There was no mistaking the figure who walked on to the stage in a sparkling white dress and donning a blonde wig (she readily admits to the fact that the hair is not her own. 'When I pull my hair, some poor girl in Korea is crying.' she joked.) at the Qantas Credit Union Arena (aka Sydney Entertainment Centre) last night. Dolly Parton is easily one of the most recognisable singers in the world and that is exactly the way she likes it. It is an image she has created and made her own and, as she is happy to tell us, she had made up her mind to become 'Dolly' when she was a child, having seen the 'local tramp' (as she puts it) strutting her stuff down the street in her home town in Tennessee. Dolly decided then and there 'That's what I want to be when I grow up.' She points out that she is incredibly grateful to her fans for buying her records and concert tickets. 'I need the money,' she quips. 'It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.'
The singer opened her show with 'Baby I'm Burning', as a flickering orange flame burned brightly on the large video screen behind her. Before singing her hit 'Jolene', she explained the story behind the song, as she would do with many of her songs throughout the night. Jolene was apparently a girl who worked at the local bank where, according to Dolly, her husband was spending 'more time than we had money'. Nowadays she admits, thanks to Jolene, Dolly herself visits the bank a lot more frequently... for different reasons, we would assume.
Her current tour is called the 'Blue Smoke Tour', also the title of her latest album so, of course, the set featured some material from that album, including the title track. There was also a nice selection of covers thrown in for good measure, one being 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' by Bob Dylan. Dolly joked that she considered recording a whole album of Dylan covers and calling it 'Dolly Does Dylan' but wondered if it sounded too much like 'Dolly Does Dallas'. She even played the harmonica at the start of the song. And that is not the only musical instrument she plays. In addition to her trademark rhinestone-studded white acoustic guitar, Dolly also demonstrated that she could play the saxophone (albeit, a miniature version), treating us to the theme music from the Benny Hill Show; the banjo and the violin. And she is more than capable on all of them.
There was a significant amount of banter between songs; some serious and heartfelt moments when Dolly would talk about her family. Being one of twelve children growing up in the mountains of Tennessee, she shared quite a few stories about her childhood and sang a medley of songs about life in the mountains, like 'My Mountains, My Home/My Tennessee Mountain Home' and you could almost smell the fresh mountain air as she sang. While there were some heartfelt, touching moments, they were always lightened by her often cheeky humour, all of it well-timed and well received by the audience. Dolly doesn't seem to mind having a laugh at herself and that is refreshing to see in a star of her standing.
Stepping behind a shimmering white organ, she began to talk about faith and 'testifying' and you almost expected to hear a gospel song. Well, if Bon Jovi's 'Lay Your Hands on Me' could be considered gospel, then I guess that's what it was. And, as a Bon Jovi fan myself, you can believe me when I tell you that she absolutely did the song justice! It was definitely a highlight of the show. It was the perfect song to close the first set.
After a twenty minute break, Dolly returned to the stage and opened the second set with 'Two Doors Down'. Her version of 'Banks of the Ohio' (a 19th century ballad that became a big hit for Olivia Newton-John in the seventies) was one of my personal favourite moments of the night. It's a song I have always loved and Dolly sings it to perfection. She followed with a beautiful rendition of 'Little Sparrow' which really showcased the quality of her voice which is still one of the best in the business, I believe. I also enjoyed her rendition of Collective Soul's 'Shine'.
There was a medley of more of her hits, including 'Love is Like a Butterfly', 'Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You', and 'Real Love' (amongst others!) before we were treated to her biggest hits... The excitement reached a high when she performed 'Here You Come Again', 'Islands in the Stream' and the crowd was on its feet for the song that everybody loves and most of us can relate to, 'Nine to Five', the famous theme song from the movie of the same name, in which Dolly also starred. And the fans stayed on their feet to give the singer a standing ovation as she briefly left the stage before returning to perform the beautiful 'I Will Always Love You', a song written by Dolly but made famous years later by Whitney Houston in the movie The Bodyguard.
Dolly Parton is a star in the true sense of the word. Multi talented, larger than life and her bright and sparkling costumes are surpassed only by her sparkling personality. If you think of Dolly as just another country singer, think again. She is more than that – so much more. Even if you are not a big fan, it is worth seeing her 'live' at least once in your lifetime.
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by Sharyn Hamey