Dolly Parton in Tampa: an intimate down-home feeling in a jam-packed arena

Dolly Parton-Photo by Lisa Bower

By Chyrisse Tabone and Lisa Bower, Rock At Night Tampa Correspondents

Venue: Amelie Arena, Tampa, Florida–November 26, 2016

Dolly Parton has been on the 63-city Pure & Simple Tour since June 3, 2016, and finally rolled into Amelie Arena, Tampa, Florida on November 26, 2016. The tour is celebrating Parton’s 43rd studio album Pure & Simple, but also promised a lot of her earlier hits.

On the Saturday evening of the concert, mostly baby boomers piled into the arena. Couples, women, and surprisingly, a lot of men filled what appeared to be every seat in the house, from the floor up to the balconies. I noticed one man held a t-shirt in the audience that read “THIS guy loves Dolly!”

The show started at approximately 7:40 p.m. as the sound of chirping crickets began to loudly play. Behind a white silk curtain the shapely silhouette of Dolly Parton’s figure shone and then she emerged wearing a white and silver sparkly dress and high heels that must have been a good six-inches high. She is very diminutive and with a figure—even at age 70—that rivals Jessica Rabbit. The audience cheered and gave Parton a standing ovation while the song “Hello Dolly” played. She swiftly segued to “Train, Train” and people finally sat down to enjoy the show, which was broken into two sets jam packed with approximately 30 songs. Yes, it was a long and enjoyable entertaining show of wonderful songs—traditional tunes, 60s classics, and Parton favorites.

Dolly Parton-Photo by Lisa Bower
Dolly Parton-Photo by Lisa Bower

Parton said that she “loved Florida” and asked, “How was everybody’s Thanksgiving?” A “sexy cowboy” handed her instruments throughout the set and she made a lot of jokes regarding his good looks saying, “I said I was married—I didn’t say I was blind!” Parton relayed lots of stories between songs, giving the show an intimate “fireside chat” kind of feel. She talked about her husband of 50 years Carl and how the song “Jolene” came to fruition. She had entered the local bank and saw her husband sitting on a desk making a supposed “tractor deal” while a “long-legged homecoming queen” was obviously hitting on him. She said, “I’ve been trying to forget her for 50 years.”

Parton discussed how the name of the tour is Pure and Simple since the band, comprised of members she has known since at least the mid-70s, consisted of a piano, bass, guitar—and no drum. She joked to save money they would use a drum machine since “It costs a lot to look this cheap.”

Parton then shifted to a bench which was elevated somewhat on the stage. She was wearing a snug dress and said jokingly, “I’m not trying to show the box office.” She began to discuss the pride she has for her family and area where she grew up in the Smoky Mountains in a family of 12, and living without electricity and running water. She said, Never be ashamed of where you come from” and began to sing “Precious Memories.” The song began with Parton singing acapella and I have to say, her voice is pure with quite a range and remarkable nuances of emotion. It really is remarkable—and live! The band members truly harmonized well with Parton as the vocals sounded like one fluid instrument.

Parton discussed her amusement park Dollywood and the making of a Christmas show “Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love.” She relayed a story about her mother having the children pick out stones from the yard, put them on display, and then pick a prized one for the “stone soup.” She talked about how the locals in her area migrated to Detroit to look for work, and for a short time, her father included. She beamed with pride as she discussed what a smart man he was—but never learned to read and write. She told the audience about her charity called Imagination Library, which gives children a book a month to encourage literacy.

While talking between songs Parton grabbed a drink of water or a tissue, excusing herself saying “I have the sniffles” and later joking that the Kleenex tissue could be sold on Ebay. Honestly, you would never know from the tone of her singing and the power in her voice she was possibly under the weather.

During the sets Parton switched between playing the guitar, banjo, fiddle, and even a saxophone, telling the audience it was custom made for her. She impressed the audience to have “safe sax” and after the song “Yakkety Sax” was over (I was amazed by her skill on the instrument), she said, “It was good for me. Was it good for you?”

Parton then joked about the election saying she was interested in running since “they could have used more boobs in the race.” She segued into a lovely medley of 60s songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. Parton’s accompaniment of harmonies from the band members gave me chills—they were near damn perfect!

Parton talked about how “her look” was inspired by seeing the “town trollop” as a child. She was mesmerized by her hair, make-up, and beauty and vowed to emulate her. Her Pentecostal preacher/grandfather admonished the idea and she retorted about going to heaven, “I don’t have to look like hell to get there!” She joked about being a “self-made” woman saying, “I have the bills to prove it!” She also has an affinity for tight clothes saying, “I buy my clothes two times too small—and then have them taken in!”

The evening was near perfect and the show, including a 20-minute intermission, lasted about three hours. Parton played various instruments like a banjo on “Applejack”, an autoharp on “Precious Memories”, a penny whistle on “Smokey Mountain Memories”, the piano on “The Grass is Blue” and even the harmonica on “Blowin’ In the Wind”. She played some favorites like “Islands in the Stream” and “9 to 5” which got people out of their seats dancing. She talked about kissing Burt Reynolds and her experience working on the Trio Sessions with Emmy Lou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

Overall, the evening was warm, intimate, and felt like we were sitting in her living room in the Smokey Mountains. What a class act and lady! A truly magical evening!

Special moment for me—the moving, melancholy gospel song “Little Sparrow”


  1. Hello Dolly
  2. Set 1:
  3. Train, Train
  4. Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That
  5. Jolene
  6. Pure & Simple
  7. Precious Memories
  8. My Tennessee Mountain Home
  9. Coat of Many Colors
  10. Smokey Mountain Memories
  11. Applejack
  12. Rocky Top/Yakety Sax
  13. Banks of the Ohio
  14. American Pie / If I Had a Hammer / Blowin’ in the Wind / Dust in the Wind / The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  15. The Seeker
  16. I’ll Fly Away
  1. Set 2:
  2. Baby I’m Burnin’ / Great Balls of Fire / Girl on Fire
  3. Outside Your Door
  4. The Grass Is Blue
  5. Those Memories of You
  6. Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
  7. Little Sparrow / If I Had Wings
  8. Two Doors Down
  9. Here You Come Again
  10. Islands in the Stream
  11. 9 to 5
  1. Encore:
  2. I Will Always Love You

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Chyrisse Tabone, Ph.D.
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