Dolly Parton performed in Houston last night, and there weren't empty seats or frowns to be found in NRG Arena. Even husbands who begrudgingly tagged along were caught smiling, and—at their weakest moments—singing along, while cynical reporters were wiping away tears and teasing my their hair in the ladies' room. But it's Dolly Parton—are you surprised? Here, I dissect the rollercoaster of emotions experienced at the Smokey Mountain Songbird's concert.
Before the Concert
Omg. I can't believe I'm doing this.
The arena smells like buttered popcorn that's made with fake butter and cheap beer that isn't cheap. Rhinestone-studded blue jean vests are sold at the merchandise table, and the line is longer than the (possibly only) bathroom, where hundreds of cowboy boots impatiently tap their steel toes. Omg. I can't believe I'm doing this.
During the Concert
Omg! I can't believe I'm doing this!
The lights dim, the crowd roars and a ray of white sequins and platinum hair gracefully gallops—a talent many have tried; few have mastered—to center stage. With childlike enthusiasm, she shouts, "Helllllo Houstonnnn!" Even if she yelled, "Tunnnnna Fishhhhh!" the crowd would still have lost its marbles. "Haha—Wow! Everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes your hellos," says Dolly. "Alright now alright, ladies in the first row, please have a seat. It's a long show and the people behind you can't see over your big hair." Hook, line and sinker.
The concert proved that the 70-year-old country crooner is a true—and rare—entertainer. She mixes talent and charm with a down-to-Earth sincerity that makes her impossible not to love. She's a natural storyteller, sharing funny and poignant tales ranging from growing up dirt poor in Tennessee's Smokey Mountains to making tons of money from a song about her's husband flirtation with a bank teller (looking at you, Jolene). Before you make a joke about her appearance or style, she'll beat you to the punchline. "Apologies for my sniffles tonight, y'all. But I'd rather have a head cold than a chest cold. That'd be like a giraffe with a sore throat."
She talks about her momma, and I cry. She sings about her momma in "Coat of Many Colors," and I cry with my neighbor Karen from Sugar Land who I don't know, but we both love our mommas so that seems like a good enough reason. The Kool-Aid had been poured and sipped. I was ready for a refill.
She closes with "9 to 5." It doesn't matter if you're young, old, gay, straight, male or female—every butt was out of their seats. I'm clapping along and wrapping my arms around strangers while singing "...You've got dreams they'll never take awayyy!" Because Dolly gets me. She gets Karen. She gets all of us. Omg! I can't believe I'm doing this!
After the Concert
Omg! I can't believe I get it.
Her encore is "I Will Always Love You," made famous by Whitney Houston but penned by Dolly herself. I don't want it end. Post-Parton depression is already sinking in. People aren't singing along to the song, they are screaming along—probably to her—and I get it.
Omg! I can't believe I get it.