When you think of the iconic and often flashy Dolly Parton, the words “pure and simple” don’t usually come to mind. But during her recent performance at the Ryman Auditorium, she used her songs to tell the story of her life; a young simple girl who wanted to be so much more.
The special performance was a benefit for the Dustin J. Wells Foundation, which raises funds for the W.O. Smith Music School in Nashville, Tenn. Dustin Wells, the nephew of Dolly Parton’s producer and bandleader Kent Wells, died in a tragic car accident ten years ago. The Wells family created the foundation in his memory, raising money for a local organization dedicated to teaching music to young people who may not be able to afford lessons otherwise.
Students from the W.O. Smith kicked off the night with a 2-song performance, showcasing their musical talents. Kent Wells also performed an original song that he had written in honor of his nephew, before bringing Dolly Parton out.
The 90-minute set was simple and elaborate all at once. The stage design was elegant and the backing band was smaller than her usual ensemble, but it gave the look and feel of an authentic, biographical theatre performance.
A self-proclaimed “Backwoods Barbie,” Dolly told the story of her humble upbringing through songs like “Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Jolene”. One of the highlights of the night was her a Capella rendition of “Little Sparrow,” that brought the audience to a standing ovation. Throughout the night, she sparkled in an all-white pant suit, adorned with rhinestone accents, with matching instruments: a glittering dulcimer, a shimmering banjo, a sparkling electric guitar.
If you didn’t know who Dolly Parton was before the start of the show, you certainly knew by the end of it. She had the crowd on their feet singing along to “9 to 5” before closing the show with an effortless, sincere performance of the iconic “I Will Always Love You,” dedicated to her fans over the years.
Pure and simple? A shimmering and brilliant performance by one of country music’s greatest treasures.