Review: Dolly Parton Reigns as Country Music’s Queen on Pure & Simple Tour
There are icons, there are legends, and then, there is Dolly Parton; you'd be hard-pressed to find another artist on this planet who is more universally loved than the 70-year-old powerhouse. After more than 50 years in the business, Parton proved that she is still one of the world’s greatest entertainers on a chilly Friday night (Dec. 9) in Thackerville, Okla., during her penultimate 2016 Pure & Simple Tour show.
From the stage, Parton told the crowd that she was dealing with a little bit of a cold, likely caused by her constant traveling between hot and cold climates, but it was impossible to tell in the audience. If she was feeling under the weather, she sure didn’t show it during her marathon three-hour show — complete with a 20-minute intermission — that featured Parton playing nearly 10 instruments and singing the hell out of more than 20 of her biggest hits and favorite songs.
Parton began the evening with a bluegrass-heavy rendition of “Train, Train,” but the night really kicked off in earnest when she launched into “Jolene.” Before playing the first few notes of those signature chords, Parton told the story of the fire-headed bank teller that caught her husband’s eye in the beginning of their marriage and inspired one of the most famous songs about another woman ever written (and, as she cheekily noted from the stage, it was she that ended up with Carl Thomas Dean, with whom she celebrated her 50th year of marriage earlier in 2016).
Even those who truly love Parton and are familiar with her incredible abilities as a songwriter and a performer can be shocked by just how stunning her live performances really are: Her voice is still remarkably powerful, as bright and clear as it’s ever been; that felt especially true during a cappella renditions of classics such as “Little Sparrow,” and a cover of the gospel hymn “Precious Memories,” capable of stirring listeners to tears before they even realize it. And we may have all underestimated just exactly how funny Parton really is -- though it shouldn’t be a surprise that the woman who wrote both “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” is capable of making concertgoers laugh so hard that they cry just moments after she’s completely broken their hearts.
As Parton sat on a quilt-topped platform to play the autoharp and tell stories about her dirt-poor, love-rich childhood in Appalachia and sing the songs that her mother once sang to her, it was like being welcomed into her family. She didn’t exactly tackle politics in the evening, but Parton did note that the next few years will probably be a good time for songwriters ... and followed that up with a medley of ‘60s protest songs, including an incredible cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Whether or not it was an intentional commentary, it felt like a salve on raw, exhausted nerves.
After a quick intermission, Parton returned to perform classics from her catalog, as well as a few lesser-known gems, such as “The Grass Is Blue,” written by Parton and recorded by Norah Jones, and a quick cover of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.” Whether audience members came to see Parton perform deep cuts that they might’ve missed on previous tours or just wanted to sing along (loudly) to “9 to 5,” Friday night’s show covered pretty much every bit of ground they could’ve asked for. If anything, the folks packed into that sold-out room probably would have stuck around for hours, as long as Parton stayed up there to play.
As she wound down the evening with an incredible rendition of “I Will Always Love You” dedicated to her fans, Parton showed everyone why she’s had such an incredible career in country music over the past five decades. By the end of the night, fans could only feel lucky and grateful to have been graced with her presence, if only for a few hours.
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