Watch out Santa, another consummate giver and joyful spirit is coming to town this December, and she’s bringing lots of musical goodies for young and old Austinites alike. For the first time in 25 years, Dolly Parton has embarked on a major 60-city tour, and she has several Lone Star stops along the way, including Austin's Frank Erwin Center on December 6.
I caught up with the music, television, film, and even Broadway, superstar at a recent tele-press conference for her new Pure & Simple Tour and found out what keeps this 70-year-old music legend young at heart and still dreaming.
The Pure & Simple album and subsequent tour all began purely and simply enough with two pared-down charity concerts in Nashville. She said those intimate shows got such a wonderful response from the audience and such good reviews they gave her the idea of going back to basics for both a new album and a new tour.
“I always felt my personality was pure and simple, and people seem to relate to my stories and to me and my rags-to-riches, Cinderella story,” she said. With only a few band members joining her onstage, Dolly will play multiple instruments, and the format allows her to make deeper connections with the audience.
A Dolly connection
With so many cities and so many different sized venues, I had to ask her how she keeps that intimacy in some of the bigger arena stages. Dolly revealed that it all goes back to family and that down home attitude she maintains in her life.
“I always just think of it as I’m having people in my house and the bigger the house the better for the people. I look at it as it doesn’t matter because my show is the same and it seems to work in the bigger arenas as well as the intimate ones,” she explained.
For Dolly, performing is like many other aspects in her life, forming connections.
“I really feel like I connect with the people, and they’re there for me, and I’m there for them. Everyone seems to feel like we’re all in it together, and it doesn’t seem scattered or too big. I’m from a big family and I guess I think of everything as a big family reunion. Sometimes we’re in a smaller area, sometimes we’re in a bigger house,” she said.
While Dolly loves hitting the road and performing, she said one of the hardest parts of the process comes before the tour begins, when she’s deciding what songs to sing. “There’s a handful that you really have to do,” she said, listing “9 to 5,” “Islands in the Stream,” and “Jolene” as songs that she knew had to go on the set list.
“Then you try to figure out what’s going to be most entertaining. What they call dynamics in a show, the ups and downs and the moods that you set,” she described and then went on to explain that for this tour she also chose some of her favorite songs that would allow her to not just sing but to play. For example, she made sure “Apple Jack” was on the set list so she could play the banjo.
Home for Christmas
While her tour is foremost in her mind, Dolly did reveal her holiday plans. Of course, she’ll go home to get together with family.
“I think most families have a basic thing that they do, and in our family we get together and sing, talk, and cook and eat, and talk about everybody when they leave the room,” she said laughing, but she also loves to play Santa for her own young nieces and nephews in true Dolly Parton style. She has an elevator in her house they decorate to look like a chimney and she dresses as Santa and delivers presents coming down that chimney elevator.
“I’m a kid myself at Christmas,” she confessed.
A lifetime of achievements
In November, Dolly received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the CMA Awards, and she explained this award seemed particularly special to her because it’s named in honor of her good friend, and one of Texas’ favorite sons.
“I love Willie as much as I love anybody outside my own family, and he feels like family to me,” she said adding that she’s especially looking forward to getting to Texas just because that’s where Willie is from. She also has fond memories of Texas visits in the past and even filmed a television movie Wild Texas Wind, which she co-wrote the screenplay for, at the Broken Spoke in Austin.
Her fondest memory of filming in Austin? “All the wonderful people in Austin and what a good time we had living there during that period. It was just a wonderful time. It was a sad ass story as you know. Gary Busey played an abusive husband. But we really had a lot of fun, and I was proud to be part of that.”
During her decades in the spotlight, Dolly has received career-spanning awards honoring her many achievements and she’s “proud” of every one of them.
“It just makes you feel like you might have done something right,” she said. Then she confessed, “Sometimes it does makes you feel like people think you’re old, but I feel like I’m just now getting started. I feel like I know enough now to do really good work. Every day I have new dreams.”
Dolly Parton's Pure & Simple Tour lands at the Frank Erwin Center on December 6. For tickets or more information about her tour, which includes five Texas cities, visit her website.