Dolly Parton’s multifaceted talent is not of this Earth. Wednesday’s (Nov. 16) Pure & Simple show in Huntsville, Alabama, had the living legend baring her soul as she shared the great stories of her life throughout three acts of live iconic hits.
Backed by a three-piece band of a guitarist, upright bassist and pianist, she played at least seven instruments, including a recorder, harmonica, dulcimer and banjo. And every note was perfection — pure and simple.
The night included performances of “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” “9 to 5,” “Here You Come Again” and “I Will Always Love You.” Mixed in were selections from her latest album Pure & Simple and a medley of protest songs from the ‘60s and ’70s — “American Pie,” “If I Were a Hammer,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” She blew a fiery saxophone solo on “Rocky Top” and played piano for “The Grass Is Blue,” which was in the style of Norah Jones.
Her most moving moments happened when she delivered angelic versions of “Those Memories of You” (which she recorded with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt on one of their Trio albums), “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” and the title track of her 2001 album Little Sparrow. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” was sung a cappella with her band in the way it was first performed seconds after she wrote it on tour many years ago.
Some of the tales she told onstage were familiar to her diehard fans, but she delivered them with such candor that at times they wept and then laughed so hard, they cried again. Most of the stories were about her family growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains, including her mother Avie Lee Parton, her father Robert Lee Parton, her Uncle Bill Owens and her grandfather, who was a Pentecostal preacher.
At one point during the show, she mentioned that when she left for Nashville the day after graduating high school, bringing honor to their name through her music was what she wanted most in life.
“I believe everybody should be proud of where they’re from,” Parton said. “You should never be ashamed of your home. You never be ashamed of your family. You should never be ashamed of your religion. You should never be ashamed of who you are, no matter who you are, how you are or what you are.”
The night was not short on comedy either. Before going into the Trio’s “Those Memories,” she told the story of what it was like to kiss Burt Reynolds while filming the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She said back then he covered up the grey in his mustache with something that made Parton look like she had “sucked on a sow” after a scene.
Toward the beginning of the show when she heard someone yell, “I love you,” she said, “I love you, too, but I told you to wait in the truck.”
The finale was the “Farther Along” (another song she recorded for the Trio series) and “Hello God” from 2002’s Halos & Horns. Before leaving the stage, she broke up the music by delivering a three-minute sermon that would have made her preacher grandfather proud. Anyone who filmed her words on love and joy on a camera phone captured one of country music’s most inspirational and unifying speeches in recent memory.
On the previous evening, Parton brought the tour to her hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Proceeds from the night supported her literacy program, the Imagination Library, and the show included the presentation of a $30,000 scholarship to Conway, Arkansas’s Evey Johns. She is enrolled in the program through the local Arkansas Preschool Plus. Over the next 16 years, the amount of the scholarship should grow to approximately $50,000 to go towards her tuition at the college of her choice.
The Imagination Library gifts 1 million books a month to children from birth to age 5 in participating communities in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia. To date, the program has provided more than 85 million books to children around the world.
The Pure & Simple Tour continues this week with stops throughout the Southeast and Texas. The final show is Dec. 10 in Thackerville, Oklahoma.