CONCERT REVIEW: Dolly Parton proves she’s simply the best in ‘Pure & Simple’ Wilkes-Barre show
For her first major tour in over 20 years, Country Music Hall of Famer Dolly Parton wanted to keep things “Pure & Simple” – a non-cluttered stage with minimal lights, no special effects, and support from just three backing musicians.
Thankfully for the large crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Twp. on Wednesday, June 22, the singer/songwriter, popular actress and eight-time Grammy winner can still keep things magical while she strives for simplicity.
As one of her backing musicians crooned “Hello, Dolly,” Parton, now 70 and still looking like she did in movies such as “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “Straight Talk,” appeared at center stage in a yellow, form-fitting, rhinestone-covered dress singing Blackfoot’s “Train, Train.”
“I appreciate the fact you got all dressed up for us and spent your hard-earned money,” she said following her opening number. “Lord knows it costs a fortune to look this cheap.”
She then was handed a white, rhinestone-bedazzled acoustic guitar as she sang two of her 25 No. 1 hits, 1989’s “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That” and 1973’s “Jolene.”
While keeping the audience laughing at her somewhat bawdy jokes or fascinating them with her stories of growing up as one of 12 children in the Great Smoky Mountains, Parton displayed her musical talents, playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, piano, autoharp, dulcimer, fiddle, saxophone, flute, and harmonica. Oh yeah, her voice is still pretty good, too.
Parton, who began her career in the early 1960s and became a star as a regular on “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1967, told the audience she wrote her first song when she was 5 and has now written thousands. New songs “Pure & Simple” (the title track of her forthcoming new album) and “Outside Your Door” proved she hasn’t lost her touch.
Highlights of the first set included “Precious Memories,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” and “Coat of Many Colors,” which she called her “absolute favorite” of the more than 3,000 songs she has written.
Parton and her band gathered at the front of the stage to sing a medley of ‘60s and ‘70s classics, such as Don McLean’s “American Pie,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and she brought the first half to a close with the spiritual “I’ll Fly Away.”
After intermission, Parton re-emerged wearing a white jumpsuit, strumming an electric guitar and singing 1978’s minor hit “Baby I’m Burning.” Then, in a nod to Norah Jones who did the song on a tribute album, she took to the piano for a sultry version of her bluegrass tune “The Grass is Blue.”
After telling the crowd “The Complete Trio Collection,” which gathers all of her recordings with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, will be coming out soon, she did fine versions of the trio’s “Those Memories of You” and “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?”
Parton ended her second set with marvelous versions of four of her biggest hits: 1978’s “Two Doors Down,” 1977’s “Here You Come Again,” 1983’s “Islands in the Stream” (originally a duet with Kenny Rogers), and 1980’s “9 to 5” from the film of the same name.
“You knew I’d be back because I didn’t sing your favorite song yet,” she said as she returned to the stage after a very brief exit.
“A lot of people think this is Whitney Houston’s song,” she continued. “I don’t mind if she gets the credit as long as I get my cash.”
With that, she sang a still stunning “I Will Always Love You,” which Parton took to No. 1 twice with different versions in 1974 and 1982 (Houston’s 1992 version from “The Bodyguard” spent 14 weeks at No. 1).
Parton then ended her show with an impassioned “Hello God,” which seemed very apropos just a few days after the Orlando nightclub shooting.
Photos by Cami Kyttle/CLK Photography