Dolly Parton is not interested in reinventing herself. At a time when a lot of her peers are at least interested in saying they're looking to shake things up and start over, Dolly Parton--who just announced a Comerica Theatre show on January 28--was excited to tell us about all the ways she planned on staying the same.
She's performing a new duet with Kenny Rogers; she's playing herself in a Christmas movie later this month. And she's probably right when she tells us that her fans, whether they're in Dollywood or Arizona or Europe, would have it no other way.
In the couple of minutes we had with her, squeezed among a million other phoners as the Blue Smoke tour rumbles to life, it was easy enough to infer one reason why things stay the same: She's got enough constituencies she has to reach out to already.
She went on to describe the ideal Dolly Parton show for us, and it amounted to a herculean effort to please everybody: "We always try to have a good, entertaining show--we try to have a good mixture of the hits that people always want to hear, and a little segment where I talk about home, and do 'My Tennessee Mountain Home,' 'Coat of Many Colors,' those songs from home that matter to me. We try to have a drop-dead opening, some exciting thing to come on. And a little bit of gospel-flavored stuff, and medleys of some of the hits--you can't always do the songs in their entirety."
In Europe, even, the show has to check every box. "Oddly enough," she says, "they love the same songs." Not just the crossover hits, but the talk-about-home stuff, too--by way of explanation she talks about her European ancestry, and how long she's been established there as a musician, but finally she suggests that her work, in spite of its precise references to a particular place and time, just speaks to people who value what she values.
For all the references to Tennessee Homes and Tennessee Families, she thinks people who care about a European or Australian home and countryside are basically after the same thing.
And I realize that we were one interview out of a hundred that day and thousands in her career, but I believed it. She was happy to drop in the press release proper nouns where I asked for them--A Country Christmas Story, which she's starring in, airs November 9, and Blue Smoke the album will include not just that Kenny Rogers duet but interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi--but when the conversation drifted away from those it was always back to family and home, and how people still want to hear the messages she's been delivering for decades.
The movie--"an amazing little movie" in which she judges a singing contest at Dollywood--"is really about bringing families together," in this case a biracial country up-and-comer and her father, played by Brian McKnight. The album is about connecting contemporary country sounds to the subjects and styles she's been exploring from Day 1.
And so the show, revamped or not, might be even more about those things than usual. "This day and time, I think people relate more to family than they think they do... we've lost a lot of that family closeness and spirituality in this world. It seems like it's going crazy, and everybody's just out there... and there's no real connection with family. I've noticed that my fans really love that.
"Everything's just so scattered now that there's not enough family and spirituality and everything like we used to have... [but] people do respond to it, and I really think that I'll always be oriented toward gospel and country to do those things."
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Dolly Parton is scheduled to perform January 28 at Comerica Theatre.