By Chuck Cox
Front Row Contributor
I’ve never been one to take seeing a music legend perform in person for granted. And after so many iconic musicians have passed away this year, I treasure those shows even more.
The fact the room was filled with fans wasn’t surprising, although it was even more impressive considering Parton is playing two sold out shows up the road at WinStar Casino Dec. 9-10.
So, what is that Dolly, 70, has that keeps people flocking to see her shows? Everything. Since I was a kid, Parton has always had the look, the talent, the personality, the “American Dream” backstory and the powerful voice that add up to being a superstar.
Most of all, she is the absolute, 100 percent genuine article. That is obvious from the beginning of her show. Even if you’re sitting in the rafters, seeing a Dolly concert feels more like hanging out and listening to her play songs in her living room.
Billed the Pure & Simple Tour, this year’s trek was pretty much exactly as advertised. Parton played with just a three-man band of guys she’s been playing with forever. She showed her immense versatility by playing several instruments, including piano, penny whistle and a mini sax, throughout the nearly two-and-a-half-hour show that also had a 20-minute intermission.
Parton, who spent plenty of time telling stories and talking to the crowd, played a couple of big hits early, including “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That” and “Jolene.” She then talked about the tragic wildfires that have ravaged her beloved Smoky Mountains in Tennessee in between playing songs about her childhood, including “Coat of Many Colors” and the rousing “Applejack.”
She also did an interesting medley of old-school songs that she said felt appropriate nowadays. That medley included “American Pie,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Dust in the Wind” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
She closed the first set, which was almost 90 minutes, with “The Seeker” and “I’ll Fly Away.” Religion is a pretty big part of Dolly’s live show, but she doesn’t overdo it. And she certainly knows how to have fun, too. One of a dozen children in her family, Parton said her mom always had “one on her or one in her.”
The second set was much tighter and full of hits. Perhaps the highlight of the night, for me, was the version of “The Grass is Blue” that Norah Jones did while covering a Dolly song. Parton played the piano and sang that song just beautifully.
With her band coming up to join her at the front of the stage, they did a couple of songs from her Trio and Trio II albums album with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris — “Those Memories of You” and “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.” They did the latter twice, with the second being a version of what the song would sound like sped up to 78 RPM on a record. Great stuff.
Once she got her “sad-ass” song “Little Sparrow” out of the way, she closed with monster hits “Two Doors Down,” “Here You Come Again,” “Islands in the Stream” and “9 to 5.”
She came back out for her encore, the massive “I Will Always Love You.” She then had a short monologue about the world and its issues before closing with “Hello God” and “He’s Alive.”
There was an older lady sitting right next to me who was visibly moved by getting to hear “I Will Always Love You,” which was a really nice moment.
Parton never ceases to amaze me at the diversity and loyalty of her fans. She still sounds absolutely amazing. I grew up on Dolly, who my mom also adored, an she sounds the same singing those great songs in 2016 as she did when they were released.
It was only my second time to see her live, but I will forever treasure seeing Parton as many times as I can.
Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That
Pure & Simple
Precious Memories (John Wright cover)
My Tennessee Mountain Home
Coat of Many Colors
Smokey Mountain Memories
Rocky Top/Yakety Sax
Banks of the Ohio
American Pie / If I Had a Hammer / Blowin’ in the Wind / Dust in the Wind / The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
I’ll Fly Away
Baby I’m Burnin’ / Great Balls of Fire / Girl on Fire
Outside Your Door
The Grass Is Blue
Those Memories of You (Alan O’Bryant cover)
Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?
Little Sparrow / If I Had Wings
Two Doors Down
Here You Come Again
Islands in the Stream (Bee Gees cover)
9 to 5
I Will Always Love You
Hello God / He’s Alive