Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 | 9 a.m.
Country music legend Dolly Parton is a revelation at age 68 going on 18.
The singer, actress and pop culture icon charmed, mesmerized, regaled with childhood stories, sang, “testified” and played at least a half-dozen instruments — from guitar to harmonica to saxophone — for an astounding 2 hours and 20 minutes Saturday night at Star of the Desert Arena in Buffalo Bill’s in Primm.
It was only the second date of Parton’s “Blue Smoke World Tour” (the first night was in Palm Springs, Calif.), but the show was seamless from start to finish, as if she had already completed her upcoming dates in other U.S. cities and far-flung overseas locales including Australia.
Highlights included a stunning a cappella performance of “Little Sparrow”; loving and personal stories of her mother, Avie Lee Owens Parton, and father, Robert Lee Parton, which were sentimental and relatable; and her recurring humor. Asked if it bothered her being called “a dumb blonde,” Parton responds, “No! Because I know that I’m not dumb. And I know that I’m not blonde!”
Amid the banter, sweet and at times soaring and stunning vocals and stellar musicianship came an unexpected tearjerker. Parton told of how her hometown in Tennessee erected a statue of her in her honor. Her father joked that it was just another bathroom for the birds.
After her father passed away, Parton found out from her siblings (she was the fourth of 12 children) that their father would fill a bucket with soap and water every night and go to the statue to clean it spic and span.
The big and hit-filled setlist — largely country, bluegrass, spiritual and religious without an ounce of preaching, plus, songs from her yet-to-be-released album “Blue Smoke” (which, however, has dropped Down Under) — included “Baby I’m Burning,” “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That,” “Jolene,” the new song “Blue Smoke” (which was instantly likable), Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Smoky Mountain Memories” (followed by the dad-statue-cleaning-Kleenex story; the song was written for her father), “My Blue Tears,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “Together (You and I)” and Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands on Me.”
After a 20-minute intermission, Parton and Co. continued with “Two Doors Down,” “Better Get to Livin,’ ” “Banks of the Ohio,” “Little Sparrow,” Billy Joel’s “Travelin’ Prayer,” Collective Soul’s “Shine” (which she dedicated to a young girl in the front row), a medley (“It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right,” “Satisfied,” “Love Is Like a Butterfly,” “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,” “The Bargain Store,” “Real Love” and “Think About Love”), “Here You Come Again,” “Islands in the Stream” and “9 to 5.” The final song of the night: “I Will Always Love You” (made mega-hit famous by the late, great Whitney Houston).
And, of course, Parton had to joke about her most famous physical assets, referring to her large breasts as her “smoky mountains.” Hello, Dolly!
Let’s hope that Parton brings her “Blue Smoke World Tour” back to town. She deserves headliner dates and status on the Strip, per colleague Mike Prevatt, nightlife editor of Las Vegas Weekly. Agreed wholeheartedly.
Parton, who turned 68 on Jan. 19 and on Saturday night sparkled in rhinestones, is truly a gem to be treasured.
Overheard before the concert
“Dolly is supposed to change outfits eight times, but this is unconfirmed.” Unconfirmed — and false. She started the concert in a white dress with silver rhinestones, then, after the 20-minute intermission (during which the line for the men’s restroom was longer than the women’s!), she returned in a blue dress with white rhinestones.
“He’s gay! He’s gay! He’s gay! He’s gay! He’s gay! He’s gay!” An unidentified (over-sharing and possibly drunk) fan from Riverside, Calif., sitting behind me talking, pre-concert, about Tim McGraw, then realized that he was actually referring to Kenny Chesney. Apparently Mr. Inland Empire thinks Chesney is gay. The Parton impersonator who, in fairness, fooled many audience members pre-show, also fooled him.
“Sit down!” Senior-citizen fans to younger (and probably gay) fans who thought that this might be a concert and that some of Parton’s songs were danceable.
“Six dollars and 50 cents?!” The price of a vodka tonic and a gin and tonic post-show. That doesn’t even buy you a small bottle of water in a Strip nightclub.
Dinner at Ramon Ayala’s
Since Primm is usually only a twice-a-year extended stop for the Premium Outlet Mall and buying lottery tickets across the border in California, the trek from Henderson to Primm (about 30 minutes) was made 5 hours before the start of the concert, and it was worth it.
Shopping was canceled in lieu of a leisurely dinner at legendary Norteno and Conjunto star Ramon Ayala’s Cocina & Cantina, and it was the right choice. Upon checking in about 4 p.m. Saturday, there was already a 45-minute wait; by the time dinner ended about 3 hours later, it was a 90-minute wait. (What is this, the Strip?!)
The service was friendly and attentive, but the food and margaritas took center stage, from the chili relleno, enchiladas, tamales, taquitos, chips and varieties of salsa to the margaritas that were as smooth as Parton’s sexy legs. Everything was delicious; there wasn’t one false note.
Ramon’s was the perfect predecessor to what would be a practically pitch-perfect Parton performance in Primm.
Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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