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Live Review: Dolly Parton – 18th February 2014 – Qantas Credit Union Arena, Sydney, Australia

5 min read

There aren’t too many musicians around today that can hold the attention of a crowd for almost 3 solid hours. Dolly Parton is definitely one of them. In fact, Dolly could probably hold an arena full of punters for double that time a leave the crowd wishing for more. That was certainly the feeling after catching the Tennessee-born country superstar on Tuesday night at Sydney’s Qantas Credit Union Arena. Full of humor, energy and overflowing with anecdotes that had the audience in fits of laughter, Tuesday’s show was without doubt one of the most fun and engaging concerts we have attended in the past few years.

The show began at close to 8.30pm with an instrumental delivered by her band to album artwork of the countless records that Dolly has released over the years. As each flashed up on the giant screens behind her band, the crowd roared with excitement when some of the more notable records made an appearance – the soundtrack to Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, Real Love and Backwoods Barbie. Then, as a giant silhouette appeared on the screens and shrunk down to reveal Dolly standing centre stage, the crowd erupted as she bounced out and delivered a fantastic performance of the opening firecracker, Baby I’m Burnin’.

While new songs for an artist at a concert can feel a little less welcome than the commercial hits, it certainly wasn’t the feeling among the crowd as they gave as much applause to tracks from her latest studio record as they did to golden oldies like Jolene and 9 to 5. New album tracks included the catchy title track, Banks of the Ohio and Home which all resonated with the cheering crowd who were encouraged to either sing-along or to make up the words as they went along.

Not content with just taking to the microphone for the night, Dolly regularly delivered tracks over her own instrumental accompaniment, proving her seemingly effortless and flawless musicianship and offering her audience a top quality entertainer by the very definition of the word. Each of the instruments she pulled out were as decked out as the white, sparkly dress that clutched her petite figure, and there were more than a handful of instruments for the country icon to exercise throughout the lengthy set including a violin, banjo, acoustic guitar and a small jewel encrusted saxophone that drew cheers from the audience on more than one occasion. She provided a memorable intro to her cover of the Bon Jovi hit, Lay Your Hands On Me sat behind a church piano as stain glass windows set the scene on the screens behind her, delivering the track in Gospel-esque style.

Among some of the new songs were the obvious career defining singles that have been positioned throughout the singers 50+ year career. Those included Islands In The Stream, a Bee Gee’s penning and a huge hit for Dolly and fellow country star Kenny Rogers back in 1983 and the sweet and sentimental tearjerker Coat of Many Colours. The up-tempo Jolene found an early spot in the set and a funny tribute was made to Parton’s husband of 47 years as she joked about his flirtatious behavior with the red headed character of the song in real life in the early days of his and Dolly’s relationship. Along with Islands In The Stream, the closing of the set comprised of Here You Come Again, the penultimate 9 to 5, the biggest crowd pleaser of the night and the final encore performance of I Will Always Love You, a closing heartstring puller that was performed with pure countrified Dolly heart and soul. Several of the finer moments of the show were when the singer took us back through her early years, delivering songs that she grew up with through well-constructed and thorough medleys that helped her cram as many songs and stories into the weighty set list as she could along with a chilling a capella performance of Little Sparrow.

For a musician with such an extensive catalogue she was certainly generous with showcasing songs written by other artists, giving a country makeover to some very unexpected pennings. The most unexpected of those covered had to be Shine, a rock song originally written and recorded by 90’s American rock band Collective Soul as well as a snippet of Alicia Keys’ Girl On Fire and a superb rendition of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.

What I learned at last night’s show was that you don’t go to a Dolly Parton gig just for the music. The humour ran thick and fast from the evenings opening note to the closing chord of the almost 3 hour long set with the busty blonde cracking jokes at herself; thanking the sold out crowd for their money over the years to help her amusement park Dollywood and for contributing toward the cost of her plastic surgery, confessing “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap” and explaining that the look she was going for when she started her surgical endeavours was that of the local prostitute that she had admired when she was a youngster living in her Smokey Mountain surroundings. The stories were obviously met with a rapturous applause from the die-hard Dolly fans that had flocked to the Qantas Credit Union Arena.

There are a lot of anecdotes thrown in between each track to give the gig that extra special something. Whether the singer was telling stories of her childhood, family or experiences, each hit was given a back-story and the night an intimate feel, as if we were sitting at home with the superstar, one on one. It was an experience that I would do over and over again.