Dolly Parton famously grew up poor in the Tennessee Smokey Mountains, and her late father worked hard to provide for her large family.
At one point, her father traveled to Detroit for work in an effort to improve their finances. After missing his home and family, he returned.
In tribute to his dedication, Dolly wrote a song “Smokey Mountain Memories,” which appeared on a live album Heartsongs: Live from Home, recorded at Dollywood in 1994.
It’s one of several powerful songs relating to family and her own life that Dolly sings during a performance at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park on Wednesday, and she dedicates “Smokey Mountain Memories” to all hardworking fathers everywhere.
Dolly is touring this year in a big tour through November on a greatest hits package named for her single “Pure & Simple,” giving her the opportunity to break out a lot of her best-known songs, including “Jolene,” “9 to 5,” and “I Will Always Love You,” among others.
So let me start by saying it’s an excellent time to see her in action, as she’s going to play something you thoroughly enjoy. And as someone who has not traditionally been a country music follower, I will doubly urge you to take this opportunity to see the lady. I already knew Dolly was an American icon, but when you see her perform, you truly understand why that is. She’s an entertainer through and through. You might even consider Dolly a one-woman variety show, as she breaks a set of 27 songs at Wolf Trap with stories — some poignant, some humorous — and reflects on her life and times in a performance that brought a crowd of more than 7,000 people to their feet in cheers several times.
When storytelling, as was the case with her father, Dolly often relies upon autobiographical anecdotes. Such is the case when she performs her 1971 classic “Coat of Many Colors,” which she recently adapted into a very successful TV movie. The song is about pride and growing up poor, and love of family, of course. Dolly revealed there will be a sequel to the movie soon.
She turns to her own life again when she discusses her husband of 50 years –- Carl Dean, with whom she renewed vows last month — and recapping their romance leads her to perform the well-known “Rocky Top,” delivered as another ode to her home state. That cover song bleeds into Dolly taking up a saxophone for the popular tune “Yakety Sax,” the famous jazz instrumental. After absolutely impressing the crowd on the saxophone, Dolly jokes that she will now play the song backward. She then turns her back to the audience and plays the familiar refrain of the song a second time.
Dolly is clearly winded after her fantastic turn on the sax, but of course quips, “You would think I would recover faster given how big my lungs are but it doesn’t work that way!” and then, “That was some good sax. Was it good for you?”
Our heroine recovers quickly, thankfully. After an intermission, she returns with a strong of very well-received songs, including a moving turn on “The Grass Is Blue.” Instead of giving the song its traditional bluegrass treatment, Dolly gave it a jazzier twist inspired by a cover performed by Norah Jones on a Dolly tribute album. The audience at Wolf Trap absolutely loved it, breaking out into wild applause after a hushed silence during the performance.
And it is worth mentioning that Dolly sang “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” from her 1999 collaboration with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris –- Trio II (which followed their 1987 album, Trio). Inspired in part by the fact that Ms. Ronstadt can no longer sing due to illness, Dolly said the ladies would release The Complete Trio Collection later this year, compiling the previous two albums and a healthy amount of unreleased material recorded during their sessions together.
She closes the show with the aforementioned iconic hits, including “Islands in the Stream,” “9 to 5,” and “I Will Always Love You,” famously covered by the late Whitney Houston. A final encore of “Hello God” wraps up the show.
Dolly hits the road again with a show in Philadelphia on Wednesday, and she continues touring throughout the United States and Canada for much of the year. Go see her. You’ll yearn for the home and hearth of Dolly’s youth by the time she’s finished charming you with stories from her life, and you’ll recall why the woman is a national treasure.
Here are some pictures of Dolly Parton performing at Wolf Trap on Wednesday, June 8. They aren’t the greatest, but they are ours! (We had one lens, and we were required to shoot from a much further distance than we normally would at, say, the 9:30 Club.)