Last week I saw Dolly Parton in concert. Dolly is now 70, but like Jane Fonda, she seems to be aging in reverse. She’s a petite powerhouse, jacked up on four-inch heels with a wig to rival Marie Antoinette’s.
Her concert interweaves her songs and her hilarious storytelling. She introduced her classic song, Jolene, by talking about the girl at the bank who liked to flirt with her husband, Carl Dean, 50 years ago. She quipped that she wanted to look her up to invite her to their recent vow renewal since she’s sung about her so much over the years.
She had us all in the palm of her hand.
I think what makes Dolly so special are these four things:
She works like a dog. Dolly has just released her 43rd album and writes a new song every day. Dolly seems to play almost every instrument and continues to learn new ones. For this tour, she learned to play the saxophone and regaled us all with a song played Benny Hill-style while running around the stage backward in heels.
She rises above self-pity. Anyone who knows anything about growing up poor in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee knows Dolly’s had her share of hardship. She talked about not always having enough food but having a lot of love. She knows that it’s far more helpful to put on a wig, throw on some rhinestones, and slap on a smile than to wallow in misery. And if something bad happens, she’ll deal with it. As she says, “If I wind up sitting in a wheelchair, at least I’ll have my high heels on.”
She practices gratitude. Throughout the evening she talked about all the things she’s grateful for: having loving parents, having music in her life, being surrounded by the beautiful mountains. And now that she has so much, she revels in it. She loves her wigs and her jewels and all the trappings of success. I get the sense she never takes anything for granted.
She never apologizes for who she is. Dolly admittedly dresses like a drag queen and spent the evening in a silver sparkly dress and mile-high hair. As she says, “I look just like the girls next door… if you happen to live next door to an amusement park.” She does not apologize for her look. “It costs a lost of money to look this cheap,” she boasts.
At the end of the day, Dolly Parton knows and likes who she is, which gives her permission to know and like who everybody else is too. She is one of the most inclusive performers on the road today.
Dolly Parton runs her concerts like a church service, alternating between hymns and mini-sermons, and she both inspires and uplifts. Her interpretation of the spiritual, I’ll Fly Away, was equal parts joyful and soulful, and if there was a Church of Dolly, I’d be attending every Sunday.