@ Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto
September 9, 2016
Dolly Parton kicked off the Canadian leg of her Pure & Simple tour, her largest North American tour in 25 years, on September 9 in Toronto. The stripped-down production fit the tour’s title. Without video screens or projections, Dolly stood under ropes of coloured lights amid bare-bones staging.
Of course, there was nothing ordinary about Dolly. The Country legend entered the sold-out Molson Canadian Amphitheatre stage in a skintight, sparkling white dress and embellished guitar, with a signature blonde wig piled high. She joked about her love of trashy garb, “You know me, I never leave a rhinestone unturned.”
Without an opening act, Dolly went on to deliver a nearly three-hour performance that would satisfy any fan. In it she showcased her musical virtuosity, picking up multiple instruments including the guitar, banjo, saxophone, and fiddle. Her show ran the gamut with covers of protest songs, gospel ballads, Appalachian music, and upbeat Country Pop.
Her set began with timeless classics like “Precious Memories,” “Jolene,” and “Coat of Many Colors,” all achingly beautiful renditions. In between songs, Dolly shared meandering stories of her upbringing in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, where she was poor but well loved in their house of 12 children. Her anecdotes, humour, and down-to-earth presence melted the distance between her and the audience.
Her second half featured a haunting and gorgeous delivery of ‘Little Sparrow’ that silenced a crowd of thousands and showed that, at 70, Dolly’s acute pitch and vocal range remain outstanding. She went on to perform a series of chart toppers. “Two Doors Down,” “Here You Come Again”, “Islands In The Stream,” and “9 to 5” brought many audience members to their feet. “I Will Always Love You” was performed second to last and dedicated to her fans, who happily sang along.
Underneath the glitter and the synthetic, Dolly radiates a purity of spirit that underlines the humanity of her lyrics. As she puts it, “my heart’s about the only thing about me that’s real anymore.”
As high as my expectations were, the show fulfilled all of them. With a series of chills and not-so-dry eyes I sat with thousands in the heady, unseasonably dry heat of a September night. Far off, one bejeweled icon commanded the stage and gave me an experience I’m sure I’ll never forget.
– Elizabeth Andrews