If you’ll recall a moment (and there are many) when a Disney princess is dancing through the air and just when her foot is about to make contact with ground that isn’t there, a “step” (or lilypad, or cloud, or what have you) appears beneath her feet, then you know what it looks like when Dolly Parton floats around the stage at Verizon Arena — or any large arena, for that matter. At every well-rehearsed turn, she was greeted with an ivory pedestal upon which to perch. A couch appeared for a single song, seemingly from nowhere, as did a sparkly white guitar courtesy of a bare-chested and barely-vested man she introduced to us as her “sexy cowboy assistant,” an irresistible setup for “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That?” A cadenza and a high-pitched giggle™ later, she was calling the Hogs and thanking the audience for “all the flowers and gifts” they had sent.
In a brilliant feat of lighting and sound, flickering firefly twinkles appeared on the backdrop curtain behind the band as the sound system blasted a fair-to-middlin’ impression of a chorus of crickets, having the whimsical and unexpected net effect of making all the upheld cell phones in the audience appear to be part of that twinkling firefly network. Instead of seeming untoward, the electronic devices made the moment downright magical. Dolly strolled on with no introduction save for those summer night sounds and a reference to the theme song from “Hello, Dolly,” and she opened with an unlikely cover of Blackfoot’s “Train, Train” sprinkled liberally with her own “mule skinner” howl. It all was carefully choreographed so that the Patron Saint of Sequins could glide around like an angel in an icy-white dress that — were it not for everything else about Dolly being so decidedly warm — was straight out of “Frozen.”
The 70-year-old icon’s showmanship was in full force; Dolly does not miss a beat, she’s got jokes for days and killer timing, as evidenced by her slam-dunk response to an overzealous crowd member who began shouting during what was clearly “Dolly Storytime:” “Aw, I thought I told you to wait in the truck!”
Her band’s sound was as coiffed as her hair, if somewhat Karaoke-ified by the drum machine, and the band’s Bransonized harmonies were of the Southern Baptist tabernacle variety — somewhere between The Bill Gaither Trio and a barbershop quartet. As always, Dolly’s pitch was dead-on. She’s got far too much energy and enthusiasm to sing flat. She used an auctioneer voice to rattle off the names of the siblings with whom she grew up in a one-room shack, spread the good word about her work in literacy through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Foundation, and delivered words of comfort to the audience in the introduction to what may be the original anti-bullying anthem, “Coat of Many Colors.” (Eat your heart out, Taylor Swift!)
She made jokes that deftly avoided any professions of political allegiances even when riffing about the presidential election, maybe because Dolly audiences tend to range from “Trump Nation” to “Keep Your Rosaries Off Our Ovaries.” She dazzled the audience with the sheer number of instruments she plays — over a dozen, if you count the voice — whipping out a mountain dulcimer, banjo, harmonica, recorder for “Smoky Mountain Memories” and a fiddle, among others. Sometimes she abandoned instruments altogether, as she did for a reverent a capella version of “Banks of the Ohio.”
Things the 7,669 people in attendance did not care a whit about included: An asking price for a “Dolly” T-shirt that exceeds the cost of parking downtown for a month, hearing Dolly tell one-liners we might have already heard a time or 10, temporarily relinquishing our possessions to a security force with tenacity the likes of which will never be seen from the TSA, rain.