with “Precious Moments” and bluegrass with “Applejack,” a song she dedicated to the mountain man who inspired her to want to learn the banjo. She kicked off the show’s second set with the up-tempo “Baby, I’m Burnin” and offered up pop fare such as “Two Doors Down,” “Here You Come Again” and “Islands in the Stream.”
All the while, Parton’s voice sounded sharp, and she switched instruments throughout the show. At one point, she even played the fiddle while she had her banjo swung over her shoulder. That’s not to mention piano, guitar, harmonica and saxophone.
For the set-closing “I Will Always Love You,” the ballad she referred to as “the gift that keeps on giving,” she showed that her strong voice can still send a chill. Not bad for a woman who came from a poor family that lived in a one-room cabin in the Smoky Mountains, something she outlined in songs such as “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Coat of Many Colors.”
At one point, Parton even described herself as “no natural beauty.” Say what! That’s yet another thing that makes her so endearing — she retains humility when she’s clearly become an icon that can fill a room while charging 160 bucks a ticket.