For the Saturday celebration of her 50th year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, Dolly Parton was allotted the highest honor: an entire 30-minute segment of the two-hour live radio show. But Parton has had so many signature hits, how could she possibly fit them into just 30 minutes?
The answer is: she couldn’t.
In a half-hour, Parton did manage to wedge in five beloved songs that beautifully reflected her lengthy career — “Joshua,” “Jolene,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “Coat of Many Colors” and “Here You Come Again” — as well as a touching tribute to mentor Porter Wagoner that seemed only fitting.
Don’t think Parton was going to leave Nashville’s Opry House stage not performing (as she said at an earlier press conference) “the ones people would kill me if I didn’t sing.”
So consider it as an act of self-preservation when, at minute 29, Parton reminded the crowd that she had only 30 minutes for her set, and then she blew through the clock to deliver those two best-loved songs.
On this night, even the venerable Grand Ole Opry was running on Dolly Time, and who could disagree that the Opry was a better place for it?
For that matter, who could disagree that much of the world is also running on Dolly Time, considering all the projects that Parton is now involved in? At her press conference, she ticked them off: a Netflix series, premiering in November, inspired by eight of her songs; CMA Awards co-hosting duties with Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire; several new musical collaborations with Christian artists; and an original Christmas musical due out on Netflix in 2020. Throw in the ever-expanding Dollywood Parks & Resorts, a Hallmark Christmas special this year, and her participation in the upcoming podcast “Dolly Parton’s America,” and you know this is one busy 73-year-old legend.
“I’ve dreamed myself into a corner, as I say,” Parton told reporters with a chuckle.
On this night, Parton was also allowing herself to look back on a life that has given her, among other countless accomplishments, 50 years of Opry membership.
“You never know what’s going to happen to you in your life,” she said. “You never know if your dreams are going to come true. And if they do, you wonder how people will remember you when you’re older. And I’m older, and I’m seeing how people remember me, and that makes me feel very humble. And I’m just very honored that I’m still around, not only to just get to accept this, but that I can actually perform and get out there and still do what I love to do.”
And Parton’s two Opry audiences — she performed at both 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. shows — loved her for it. Both shows quickly sold out after tickets went on sale a year ago, and Parton gave the crowds a show that was worth the wait.
Besides the songs, she also brought her home-spun stories and signature humor. At the first show, when one male fan yelled out, “I love you, Dolly!” she shot back: “I told you to wait in the truck!” And then, winking to the laughing crowd, she added: “That’s my favorite line.”
But Parton’s real side-splitting moment came when, as she took a seat to play her dulcimer for “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” she explained why she was dressed in her sparkly capri pants: “I didn’t want to wear a dress and sit down on a stool and show the box office.” Her drummer couldn’t resist a ba-dum-dum after that one.
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Parton brought out only one special guest to share the stage, and it was a deeply sentimental choice: Buck Trent, banjoist in Porter Wagoner’s band, the Wagonmasters. Parton also announced that Wagoner’s two daughters were among her many friends and family members in attendance.
Trent’s presence helped give Parton the opportunity to thank the late Wagoner for giving her “my big break in country music” in 1967 when he invited her to be, as she called it, the “girl singer” in the cast of his popular syndicated TV show.
“I wanted to do something to honor Porter, at least sing a song, and at least say how much he meant to me and to my career,” she said before delivering his 1968 hit, “The Carroll County Accident.” with Trent accompanying her on his electric banjo.
Of course, most fans know Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” to Wagoner as her farewell to their professional relationship. On this night, she chose not to tell that story, but then the song has long since transcended its origins.
“It’s been a wonderful life for me,” Parton told the audience as she introduced it as her final song, “and this song kind of sums up how I feel about you … and I will always love you.”
The two Opry shows are now being turned into a two-hour NBC special, “Dolly Parton: 50 Years at the Grand Ole Opry,” which will air at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on Nov. 26. The special also will feature interviews and performances of Parton songs by other guests on the “Dolly Week” of Opry shows, including Dierks Bentley, Emmylou Harris, Chris Janson, Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, Hank Williams Jr. and Margo Price.