PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — After a 10-year hiatus from touring, Dolly Parton has decided to take her show on the road this summer in support of a new album, Halos and Horns, coming in July.
“We just get thousands of calls a day, ‘When you going on tour?’ and I thought, you know what? If people really want to see me, I think I will kind of see if I like it again,” Parton told CMT.com Saturday (April 6), during a round of interviews and a press conference that touted the opening of her newly expanded Dollywood theme park.
“I won’t be touring as much as I did in the old days,” Parton vows, “but I’m going to be doing some special tours.” Dates and locations for Parton’s summer concert appearances have not been announced. She will appear May 17 in Minneapolis in an event benefiting the Citizens’ Scholarship Foundation of America.
She’ll wait until May to begin rehearsing, Parton says, but she already has the band lined up and she has given them a name, the “Blue-niques.” They’ll have to re-create her unique blend of bluegrass and mountain music both in acoustic settings and in more complex production numbers. Members include Steve Turner, Kent Wells, Jimmy Mattingly, Richard Dennison, Gary “Biscuit” Davis, Brent Truitt, Terry Eldredge and Randy Kohr.
Parton showcased the Blue-niques Friday and Saturday (April 5-6) in free concerts at Dollywood. Her 40-minute set list included hits such as “Coat of Many Colors” and songs from her recent bluegrass albums, The Grass Is Blue and Little Sparrow.
“These are the good kind of shows to do ’cause you’ve got your own park,” Parton jokes on stage. “You come out here with your own band. They can’t fire me from the park if I don’t do good — I hope. They might!”
Parton plans a much bigger production for her road shows. “We’ll be doing an hour-and-a-half to two-hour shows. I’ll be doing stuff from the new CD, of course, and stuff from the past, from the last two albums and actually some new stuff. It’ll be simple in its nature because it’s a lot of mountain music — bluegrass and simple instruments and all — but there are times we can do some production pieces as well.”
Halos and Horns includes Parton’s version of Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven,” which she says she approached in the same way she did “Shine” on the current album. Originally done by rock group Collective Soul, Parton’s version of “Shine” won a Grammy in February for best female country vocal performance.
Also on the new project, which she produced herself at Southern Sound Studios in Knoxville, Tenn., Parton covers Bread’s wistful hit ballad “If,” from 1971, in up-tempo bluegrass style.
The rest of the songs are Parton originals, many of them inspirational numbers such as “Hello God.” “I try to stay very attached to God,” she explains. “I go on with a bunch of junk, and I look like a big phony, but hopefully, I’m very real.
“We’re all just sinners,” she continues. “We’re all trying to find it, but we all have to believe in something bigger and better, and I do. So, I always try to give my respect,” she says, looking upward, “to where it really goes.”
Raised poor in a mountain home in East Tennessee, Parton dreamed of success in country music. Now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, she lets her real life fairy tale unfold within the walls of a new museum, Chasing Rainbows, that celebrates her golden career.
The state-of-the art experience is part of Dollywood’s new $10 million addition, titled “Adventures in Imagination,” showcased in the amusement park’s 17th grand opening weekend Friday and Saturday (April 5-6). The entertainment area also includes a new simulator ride, Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure, a retail shop, Inspirations, and a donut factory.
“It’s like seeing your whole life pass before you,” Parton says of the large collection of old photographs and memorabilia from her life and career. “I cried, and I got all emotional, like when I’d go in my grandpa’s little church. They’ve got a little replica [of the church], and [you can hear] my grandpa’s voice, who was a preacher. I just got emotional about so many things in going back even to my childhood.”
The National State Teachers of the Year organization presented Parton with the first-ever Chasing Rainbows award, for her efforts in education, during her visit to the museum. Her pet project, the Imagination Library, has been donating books to young children in her hometown of Sevier County, Tenn., since 1995.
“The kids all call me the book lady, which I think that’s great,” Parton says. “My husband thinks that’s the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid because [he says] ‘Everybody knows you by your boobs and your hair and your singing’ … but he said, ‘I really take great pride in calling you the book lady. That means you’re doing something worthwhile.’”
Parton’s dynamic personality also makes her welcome in Tinsel Town. She’ll star in an upcoming television movie about legendary silver screen actress Mae West. Several re-writes of the script have delayed the project.
“They just want to get it right to where it’s true to her,” Parton explains. Shooting could begin this summer, she says, and the movie-of-the-week could air as soon as this fall or winter.
Meanwhile, Parton will be on the big screen in the coming months in the film comedy Frank McCluskey, C.I. Parton plays the mother of the title character, an insurance claims adjuster played by Dave Sheridan. Randy Quaid plays her husband.
“He’s (Quaid) like an Evel Knievel kind of guy,” Parton explains. “He gets injured real bad and goes into a coma. I’m so overly protective of my kids [in the film]. I make them wear helmets in the house. It’s so nutty. I don’t know. We’ll have to see about that one. I had fun doing it though.”
Parton loves all the endeavors she juggles. “It’s all special to me,” she says. “I’m very grateful and thankful to God that I’ve had the opportunity to get to do so many things and see so many of my dreams come true.”