She wasn’t working “9 to 5,” but pint-sized country powerhouse Dolly Parton packed plenty of productivity into her 7:30 to 10 p.m. show Saturday night at North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena. And then she put in overtime.
Taking only a 20-minute intermission to fluff her big blonde wig and squeeze her famously busty body into another shiny costume, the folksy 70-year-old Parton, who had no opening act, entertained the crowd of 7,669 the entire evening, juggling singing with storytelling and joking.
On “Jolene,” the hussy at the bank who flirted with her husband: Parton was delighted the audience remembered the song, but “I’ve been trying to forget her for about 50 years now.”
On how her marriage has survived 50 years: “It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been gone 45 of those years.”
On her reluctance to adopt modern technology: “These carrier pigeons are stinking up the tour bus.”
For her Pure & Simple Tour, Parton kept things simple with a minimalist set (colored lights on white panels) and only three backing musicians — among them was her bandleader and record producer Kent Wells, who is originally from Arkansas. Simple to Parton still means sparkly: “I never leave a rhinestone unturned.”
The multi-talented Parton awed as a multi-instrumentalist. Glittery guitar, dulcimer, piano, harmonica, even a mini saxophone (with which she wailed out “Yakety Sax,” best known as The Benny Hill Show theme song) — the reviewer lost count. A magical moment occurred during “Rocky Top,” when Parton pushed the blinged-out banjo she was plucking behind her so she could saw on a fiddle.
In addition to popular hits (“Here You Come Again,” “Islands in the Stream,” “9 to 5”), Parton performed a few new songs, a 1960s medley, and religious tunes in her distinctive voice that sometimes whispers and sometimes warbles. She paid homage to her poor but proud rural upbringing with songs like “Coat of Many Colors” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home” And “Smoky Mountain Memories.”
She closed the night with two encores, the first, a lovely “I Will Always Love You,” the second, a spiritual medley of “Hello God” and “He’s Alive.”
As for Parton, she’s plenty alive too. The savvy businesswoman shows no signs of slowing down, promoting her new album (Pure & Simple drops Friday ), her Dollywood theme park, her literacy foundation (Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library), a new Trio project with pals Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt (a box set comes out in September) and her new TV movie (NBC will air Christmas of Many Colors this holiday season).
She also didn’t miss a beat when rowdy fan tried to interrupt a story, shooting back, “I told you to stay in the truck!”