Dolly Parton delighted a sold-out crowd during her first-ever full-length show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Sunday night (July 21). The robust entertainer returned to the hallowed stage, where she first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 1968, as part of her first tour in a decade.
During the 22-song set, she drew from the many memorable country hits that made her a superstar, as well as the bluegrass and mountain music that has revitalized her career. She assembled an able band called The Blueniques especially for this tour, and after two songs on their own, the sexy superstar — wearing a revealing, glittering, ivory gown with sequined high-heels to match — strode onto the stage to a standing ovation.
Parton fans without her first two records on Sugar Hill (The Grass Is Blue and Little Sparrow) could not find much to sing along with during the first five songs, but when the Tennessee native belted out “Rocky Top,” the all-ages crowd went nuts, clapping and whooping it up.
Pulling up a stool afterwards, she chatted up the crowd, recalling her days growing up poor in the Smoky Mountains and then dedicated “Coat of Many Colors” to her mother and “Smoky Mountain Memories” to her late father.
She then strapped on a banjo for the lively “Apple Jack,” which led directly into “He’s Gonna Marry Me.” The two sisters in the opening band, The Larkins, clogged onto the stage during that number, kicking it up through the end of the song.
Parton asked the girls to remain on stage and announced that Shaunna Larkin, the older of the two, was dating Randy Kohrs, one of the Blueniques. Then, to the astonishment of everyone but Parton, Kohrs moved to center stage, dropped to his knees and popped the question to 19-year-old Shaunna. She said yes.
Noting that she would have done anything to make the surprise come off without a hitch, Parton added, “If she had said no, I’d have died right here.”
Calling the surprise engagement “precious,” Parton also quipped, “I hope she’s older than she looks or you may be spending your wedding in jail!”
Trading off between hits (“9 to 5,” “Jolene”) and new material, Parton eventually ditched the guitar and led an a cappella medley with three of the Blueniques providing finger snaps. The quartet finished it off with a goofy, spot-on rendition of how “Two Doors Down” might sound at 78 rpm.
The most striking aspect of a Parton concert is that she can re-imagine a song such as Collective Soul’s “Shine,” Bread’s “If” or Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” and it will fit snugly with her own recent work, like the chilling “Mountain Angel” or “Halos & Horns.”
Parton has not recorded “Color Me America,” a celebratory ode to our nation, although she should. It’s beautifully understated and yet a rousing reminder that peace should not be taken for granted.
Closing with “I Will Always Love You,” Parton’s bold vocals and easy stage presence throughout the concert proved that those sparkling high heels have not missed a step in the last decade.
“The Grass Is Blue”
“Tennessee Mountain Home” (excerpt)
“Coat of Many Colors”
“Smoky Mountain Memories”
“He’s Gonna Marry Me”
“Halos & Horns”
“Dagger through the Heart”
“9 to 5”
Medley: “Islands in the Stream,” “Here You Come Again,” “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That,” “Two Doors Down”
“Calm on the Water”
“After the Gold Rush”
“Color Me America”
“I Will Always Love You”