Dolly Parton Pure and Simple Tour, Greensboro N.C.
“Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That?” is the response you might have expected Friday night in the Greensboro Coliseum from somebody unfamiliar with the sartorial habits of the evening’s entertainer. Clad in what looked like remnants of a rhinestone- studded chandelier ripped from the ceiling of a disco, welded together and draped over her diminutive frame, Dolly Parton kicked off her Plain and Simple tour to a packed house. Bawdy and folksy, Parton charmed the crowd with her homespun wisdom and heartstring-tugging songs about growing up poor but proud in the Tennessee hills.
She poked fun at her appearance throughout the show, flirting with the men while appealing to the women with her self-deprecating humor. “I’ve got panties on,” she announced when she first came out in her glittery, revealing outfit. “But don’t be trying to look up my dress,” she told men seated in the front rows. She said husband Carl, with whom she just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by getting married again, asked her since the tour was titled plain and simple if she was going braless. Better not, she said, telling him that unleashing her up-front assets might take out the two front rows.
Although her between-song banter was generally light and cheery, punctuated by Parton’s tinkly laugh, her songs were treated as serious business. “Why’d You Come in Here,” Lookin’ Like That?,” “Jolene, “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” and “Coat of Many Colors” showed up early in the set delivered flawlessly by Parton backed by her trio,most of whom have been with her for decades. Parton offered up gorgeous gospel harmony on “Precious Memories.” At 70, Parton’s voice is still strong and clear, the songs still delivered in their original keys. Parton also showed off her instrumental prowess, soloing on dulcimer, autoharp, fiddle, harmonica, banjo, guitar, sax, piano, and flute.
The folk song medley seemed a bit strange for the county-loving crowd, who gave her respectful if not enthusiastic applause for Don McLean’s “American Pie” but weren’t too excited about “If I Had a Hammer” or ‘Blowin’ In the Wind.” The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” got a better reception, but many fans had hollered themselves hoarse earlier in the set during a raucous version of the bluegrass classic “Rocky Top with Dolly on banjo. Less than an hour in, after a peppy rendition of “I’ll Fly Away,” Parton thanked the crowd, then left the stage and the house lights came up full. You could see the panic in some of the audience’s eyes. Is that it? Where’s “I Will Always Love You?” “ 9 to 5?” It can’t be over just yet. There was no official announcement made, but veteran fans calmed the newer ones, reassuring them it was only intermission. About twenty minutes later, Dolly came out, electric guitar blazing, blasting away on “Baby I’m Burning,” dressed in a skintight jumpsuit Elvis would have killed for.
Parton pulled out the title cut from ’99s “The Grass Is Blue” to follow up “Train Train,” the song she had opened tonight’s show with, also from the album. She whipped the crowd into a frenzy, building momentum with “Two Doors Down,” then offering up “Here You Come Again” and “Islands in the Stream” before getting the crowd on its feet for a singalong on “9 to 5.” The encore was, of course, “I Will Always Love You,” sounding as good as it did when she recorded it as a farewell to partner Porter Wagoner in 1974.
She prefaced the song with her reaction to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB-2 law. “I’ve always loved all my fans,” Parton said. “I have all kinds of people that work in my organization. I don’t care what you’re black or white or green or blue or alien gray, I don’t care if you’re gay, or straight or transgender. I love you, all of you. And I’d like to think that God loves us all. We need to try to learn to live a little better, love a little more.”
That sentiment, and the music that accompanies it , gives us a rare glimpse into the heart and soul of a larger than life entertainer who lives up to her image just by living her exemplary life.