It is well known how magnificent Parton’s voice is, but on this night, her voice was as big as her heart.
Scottrade Center, St. Louis
A couple years ago, I remember grinding my teeth as I listened to my good friend in Knoxville go on and on about the amazing Dolly Parton concert he had attended. Being a lifelong Dolly Parton fan, I was green as green can get with envy. I had heard stories of her doing her hits and playing for three hours. When I heard she was coming to St. Louis, I knew the music gods had smiled on our fair city.
The “Pure & Simple” tour is in support of her upcoming album of the same name due out August 19. The setup reflected that theme: swaths of gorgeous white fabric and simple hanging lights are all that adorned the stage. There wasn’t even a drum set; this concert was going to be all about Dolly—as it should be.
When the legend took to the stage—wearing one of the most stunning sequined gowns this boy has ever seen—the crowd gave her a very enthusiastic and warm welcome. While the crowd may not have been the biggest I have ever seen at Scottrade, they were one of the most appreciative. These concert-goers were hardcore Dolly fans and showed her some St. Louis love.
Kicking her concert off with “Train Train” from her 1999 album, The Grass Is Blue (more from that album later), Parton proved to the audience that she still has the goods vocally. As she ripped off a couple of crowd favorites with “Why’d Ya Come in Here Looking Like that” and “Jolene,” Parton’s energy and ability to connect with the crowd was impressive.
But this concert wasn’t just about the songs. Parton had stories to tell—lots of them. Every song came with a tale about how the song came into being and what it meant to her. And these weren’t just short stories; when Parton told her tales, it was like she was talking to us as old friends. Full of details and colorful images, Parton knows how to keep the audience engaged. As she reflected on her family—namely, her mother and father—songs like “Precious Memories” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home” took on new meaning.
Another fascinating aspect of Parton’s performance was the number of different instruments she played. No matter if was a bejeweled acoustic guitar, a gorgeous zither, a mini saxophone (made specifically for her), or a stunning baby grand piano, Parton’s musical ingenuity was mind-blowing.
After taking the audience on an emotional journey, she delivered legendary tracks “Applejack” and “Rocky Top,” making them sound as fresh as ever. After Parton talked about the upcoming election—complete with appropriate boob jokes—she and her backing band launched into a series of famous political protest songs. Dolly for President: That is one hell of a candidate I could get behind!
Always the businesswoman, Parton made sure to use her time on stage to promote her myriad of enterprises. While she talked about Dollywood (featuring a new Lumberjack show, her upcoming NBC special Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love,” and her new album, it was one of her other ventures that impressed me the most. She and her father started a foundation called the Imagination Library, which sends children a free book each and every month— all you have to do is sign your child up via the organization’s website. Her speech about a child’s ability to read was heartfelt and emotional, showing she is a true humanitarian.
After a couple more deeply religious tracks—which she sang as if she was testifying—Parton took a break. It was only halfway through the show and I was already spent.
Once the diva retook the stage, she came out rocking and rolling in a breathtaking pantsuit dripping with gorgeous rhinestones. While she got the crowd on their feet again, she quickly shifted gears and delivered one of the most beautiful ballads of the night: “The Grass Is Blue.” While I was slightly familiar with this song, this performance made it one of my new favorites. That is only one of Parton’s many charms: taking an older song and making it sound as if she just wrote it yesterday. Another example of this is when she performed “Little Sparrow.” It is well known how magnificent Parton’s voice is, but on this night, her voice was as big as her heart. She commanded the stage with such a powerful grace that the entire crowd was enraptured with her spirit.
As she finished out her lengthy set with chart-toppers “Here You Come Again,” “Islands in the Stream,” and her trademark hit, “9 to 5,” Parton wasn’t quite finished with St. Louis yet. It was her breathtaking performance of “I Will Always Love You” that completely mesmerized the crowd. It was almost as if time itself stopped as Parton poured every ounce of passion and love she had into the iconic love song. Hearing this song live is something I can cross off my bucket list.
Parton made famous the saying, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” but tonight, the singer looked and sounded like a million bucks. | Jim Ryan
Photo by Alyssa Bardol; view more photos here