Dolly Parton – Pure & Simple & Live

It has been a while since I attended a concert where a significant number of folks stepped up their attire to reflect the artist on stage. One fellow looked exactly like Woody from Toy Story. Dolly Parton drew an appreciative crowd to San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center.
With a bounty of polished cowboy boots, Stetsons and rhinestones the audience was in Dolly’s hands from the first note.
She is touring on the heels of her 43rd studio album, called “Pure & Simple,” which debuted at #1 in multiple countries last month. Her stripped down Pure & Simple tour eschewed a drummer in favor of a beatbox. With only a pianist and two string players as support, Dolly ran through five decades worth of songs.
She relied on her savvy between song patter to relate stories from her youth, with an emphasis on her Momma. The jokes and puns ran fast and thick (“me having a chest cold is like a giraffe having a sore throat”).
One of the longest stories was a lead-in to “Coat of Many Colors.”
Understandably her stories were mostly about her upbringing in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Growing up, love of family and faith were more plentiful than money, themes still recurrent in her songs.
Her voice is still supple and evocative, with no discernible diminishing of her upper register. She moved easily from dulcimer to banjo and guitar, each of which she admitted were more glittery than the models she started with all those years ago.
Dolly’s band was versatile and provided excellent harmony vocals.
Her songbook is so broad and deep she did not need to pad the set list with a medley of ’60s and ’70s songs (especially not the refrain of “Dust in the Wind” embedded in “Blowin’ in the Wind”). The best cover of the lot was the most appropriate: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-21-35-amDolly opened up the second half of her show with a somewhat uncharacteristic yet oddly effective rocker anchored by her electric guitar. She moved to the piano for a take on the title song of her album “The Grass is Blue,” which has been nicely covered by Norah Jones.
The highlight of the second half was a clutch of songs drawn from Dolly’s “Trio” project with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, with her band ably providing harmonies.
screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-8-18-03-amThe show closed with several of her major hits, including a stomping “9 to 5” and a heartfelt “I Will Always Love You.” (She sorta acknowledged the latter made her a pile of publishing revenue; it was the same for Nick Lowe and his song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” as both were covered on the mammoth Bodyguard soundtrack).
Dolly delivered in San Diego and proved for another evening that she is still going strong in her 71st year.

A quartet of fans dressed somewhat like their heroine.

A quartet of fans dressed somewhat like their heroine.

(photos by Brad Auerbach)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.