Dolly Parton at Mystic Lake Casino, 7/27/11


Dolly Parton July 27, 2011 Mystic Lake Casino

"Is she lip synching?" "Is she really playing banjo in those nails?" "Oh my word, is she really, really playing that saxophone?"

With a stage full of glitz and glitter, three costume (and two wig) changes, an unwavering dose of wit and enthusiasm, and a set lasting two hours, fifteen minutes and drawing as heavily upon her new album as from her classic hits and roots in bluegrass, gospel and classic country, the answer to these questions and more at Dolly Parton's Wednesday night sold-out Mystic Lake Casino appearance? "Who cares!"


Dolly Parton and company already showed all the polish and pizazz of a Vegas show on Wednesday night, in what was only their sixth performance touring in support of Parton's new (and 41st!) album, Better Day. From the moment the band took the stage, lights down, recorded crickets squeaking, audience members were hootin' and hollerin' at every supposed glimpse of that tremendously endowed and yet barely five-foot figure. And they got their superstar in spades when she finally appeared to the refrains of the album's title track, silhouetted by the stage lights, then bursting on to the stage outta nowhere, playing fiddle.

Was she actually playing fiddle? And later, was she actually playing the recorder, the saxophone, the harmonica, the electric guitar, the banjo the autoharp the acoustic guitar the dulcimer that glittery gold baby grand?

Who cares? For a woman full of a hell of a lot of plastic or silicone or botulinum toxin, a woman who may or may not have been lip synching at times, there's no one more authentic. You see it in her clear engagement with her audience, in her natural stage presence. You hear it in her storytelling, born as she explains it in the mountains of Tennessee, one of twelve kids to "a couple of horny hicks," of wanting nothing more than to someday make it big and look like the town "tramp." (It took her only 15 minutes to bust out her most famous quote: "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap," further elaborating that she's "said that so many times over the years, and everybody still always laughs.")


You see it in her amazing energy, which explodes at levels that might lead you believe that she's either on a raw vegan diet, or that her blood courses with amphetamines. That she's drinking the blood of thirty virgins each day, or that she's just really stinkin' lucky to have the type of genes that keep her rocking such enthusiasm after all these years.

Most importantly, you see that authenticity when she pulls out her autoharp (which yes, she was absolutely for sure playing) and sings that famous song for her mama, "Coat of Many Colors."

One moment, it's like you're watching her '70s variety show. She's dancing like mad all across the stage, her hot pink sparkles (costume one) or bright yellow spangled fringe (costume two) twinkling under the stage lights - baby, she's burning! (And no, diehards, she didn't perform that song Wednesday night.)

But the next moment she's calm, all emotion and positivity. I would've never thought one of the most inspirational figures in the world, to me, would have a waist tinier than Scarlett O'Hara's was after a year on the Reconstruction diet, hair bigger than the aged and doting mother of a Texas beauty queen, and sparkles from feet to shoulders to Appalachian dulcimer. That she would resemble a Barbie doll on moonshine, or that she would employ some of the best plastic surgeons in the world. But there you have it. It's not just her long-tenured talent or her stature as such a groundbreaking woman in American music; it's her incredible energy, her unflagging positivity, and her quitchyer-bitchin'-and-appreciate-your-great-life-already humility that are so inspiring.

Oh, and that laugh, that squeaky, high-pitched cackle-chuckle.

Critic's bias: I'VE LOVED DOLLY SINCE THE DAYS OF HER EARLIEST SURGICAL ENDEAVORS! And have decorated many a Christmas tree to the romantic holiday tones of Dolly and Kenny. The crowd: If you have a grandma, she was there. Overheard in the crowd: (Guy in crowd) "I love you!" (Dolly) "Well, I love you too but I told you to wait in the TRUCK." Random notebook dump: Dolly's all Minnie Mouse, when we took my little brother and sister to see Mickey's Birthday Party Show at DisneyWorld, and Minnie strutted about the stage in a loud costume, fretting over cake and party preparations and singing "Happy Birthday, Happy Happy Happy Happy Birthday To You" to Mickey upon his arrival in their bubbly, cartoonish abode. For more photos: See our full slideshow by Steve Cohen.

Setlist: Better Day Intro / Walking On Sunshine / Shine Like the Sun / Better Get to Livin' / Jolene / Bluegrass Medley: Rocky Top, Dueling Banjos, Muleskinner Blues / Help (Beatles) / Shine (Collective Soul) / Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin) / My Tennessee Mountain Home / Precious Memories / Coat of Many Colors / Smoky Mountain Memories / Son of a Preacher Man / Better Day / Together You and I / Holding Everything / Joyful Noise Medley: Take You Higher, He's Everything Intermission White Limozeen / Best of Both Worlds (Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus theme - "for the kids") / The Sacrifice / In the Meantime / Little Sparrow / River Deep Mountain High / Here You Come Again / Islands in the Stream / 9 to 5 Encore: I Will Always Love You / Light of a Clear Blue Morning

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