Concert Reviews

Last Night: Dolly Parton at Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie

Dolly Parton
Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Better than: Reality.

Dolly Parton inhabits her stardom as fully as she fills out her glittering outfits. "I buy 'em two sizes too small and take 'em in," she joked. She owned the stage last night at the Verizon Theatre, and filled every corner of the room with her star power and happy energy. Perhaps no one else could sing "the day we're born we start to die," and have it sound uplifting.

Her near-sellout audience was all-ages, kids to Rascal riders. Fans came in jeans and T-shirts, in cowboy hats and summer dresses; some in sequins. They leapt to their feet when Dolly appeared, tiny and sparkling, singing "Walking on Sunshine" and stayed on their feet through "Jolene," sitting only when she insisted. "You can get back on your feet later if I do something really good," she said.

The Better Day World Tour kicked off Sunday in Knoxville, Tennessee, with a benefit for her literacy charity, Imagination Library.  But, she said, that didn't count because it was family and friends, so last night in Dallas was the first official night. And she seemed to have as grand a time as her enraptured audience.

Dolly's voice is in great shape and she looks sensational, if more like Alison Krauss than she used to. (I miss her old face.) In spangles the color of sunshine, she looked like a jewel in a velvet case in front of her longtime band, who wore all black with a few black sparkles of their own. Behind them, projected images included her signature, her newest video, and random colorful psychedelic swirls.

And with just her tight and talented band of regular-looking Joes, a couple of nice costumes, and her own prodigious talent, Dolly put on a full-immersion show that inspired the crowd to leap to their feet cheering, to dance, to call out, "We love you Dolly!" She said "thank you" every time, sending her love back..

Dolly's never been a purist about country and after a bluegrass segment ("Rocky Top," "Dueling Banjos" "Mule Skinner Blues"), she Dolly-fied "Help" and "Stairway to Heaven," which wasn't as bad as it sounds.

She sat down with a sparkly dulcimer (she claimed to glue the glitter on her instruments herself, during dull moments on the tour bus) to sing "My Tennessee Mountain Home" and tell stories about her childhood.

She was one of 12 children, six boys and six girls. "We weren't Catholic," she said. "Just a buncha horny hillbillies." She played zither for, "Coat of Many Colors" and then stood up, took a little hop, and giggled. "My leg fell asleep," she said, and the audience cheered with delight.

Sure, in some ways the show was hokey as a night at the Grand Ole Opry, but Dolly's essential honesty shone through. Her energy was boundless, and you couldn't help but suspend all disbelief to bask in her warm glow.

Over the course of the evening she played guitar (acoustic and electric), banjo, dulcimer, zither, flute, harmonica, saxophone (on "Son of a Preacher Man"), and then they rolled out a sparkly piano for a few numbers.

And though she poked fun at her own dancing deficits, she tried a little Tina Turner shaky-leg during "River Deep, Mountain High," making her second-act costume of golden fringe shimmy. "Now I know why Tina Turner retired," she said afterward, taking a slug of water.

She performed a few songs from her new album -- "Sacrifice," "In the Meantime" and "Together You and I" (which she originally recorded with Porter Wagoner), and a gospel number from her upcoming movie with Queen Latifah, which is due out next year.

The theme of the show was relentlessly positive, but all-but-acapella version of a woman-done-wrong ballad, "Little Sparrow" was perhaps the evening's greatest moment. Dolly apologized before and after for being a downer, but it was mesmerizing. More, please.

The audience was back on their feet for the big crowd pleasers that closed the show: "Here You Come Again," "Islands in the Stream," "9 to 5," and "I Will Always Love You."

By the time Dolly waved good-bye and left the stage, we were all sated and wearing stupid grins. For two and a half hours, she had owned us. It was a glorious ride with a consummate pro.
Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I think it's illegal not to adore Dolly Parton. If it's not, it should be.

Random Note: I had a couple of gay caballeros sitting next to me, all done up in their cowboy hats and shirts. Nobody enjoyed the show more than them, and one had the most impressive and ear-splitting yee-haw I've ever encountered.

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Sophia Dembling