The rainbow rhinestones on Dolly Parton’s dress of many colors sparkled from 50 rows back, as the iconic singer sang, played multiple instruments and told countless stories during her concert Saturday night at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion. As the singer herself has said many times before; “It costs a lot to look this cheap.”
Parton, who turned 70 this year and but hardly looks it, took the audience through a heartfelt trip down memory lane. She traced the stories of her songs as far back as her childhood in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, through her decades of success in both music and in films like “9 to 5” and “Steel Magnolias,” to her current status as a country and bluegrass music legend.
From her memories of growing up with 11 siblings and not knowing they were poor in the song “Coat of Many Colors,” to chasing away a woman lusting after her husband in the song “Jolene,” Parton has a tale for every tune, easily shifting between gospel-infused mountain songs played on dulcimer, to dance floor-filling honky-tonkers. Her voice — that crystalline soprano that sang the original version of “I Will Always Love You” — has remained remarkably pure after a 50-year career.
It’s that love for family and tradition, mixed with a sassy, brassy attitude, that draws fans from many generations to her music — from folks well into their 70s and 80s, to young women with with tattoos and green hair. Kelly Gill of Orrington, a Texas native who has lived in Maine for five years, grew up listening to Parton’s music but had never seen the singer live before.
“The song I always remember first hearing is ‘Jolene,’ but there are just so many,” said Gill, who was gifted tickets by a friend. “I love the songs that came out of that movie, ‘Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.’ I just love her. She’s just a pistol. She’s an icon. I feel like a I have a spiritual connection with her.”
Parton’s Saturday show came on the heels of Thursday’s Dixie Chicks concert, filling out a week highlighting women in country music. Next week, the Machias Savings Bank concert series in Bangor shifts to focus on classic rock, with Journey and the Doobie Brothers on Wednesday, and Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon and Tesla on Friday. For more information, visit waterfrontconcerts.com.