HOLMDEL — Dolly Parton had no shortage of quips about her self-proclaimed “gaudy” getup Sunday.
The country noble said she can’t perform without her rhinestones, and when she pulled a guitar strap over her head, she asked the Holmdel crowd if her hair was still on straight.
As for her list of cosmetic surgeries, she joked that her heart is the only thing left untouched.
But what about those timeless pipes?
In her first full tour in 25 years, the 70-year-old genre luminary still hones a peerless voice, and touted an irresistibly sweet, endearing persona to match at PNC Bank Arts Center.
The audience was wrapped around her perfectly manicured finger as she paraded around stage in a sparkling, bright yellow costume. She said she calls this tour, which will run through December, and her eponymous August album “Pure and Simple” because that’s what it is — no theatrics or frills, just Parton on stage in front of billowing, white curtains, revisiting honest and romantic songs.
Between her classics and new tracks off her upcoming LP, Parton was sure to engage the crowd with plenty of backstories. To follow a tremendous performance of her calling card “Jolene,” she explained the namesake for those who didn’t know the story already.
“I’m glad you remember Jolene. I’ve been trying to forget her for about 50 years,” she said. “It’s about a girl who was trying to steal my husband when we first met. I put a stop to that, obviously.”
Parton and husband Carl Thomas Dean recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, and family was a common theme in her yarns, especially in her introduction to her 1971 single “Coat of Many Colors,” a tune about a jacket her mother stitched together for her from pieces of rags.
“It’s my favorite of all the thousands of songs I’ve written in my life,” she said.
Besides her terrific voice and instrumental finesse — she played at least eight on stage, including an autoharp, fiddle, sparkling white piano and a rhinestone-encrusted saxophone — Parton’s sharp sense of humor and Dollywood-sized personality shone brightest. The crowd laughed along when she deemed her family a bunch of horny hillbillies (she’s one of 12 children).
But between all the jokes, Parton had wise words to offer the audience.
“You should be whatever you are and be proud of that,” she said. “If we were all the same, what a boring life that would be.”
The set, which was halved by a 20-minute intermission, did well to mix its more somber moments, like a gorgeous rendition of “Little Sparrow,” and upbeat hits, like her enduring smash “9 to 5.”
“I want to hear you sing it now,” she said. “Will you?”
Parton’s finale, “I Will Always Love You,” earned more than a few tears after she introduced the song with the message that she will always love Whitney Houston, who famously covered the ballad.
But before she left the stage, the astute businesswoman was sure to plug her Tennessee theme park, Dollywood.
“If you haven’t been there yet, you have to come. I really need the money,” she said, before her old line: “No, really. It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”
THE SET LIST
- “Train, Train”
- “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That”
- “Pure and Simple”
- “Precious Memories” (John Wright cover)
- “My Tennessee Mountain Home”
- “Coat of Many Colors”
- “Smoky Mountain Memories”
- “Rocky Top”/”Yakety Sax”
- “Banks of the Ohio” (cover)
- “American Pie”/”If I Had a Hammer”/”Blowin’ in the Wind”/”Dust in the Wind”/”The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (covers)
- “The Seeker”
- “I’ll Fly Away”
- Part Two:
- “Baby I’m Burning”
- “Outside Your Door”
- “The Grass is Blue”
- “Those Memories of You” (Alan O’Bryant cover)
- “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”
- “Little Sparrow”
- “If I Had Wings”
- “Two Doors Down”
- “Here You Come Again”
- “Islands in the Stream” (Bee Gees cover)
- “9 to 5”
- “I Will Always Love You”
- “Hello God/He’s Alive”
This story originally appeared on NJ.com.