Dolly Parton Played the High Priestess and the Jester at WinStar Casino

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Dolly Parton WinStar Casino, Thackerville, OK Friday, May 30, 2014

Dolly Parton, the country singer and theme park owner once labeled by Barbara Walters as a "country music caricature of her own design," sashayed onto the stage of WinStar World Casino's massive 3,500-seat Global Event Center on Friday night sparkling in the stage lights like a human disco ball. Wearing her trademark big blond wig and a long-sleeved white dress with a fitted gold vest, Parton entertained her fans and took the crowd to "church."

Parton remains an impressive, spirited performer at 68 years old. By the second or third time she tells a story in her one-of-a-kind bubbly, thrilled-to-be-here twang it's hard not to be under her spell. With the sizzling punchlines, heartfelt lyrics and hearty giggles, it's no wonder she's the most successful female country singer-songwriter of all time.

She opened the sold-out show's first half with a fiery performance of her 1978 disco-country classic, "Baby I'm Burning." The audience burst out into peels of applause and hollers of "Dollyyy!!" and "We love you!" Turning up her signature charm, Parton thanked the audience, then immediately spun it into a joke. "Lord knows I need the money," she quipped, pausing briefly before delivering the punch line: "It costs a fortune to look this cheap!"

There were plenty of stories, too. After performing "Jolene," which the crowd stood to their feet for and sang along to, she joke, "I'm glad you remembered 'Jolene.' I've been trying to forget her." The song, she explained, was about a red-headed bank teller who was giving Parton's then-new husband "a little more interest" than he deserved. But the story had a happy ending: 

"Today, this very day is our anniversary," she announced. "48 years, can you believe it? We met 50 years ago this month."

After "Jolene" came the first new song of the night, the title track on Blue Smoke, her new album which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Charts and No. 6 on the Billboard Pop Charts. It's a catchy country earworm. That was followed up with a remarkably well-executed cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice (It's Alright)," which she led off by playing harmonica herself. "He's an unusual person," she remarked of Dylan. "He's very deep. I've even thought about doing a whole album called 'Dolly Does Dylan.'" Then there was another pause. "Does that sound too much like 'Debbie Does Dallas'?"

After playing "Precious Memories," Dolly's talk turned to nostalgia and her "Smoky Mountain home," as well as her grandfather who was a Pentecostal preacher. "Give Me that Old Time Religion" came next, but her version of Bon Jovi's "Lay Your Hands On Me" was one of the highlights of the night, which was even better livethan the studio version on Blue Smoke. The bluegrass-infused, Pentecostal boot stomper was a great way, too, to lead into a nearly 20-minute intermission.

After the intermission, Parton ran through some deep cuts like "White Limozeen" and in the second half of the night really leaned toward self-deprecating humor. After mentioning all the cosmetic surgery she's had, she joked, "Ain't nothing real about me but my heart." She's had so many nips and tucks, she said, that her husband feels like he's been married to four different women. The jokes were a nice buffer before slower numbers like "Banks of the Ohio" and "Little Sparrow." 
 Overall, the crowd seemed mostly sedated. And though she drew a loud applause after every song and most of her punchlines, only a few times did the majority of the audience stand to their feet. The audience seemed to be made up of mostly older, silver-haired folks and middle-aged fans. But there were plenty of younger fans mixed in too, some of whom stood up front waving handmade posters.

Several more of her biggest hits rounded off the night. "9 to 5" proved to be another memorable number of the night, eliciting an extra cheer after Parton slapped her ass five times to the beat of the song. She ended the 25-song show with "I Will Always Love You," which she was joined on by Richard Dennison. Plus, of course, another joke: "It was hard to hear over the noise of the crowd, but I'm pretty sure [the announcer] said: 'Go gamble! Get drunk!'"

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