Does anyone work an audience better than Dolly Parton? (Seriously, name someone. Go ahead. Try it.)
The Backwoods Barbie played a sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall last night, and as EW’s Michele Romero so eloquently put it, “The woman is amazing. She does not need to wear jewelry; she is jewelry. She makes glitter sparkle.” From the moment she opened the show with “Two Doors Down,” it was a party. And the thing damn near got out of control when, later in the evening, she followed “Here You Come Again,” with “Islands in the Stream” and “9 to 5.” During “Islands,” which already had the entire crowd on its feet, I told my friend and colleague Nisha Gopalan that Dolly just had to do “9 to 5” next, and when she did, we turned to each other and jumped up and down in unison five times. I’ve never done that at a concert. Or, well, ever. But Dolly brings that kind of joy out of you. The woman’s voice is still flawless — delicate and powerful, often in the same song, which is what makes “I Will Always Love You” and “Eagle When She Flies” (which Parton wrote as the theme song for Steel Magnolias, but wasn’t used) so moving. She’s so talented that she can play just about any instrument you put in front of her, as long as it’s bedazzled. “I never leave a rhinestone unturned,” she said, heading to her studded white piano. And, as the headline states, she’s got the best stage banter in the business. She’s sufficiently quippy, but also shares her life story. After the jump, some of her greatest hits.
• If you go to a Dolly show, you will hear her thank you for spending your hard-earned money on her… because she needs it. “It takes a lot of money to make somebody look this cheap.” It’s so good, you can’t blame her for using it over and over again.
• Sitting in her tour bus, she saw a couple of men coming to her show looking more like her than she does. She’s thinking she could change the lyrics of “Jolene” to “Drag queen, drag queen, drag queen, drag que-e-een.” (Another classic.)
• According to Dolly, there are two kinds of mountain women: Those who get married and have a bunch of kids, and those who stay single and have a bunch of kids. Also, you might be a Backwoods Barbie (the title of her new album) if your pink convertible is in the front yard on blocks and your dream house is on wheels.
• She’s a patriotic person, but not a political one. She thought McCain was the title of a John Wayne movie. She’s been asked if she’d ever run for president, and she won’t: “Don’t you think we’ve had enough boobs in the White House?”
• The tabloids can say whatever they want about her, as long as they don’t write that she’s been “hospitalized with exhaustion.” She knows that means “drunk and crazy.” One good thing about being in the tabloids is that people are never sure if what’s reported is true or false. So you can get away with doing some stuff. “That’s true,” she said.
• Of course, “Coat of Many Colors,” is always the cue for Dolly to be speak warmly about her family and growing up in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. By the time her parents were 35 and 37, they had had 12 children. Her father, who couldn’t read or write, was most proud of the literacy program she started, Imagination Library. (Note: She cracks jokes about her husband of nearly 42 years, Carl Dean, throughout the night.)
• She’ll never retire. She wants to drop dead on stage, in the middle of a song. And she’s so thoughtful, she hopes you’re there so you can say, “I was there that night that Dolly died.”
Does any artist rival her when it comes to stage banter? For more from the quotable Parton, check out our gallery of her best sound bites through the years.