There are a handful of artists who are very dear to me because I grew up listening their music. John Denver and Fleetwood Mac will always be held high in my heart because I was raised on their songs. But Dolly Parton might be the highest of them all, not only because of her music, but because she’s practically local. When she talks about East Tennessee summers and hanging with kinfolk and Sundays at church I’m right there with her, because even though we were born in different generations, some things remain the same in specific areas of the map. Whenever I’m abroad and I need to hear a bit of home, I listen to Dolly and she brings me straight back to the hills of East Tennessee.
I’d seen the wondrous Ms. Parton perform a couple of songs at Dollywood, but until last Sunday evening I’d never had the pleasure of a full concert by the lady of the hour. Considering that it’s been twenty-five years since she last performed in Knoxville, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one anxious to see her show! I was pleased to discover that she is every bit as magical, endearing, and uproariously hilarious live as she comes across in interviews and on film. The giant curtains covering the huge stage added to the sense of anticipation, and when Dolly finally emerged I got both tears in my eyes and tingles down to my toes. I tried to take a few pictures to share here, but the angle of my seat combined with the spotlight made it impossible to capture any decent image, so I put my camera away and simply enjoyed the concert as it was, making my memories the old-fashioned way.
Dolly emerged guns a blazin’ and opened with her newer classic “Better Get To Livin'” and melded that into “Walkin’ On Sunshine,” a song which I have always loathed until I heard it coming from Dolly’s lips. You have to hand it to Ms. Parton, she certainly knows her fans: while she performed several selections from both her new album, Better Day, as well as a set from her upcoming film Joyful Noise, she also included a heaping dose of the classics: “Jolene,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “Coat Of Many Colors,” “Little Sparrow,” “Islands In The Stream,” and of course, “9 to 5.” Because Dolly has such a huge catalogue of hits she (very smartly) sang several medleys so that concert-goers got the most bang for their buck. Even though they weren’t performed in full, I was delighted to hear part of “Mule Skinner Blues” as well as one of my favourite covers of all time, Dolly’s version of Collective Soul’s “Shine.” The covers didn’t end there: Ms. Parton rocked the house on “Stairway To Heaven” and blasted us out of our seats with “River Deep, Mountain High.” As a further treat, toward the end of the show she came out and gave us a beautiful rendition of “I Will Always Love You” (which far outshines Whitney Houston’s bombastic cover, in this music lover’s opinion).
There was so much humor and warmth radiating from Dolly Parton last Sunday night that everyone was instantly drawn to her like moths to her shining flame. She not only sang but interacted with the audience, telling us stories about her upbringing, waving to the baby in the Dolly wig in the front row, and of course giving us a plethora of her beloved Dolly-isms. To top it off, the proceeds from her concert are going to the Imagination Library, a project that Dolly herself began many years ago which provides books to children in need all over the world. Overall it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life, and I was so happy that I got to be there and share it with my mother, grandmother, and sisters. If she’s playing anywhere remotely near you, seeing her live is not to be missed. Dolly Parton truly is a marvel, and I hope that she continues to bring us all better days for many, many years to come.