Dolly Parton—Pure and Simple Tour
Date Seen: September 17, 2016
Cost of Ticket: $85 CDN
Before I discuss the concert, there are some impressive numbers to know about Dolly Parton.
Years Married: 50 and counting
Top 10 Albums: 41
Charted Singles: 110
Grammy Awards: 8 Wins, 46 Nominations
Academy Awards: 2 Nominations
Country Music Awards: 10 and is 1 of 7 females to win Entertainer of the Year
Composed Songs: 3000+
Worldwide Sales: 100 million+
Net Worth: $650 million
At age 70, Dolly Parton has embarked on the the largest tour of her career: The Pure and Simple Tour. With 63 North American dates, Dolly is in full swing promoting her 43rd studio album for which the tour is named. Surprisingly though, this is a stripped down show that really highlights the music. And like her album, the show is minimal but Dolly’s talent and charm prove that's enough to impress arenas full of fans.
I’ve seen Dolly Parton perform once before at Clarke Stadium about twenty years ago. It was general admission and my parents and I ended up snagging front row seats. Back then Dolly was still a down-home gal in glittery costumes with a big voice. Her oversized smile and infectious laugh added to her celebrity persona. Nothing has changed. Unlike many of her peers, her voice has kept its clarity, its range and its power. Dolly’s also kept her signature look and style. Jokingly she admits that she buys her clothes 2 sizes too small and then has the tailor take them in. Another of her famous lines quips about how much it costs to look so cheap. Between her two costumes, Dolly was sequenced and rhinestoned to perfection.
The one thing I often criticize is when a performer goes too heavy on new material and doesn’t play enough of their hits. The Pure and Simple tour is very thoughtfully arranged. New material, hits, new material, hits, cover songs, intermission, hits, new material, hits and hits and hits, encore hits. While Dolly could have played her entire new album and thrown in a few big classics, she knew why her fans were there. She performed 26 songs ranging from honky tonk to traditional country, gospel and even a mashup with Alicia Key’s Girl on Fire.
The first thing you notice before Dolly even walks onto the stage is that there is only three musicians. A pianist and two guitar players. Occasionally Dolly herself would play an instrument and lend to the mix, but the four of them created a sound that was rich, full and unbelievable. I’ve seen performers with a full orchestra that did not sound as good as Dolly and her three bandmate. Then again, Dolly is a professional and after 40+ years in the industry, she knows what works.
Dolly is a legendary entertainer. What she lacked in pyrotechnics, dancers and video images, she made up with jokes, witty remarks and stories. Between each song there would be a short history lesson about why the song was significant. Dolly told us who Jolene really was, how it was growing up with 11 siblings, and what she learnt from her parents. She shared highlights of her career and talked about her long lasting marriage. Although I shared the arena with 16,000 fans, it was as if I were in Dolly’s living room catching up over coffee. Her talent for storytelling and her sheer authenticity gave the entire show a special intimate feeling.
There were plenty of highlights through the night. Jolene was clearly the crowd’s favourite. Coat of Many Colours drew more than a few tears in the audience. Here You Come Again was especially bouncy and hit all the right notes. Dolly ended the night with hit after hit including Islands in the Stream, 9-5, and I Will Always Love You. For me, the most magical moment was she sang an acapella version of Little Sparrow. You could have heard a pin drop as Dolly’s voice soared in this folky gospel gem. This is the sign of a true legend.
Looking back, there was very little I could be critical of. Do I think she should have video screens so everyone could have had a better view of the show? Yes. Did I love the cover songs she chose to sing? Not especially. Would it have been nice to have had an opening act? Sure. But at the end of the evening, I think everyone left the arena with a warm fuzzy satisfied feeling. They had forgotten about election drama, their nagging boss or the list of waiting chores. Dolly reminded us, with her music and stories, what was important: family, love and laughter. A great take away lesson for us all.