It’s been a couple of days since Dolly Parton visited us.
And it’s a funny thing but know and understand this truth: when you’ve had the chance to experience a particularly beautiful few hours of anything, really — whether it’s being impossibly close to a songwriting legend or some other lifechanger of an event — you start wondering if it was all even real, if it even happened at all. The further you get away from what took place, the more hours and days you allow to pass, the less it seems it did. The funny thing is, that’s not the worst realm to exist in.
Allow me to interrupt the daydream. Know this: Dolly was here (at the Amalie Arena in Tampa). She was as good or better than you would have ever expected her to be. It was as magic and fantastic as it was emotional and hilarious. It was nearly three hours of songs and stories you desperately hoped might suddenly get extended to six.
News tends to travel fast usually, but not fast enough for all. Case in point: less than 48 hours after the concert, people were still openly complaining they’d never known she was even coming to our Sunshine State. They just couldn’t believe they’d not heard about it and missed it … and neither could I. News of the show hit months ago. The day was immediately placed on reserve for Dolly. I’ve been marking the days to go in my big paper calendar with songs stuck in my head for weeks on end.
When you’ve been doing what she’s been doing for as long as she has, you don’t bother with an opening band. You don’t allow for too many distracting lights and nix anything resembling an intricate stage show. There are no photographers in the pit. There are no big screens to make it easier for a near-capacity crowd to see her better. It all reflects the name of her latest album as well as the tour itself: Pure & Simple.
In return for those things it may lack, you get so much more. You get to focus on the real reason you came in the first place. Everything sounds beyond incredible, like recording suddenly brought to life. The setting allows you to witness Dolly being her unpretentious self. She wasted little time getting to hits like “Why You’d Come in Here Lookin’ Like That” and “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors.” She told so many stories in between you’d almost (but not quite) agree to sidestep the songs just to hear her history. If you’re any kind of a fan, you know the stories. Getting a refresher is a-okay too.
Here’s something else: any instrument Dolly touched, she played with incredible ease. And she touched a lot of instruments. Whether she was sitting at a piano, playing a recorder or lap steel, blowing on the sax (“That was some safe sax … it was good for me, was it good for you?”), strumming on an acoustic guitar or handling a harmonica like a porch-sitting pro, she was absolutely in command of her ship. She did have three other men in her band offering up their fairly pristine voices and accompaniment, but you can’t help but get the feeling she could tackle the whole thing herself if she wanted to.
Never one to shy away from speaking her mind on any given topic, she even commented on how glad she was the election was over. She let on it may have in fact inspired an impossible amount of forthcoming songs, but still. Enough’s enough. Dolly even mentioned how some had asked her to run in order to calm our very divided nation down some. She’s never had much interest in that but offered (to the delight of all), “They could always use more boobs in the White House.”
It was an easy lead-in to a medley of protest songs, some Don McLean (“American Pie”), some Dylan (“Blowing in the Wind”), even one by The Band (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”) that made me get one of those heart pangs on account of the late Levon Helm. That very song managed to get my friend sitting next to me as well; he had to wipe away his share of tears.
With all the energy and expertise afforded this kind of a performance, it’s worth mentioning Dolly has been in this business for 50 years (which, incidentally, is how long she’s been married to her husband). 50 years! That’s reason enough for her latest album to have shot to the top of the charts (and it did and has). She’s a never-stop-smiling dynamo, a tireless show-woman, a self-made guess-we’ll-have-to-break-that-mold-already kind of classic.
When Dolly got around to singing her very stripped-down “I Will Always Love You” near the tail end of all else, she had to have known just how much we returned the sentiment and in spades. All we could do is try to either shut up or whisper-sing along, then cheer right up until the lights flickered on.
Let’s file this night inside our memory banks under our Forever files. Let’s never let it fully go away.
Dolly Parton Live Review by Dainon, edited by Matthew Weller.
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