October 17, 2008
Mizner Park Amphitheatre, Boca Raton
Better Than: Any faith healer I’ve ever met.
There’s a very simple reason why Dolly Parton’s something of a phenomena, and that has to do with the fact that she’s absolutely phenomenal! Think about it. The great dame’s “highly extraordinary, prodigious [and] exceptional,” which is what dictionary.com says the word means. She’s also unquestionably “remarkable,” just as Merriam Webster insists you’ve gotta be to earn the term. Hell, since Dolly pretty much mostly is “known or derived through the senses rather than through the mind,” she’s even philosophically phenomenal too!
But no darn definition can even begin to describe what it is to catch the phenomena in person, especially from seventh row center seats beneath the moon and the stars up at Mizner.
Yep, that’s where Mac and I had the great good pleasure of being last night for the restarting of Dolly Parton’s year-long world tour, and we for two wouldn’t have had it any other way.
And neither, apparently, would the other 3,498 people in the crowd of rednecks, hipsters, cowboy queens, and grandparents, who for two spectacular hours seemed to co-exist without any animosity whatsoever.
Then again, the ability to cross all dividing lines and bring joy to anybody at any time is a large part of Dolly’s charm.
Take her feisty first hit “Jolene,” which has been covered by everyone from Olivia Newton-John to The White Stripes. As a song, it’s more than a tad catchy; as an emotion, it’s utterly universal. At one time or another everybody’s had somebody try to take away their lover, unfortunately we’re not all blessed with Dolly’s capacity to put our experiences to music. But when the self-proclaimed “Backwoods Barbie” belted out this bitch-slap of a classic, it was almost as if we were.
Same goes for such sing-alongs “Here You Come Again” and “9 to 5,” two of her more populist tunes, as well as “Islands in the Stream,” which, with Dolly’s Average Joe of a back-up singer taking the place of Kenny Rogers, added an unquestionable everyman aspect to the show.
Yet when Dolly went a capella for the haunting “Little Sparrow” or sat at the piano for a Norah Jones-inspired version of her beautiful “The Grass is Blue,” there was no question that she is a talent as rare and as singular it gets.
In the end though, with the rousing new anthem “Jesus & Gravity,” the plane again was leveled off to include us all, just as long we weren’t above a little out-and-out cloud surfing. Like Dolly herself, the song soars ever skyward and even as it touches heaven still manages to keep one foot firmly planted on the ground. And as much as it is a testament to her faith, the tune truly transcends religion, asking only that you believe, in yourself and in each other, even if it’s just for one last night.
Personal Bias: I’ve always believed Dolly to be more than she pretended; last night proved I was right.
Random Detail: At the merchandise stall, a Dolly cowboy hat came with a pink feather boa, so all those cowboy queens ended-up outfitted for a whole ‘nother kinda rodeo.
By the Way: It’s easy to forget that for all the glitz and the glam, Dolly’s a consummate musician, and at one time or another during last night’s set she played everything from dulcimer, autoharp and banjo, to piano and guitar.
- John Hood