Dolly Parton turned 70 in January and has been celebrating the milestone in high style – by scoring her first Number One album on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart in 25 years with Pure & Simple and launching her most extensive tour in two decades. The Pure & Simple Tour closed its third leg last night at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Parton will start a fourth leg November 15th and, as she showed in the second of two sold-out two-and-a-half-hour concerts at the Bowl, the legend is still at her absolute best.
As anyone who has seen the consummate professional can attest, there are no “worsts” during Parton’s shows – but here are the six best parts of her Hollywood Bowl blowout.
Her Sense of Humor Any Parton fan knows her show is almost as much about her stories as it is about the music. She trotted out certain lines that the diehards know by heart, including, of course, “It costs a lot to look this cheap,” as well as jokes about her age: “I was thinking about my new tour bus and how it beat the tar out of the covered wagon I started out in.” But even the familiar jokes got a new sheen last night by dint of her self-deprecation, her charming determination to entertain, and the endearing feeling that she never took herself too seriously. Parton’s mantra seems to be “Life is hard. It’s a lot easier if you can laugh at yourself and with others along the way.”
Her As-Advertised Production Adhering to the Pure & Simple theme, the production and stage design were minimalist, featuring several gathered floor-to-ceiling white curtains with different colors projected on them and adorned with a few strands of lights. That’s it. Instead of her full band, Parton was accompanied by a trio – keyboardist Richard Dennison, guitarist-banjo player Kent Wells and bassist Tom Rutledge – and, an occasional drum machine, which, Parton pointed out, she got on sale for $300.
Her Voice Even a head cold, severe enough that she had a few Kleenex stations set up on stage, couldn’t slow her down. Parton’s voice remains a supple, powerful marvel full of the vibrato she’s known for, but last night, there was a chilling beauty to it on songs such as the heartbreaking “Little Sparrow,” gospel standard “Precious Memories” and murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio” that was spine-tingling. For all of the Vegas revue-style patter, there were moments of exquisite raw musicality so delicate, yet commanding, that the appreciative audience was left breathless and in awe of Parton’s undiminished vocal prowess.
Her Musicianship Parton is a one-woman band. At various points during the evening, she played acoustic and electric guitar, piano, fiddle, dulcimer, penny whistle, banjo, autoharp, harmonica and a saxophone. All bedazzled in rhinestones, of course. As she joked, “I leave no rhinestone unturned.”
Her Message Maybe it’s because she has always attracted a large gay following, but there is no other country artist as embracing of her LGBTQ fans. Last night, she once again stressed that message in an inclusive, never preachy way. As she comically ogled her assistant, Steve, who came out in a sleeveless T-shirt and very tight jeans, she declared, “He’s handsome, ain’t he, girls?” Then she waited a beat, before adding, “He’s pretty, ain’t he, boys?” to hoots and hollers. On a more serious note, after she talked about being proud of her roots, she added, “Never be ashamed of who you are, of what you are … Love who you are.”
Her Love for It All It was clear last night that Parton is performing for no other reason than the sheer enjoyment, so it was a pleasure to hear her affirm that she’s going to keep going.”I’m never planning to retire. I just want to fall out during the middle of a song like one of those fainting goats that just keels over,” she said, before adding, “Don’t worry. It won’t happen tonight.”