Having been a fan for nearly 20 years, ever since I first saw Dolly in London back in 1984, one of my life's ambitions was to see Dolly live in concert myself. Obviously as you all know, Dolly had not toured in the UK since 1983 and USA for about 12 years so when she announced her US tour and a small club tour at that, I knew I just couldn't let the opportunity pass up, I might never get another chance. The decision was made a little easier by the fact that one of my friends was working out in Washington DC, so I had somewhere to stay and someone to go with.
Now at this time I wasn't working and hadn't been for about 6 months, so money was really tight for me, so it was still a tough decision to go and spend all that money, but my friend in DC encouraged me a little and that's all I needed. However I decided to keep the trip a secret from everyone but a couple of people because my Mum and friends would think I was being extremely irresponsible doing something like this. So I got my £450 flight and started to realise my dream. Imagine my surprise when a week before I flew out, Dolly announced a UK tour! This made the trip even more of a reckless luxury, but I was too excited by this point, but not enough to stop me buying tickets for 3 of her UK shows.
When I got to Washington DC, Dolly had just opened her tour in New York to rave reviews and so I had seen the set list of what to expect. As it turned out the only differences were to be the loss of as yet unreleased song Color Me America and My Tennessee Mountain Home and the addition of a very special acoustic medley. Anyway, before I bore you silly, I'll skip straight to the night of the show….
SET LIST – July 15th 2002 Orange Blossom Special / Train, Train / The Grass Is Blue / Mountain Angel / Shine / Little Sparrow / Rocky Top / My Tennessee Mountain Home / Coat Of Many Colors / Smoky Mountain Memories / AppleJack / Marry Me / Halos & Horns / I'm Gone / Dagger Through The Heart / If / 9 to 5 / Jolene / Medley: Islands In The Stream, Here You Come Again, Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That, Two Doors Down / Calm On The Water / After The Goldrush /Acoustic Medley: I Want to Throw Rocks - He's a Go-Getter – I'll Oilwells Love You / I Will Always Love You
We got a taxi to the club in what was considered to be a bit of a bad area of town and arrived there just before 8 and boy was I surprised at the queue! It stretched around the block! We waited around 20 minutes before we got in and were entertained by some rather enthusiastic fans spontaneously breaking into What a Heartache every few minutes. As the minutes passed by I just started to get really really nervous, so by the time we walked in I needed a drink badly just to calm my nerves and my racing heart.
The club itself was pretty small and dark, holding no more than maybe 1,500. I checked out the merchandise stall which was selling some pretty awful stuff, sweatshirts with a very colourful Dolly emblazoned very largely on the front, was one of the more gaudy items. One of Dolly's tour staff went around the audience with a box labelled, "Gifts for Dolly" and everything was going it in, but mostly flowers and stuffed toys.
After about half an hour the Blueniques came on and did a couple of numbers, before going into Orange Blossom Special, I had no idea Dolly was about to step on stage and when she did I can honestly say I have never heard such a deafening welcome in my life! The crowd just drowned her out for about 2 minutes, so I could bearly tell that she'd finished the opener (a quick 45 second rendition) and gone straight into Train Train. It really was an amazing feeling, like me, a lot of fans had waited a long time for this night and I couldn't believe I was seeing her at last. What an opening!
After the cheering had stopped, she managed to say a few words, thanking everyone for coming and mentioning that it had been a while. She said she was going to sing a lot of sad songs and some of them were just plum pitiful! The Grass is Blue settled the crowd down and at this point you could hear how clear her voice was and how good the sound system was. I was standing about 25 feet away from her and she was wearing a powder blue tight fitting dress with some simple diamond studs. Mountain Angel came next, which was absolutely beautiful and so much better sung live. When she finished she got the audience doing the woo-hoo bits all together.
Shine was up next and this whipped up the crowd again, the band were just superb and Dolly's vocals were awesome. Little Sparrow was next and although not my favourite off the Grass is Blue, it was still an improvement sung live. Next up was Rocky Top, I think I was the only person in the crowd never to have heard that one before. The audience clapped and sang along like maniacs…
It was onto the golden oldies and what should have been My Tennessee Mountain Home (according to the teleprompter) became Coat of Many Colors. Preceding this was a lengthy monologue of her family history, a lot of which we've heard many times before, but I'll amuse you with the best bits. She joked that her family were just horny hillbillies as her parents had so many kids, but that their Mom was so special that they put her on a pedestal, which was necessary as it was the only place Daddy couldn't get his hands on her. She carried on talking about her Mother and how she wrote the song on her first tour with Porter Wagoner. She said it was amazing therapy writing that song, "especially knowing how much money I made off it. That's the best therapy I ever had!"
She continued saying that she always thought that when she made enough money she would go back home and buy her Mom a mink coat, "cause in those days mink coats were still OK to wear". Anyway, she drove back home… in her cadilliac…. "Well I had to buy myself a Cadilliac first, didn't I?" and told her Mom what she wanted to do for her. She responded in a horrified tone, "Lord, where am I going to wear a mink coat, a rooster fight?" Anyway, she just gave her the money instead.
After Coat of Many Colors, we had Applejack with Dolly on banjo, followed by Smoky Mountain Memories. She can still hit the high notes possibly better than ever before, although I would say her voice isn't as powerful as it was on the Dolly in London concert. Next up was Marry Me, here Dolly did a odd barn dance routine with Gary Davis, the banjo player, where he danced around her and chipped in with a line or two now and again. Dolly looked slightly bemused by his wild actions.
At this point the band went into Who Let the Hogs Out for a quick chorus, before things calmed down for Halos and Horns, which for me was one of the low points of the new album. But, yet again Dolly's live vocals turned this average number into something special. Next up was I'm Gone and by far the best reception for any for the newer material. I can only guess the audience liked the fast tempo and the band being able to show off. Dagger came next and again, fantastic. The last of the new material followed with the big standout track, If and for this Dolly put on her funky blue wah-wah guitar. I just loved this song.
Dolly started rapping her nails on together saying it kinda sounded like a typewriter. We cheered knowing what was coming next. 9 to 5 was a very welcome addition, but done in a bluegrass style, I really didn't think it worked that well, not that mattered to the crowd who'd come to hear the hits and they got them with Jolene, which worked so much better with a real sparse backing. After the Goldrush was next, good version and very atmospheric.
We had a real highlight next with an acapella renditions of Islands in the Stream, Here You Come Again, 2 Doors Down and Why'd You Come in Here Looking Like That. The harmonising with the 3 singers was just fantastic and Dolly talked how this segment took about 2 weeks of practising to get right and was the most difficult part of the show to do. She sang the word "islands" several times before doing just the chorus. The whole crowd joined her for 2 Doors Down, again I just can't stress how wired up these fans were. After this she was going to do something special her and boys had practised last night. She said they'd asked her up to their room and when she got there she joked their was a party in full swing with kegs of beer everywhere, beer in the bath, beer in the sink and junk food. After eating about 4 cans of squirty cheese they worked out a speeded up version of 2 Doors Down, like she did with Do I Ever Cross Your Mind. I managed to sneak a photo at this point. Again she brought the house down and so she brought the rest of the band out front, introduced them and put on her guitar and sang Calm on the Water, with all the band singing backing vocals. Brilliant.
We got a real surprise and something she hadn't done at the New York show, with just her guitar we got 3 very rare songs; I Want to Throw Rocks, followed by Hes a Go-Getter and I'll Oil Wells Love You. Amusing. I knew it was coming to an end with the start of I Will Always Love You. It was all over too quick as Dolly did a couple of quick bows and left the stage rounding off a night off that I'll never forget as long as I live.
15th November - Manchester SET LIST
Orange Blossom \ Train Train \ Grass is Blue \ Mountain Angel \ Little Sparrow \ Shine \ Rocky Top \ My Tennessee Mountain Home \ Coat of Many Colors \ Smokey Mountain Memories \ Applejack \ Marry Me \ Down From Dover \Halos and Horns \ I'm Gone \ Dagger Through the Heart \If \ After The Goldrush \ 9 to 5 \ Jolene \ Acappella Medley:Islands in the Steam-Here You Come Again-Why'd You Come Here Lookin' Like That-Two Doors Down \ I Will Always Love You
Arrived at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester for the show about 30 minutes
before show time in time to check out the souvenir stand and the crowd.
Unfortunately as in the US, no programs were on sale, but of the items
available, T shirts, baseball caps, teddies, CD's and posters were all
selling for the usual extortionate concert prices. The crowd were pretty
much of the older variety, with a few youngsters sprinkled around, a few
even wearing lit up horns. We even had a couple of Coronation Street actors too.
We took our seat, 5th row right side and pretty much bang on 7.30pm the
Blueniques came on and started with an instrumental, followed by steel
guitar player, Randy doing Little by Little, a real catchy tune with great
lyrics. Next up was Orange Blossom Special and time for Dolly's "surprise"
unannounced entrance. Half the audience gave her a standing ovation and off
we went. Dolly went through Train Train, Grass is Blue and Mountain Angel
and although her audience were attentive, they were really quiet in between
songs, which I think unnerved Dolly somewhat. She tried to get them to sing
a bit of the whooo hoooos from Mountain Angel but the response was pretty
limp. Her conversation was a little brief apart from on the intros to My
Tennessee Mountain Home, Coat of Many Colours and Smokey Mountain Memories and only when we started to get to Applejack that the audience started to liven up. From then on it was all plain sailing.
The big highlight was Dolly singing Down from Dover, which to my knowledge was the first time she had included this song in her set this year. It was wonderful to hear it, being my favourite Dolly song of all time, but she sang it in the style from the Little Sparrow, which I don't like as much as the Dolly in London version or the original from the early 70's. Still great though.
An off the cuff moment occurred when someone shouted out for These Ole
Bones. Dolly explained that there was no way she could sing this live as she
couldn't alternate between the 2 voices all in one go. But she did treat us
to a few lines in the old woman's voice, which got a big cheer. She revealed
that she planned to release it as a single and was planning to film a video
shortly where she was planning to act out both parts and so she was planning
her "old woman" look with the clothes and makeup she was going to wear in
Other big highlights of the show were 9 to 5, which I just don't think works
with a bluegrass flavour, but the audience loved it followed by Jolene.
This was Dolly's biggest UK hit and the cheers that greeted it reflected how
much we loved it. She got us to all do the ending acapella, which brought
us straight into the acapella section of the show. Before we knew it I Will
Always Love You was upon us and the end was nigh. Dolly exited to a standing ovation, but as much as we cheered, there was no encore, even though the teleprompter briefly displayed Stairway to Heaven.
So, to recap, a good show, but I just didn't like the venue, although it was
small it was far too exposed and not intimate at all and that added with the
quiet audience made for a slightly nervous Dolly performance.
18th November 2002 - London SET LIST (same for both London shows)
Orange Blossom \ Train Train \ Grass is Blue \ Mountain Angel \ Little Sparrow \ Shine \ Rocky Top \ My Tennessee Mountain Home \ Coat of Many Colors \ Smokey Mountain Memories \ Applejack \ Marry Me \ Halos and Horns \ I'm Gone \ Dagger Through the Heart \ If \ After The Goldrush \ 9 to 5 \ Jolene \ Acappella Medley:Islands in the Steam-Here You Come Again-Why'd You Come Here Lookin' Like That-Two Doors Down \ I Will Always Love You \ Stairway To Heaven
It was pretty exciting seeing Dolly Parton in big lights outside the venue
and the amount of touts buying and selling tickets for this long sold out
gig was pretty staggering. The crowd were quite different from the
Manchester show, a lot more varied, both young and old, gay and straight.
From the moment Dolly came on the crowd were very warm and inviting and that put her in a good mood instantly. Of the 4 shows I've seen, she was probably the most talkative and relaxed in this one and even her rehearsed talky bits were delivered in a fresh style. The BBC actually filmed segments of this show, which you can see in the documentary, Platinum Blonde.
The set list was pretty much the same as the Manchester, so I'll just concentrate on the highlights. She did a great version of Shine and preceding a wonderful Little Sparrow she told us that it reminded her of the old English ballads that she used to sing back home. After this the band were experiencing some technical difficulties which Dolly said sounded like her "guts growling". They were quickly sorted out before storming into Rocky Top. I've only heard this 3 times now and I just love it and it gets the crowd revved up into a frenzy.
Dolly stopped to talk about her life and family, the usual old stories which took us into a couple of verses of My Tennessee Mountain Home. Whilst the band were still playing she talks about her favourite song that she's written and so we drift into Coat of Many Colors. After this Dolly talks about her Daddy and this part is very very touching. Heres a portion of it,
"I lost my Dad 2 years ago this month and I still think of him every day. Every time I look in the mirror, before I put my makeup on, I see his face. I got my Daddy's eyes, I do. And sometimes when I say stuff, it sounds like Daddy talking, just like you do turn into your parents and sometimes when I'm working so hard I can't stand up I think about Daddy and I think, well he did it. It's a different type of work, but its work just the same. And I wrote this song in honour of my Dad and that time in his life" Dolly then goes into an emotional Smokey Mountain Memories. Its doesn't get much better than this.
Applejack lightens the mood and Dolly intros the song saying, "Mamma didn't like me to go up there because she said he had a drinking problem. Well I asked him about it one day and he said, 'he'd never had a drinking problem in his life, it'd come real easy for him!' Just Like I suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it."
On Jolene, she talks about "if someone tried to steal some of the guys I've been out with, you'd call it petty theft!" She spotted 3 drag queens coming into to see the show and them requesting the song. She changes the lyrics a little in their honour, by singing the line, "I cannot compete with you, drag queens" Everyone sings along and the place is buzzing, but the end is near. After I Will Always Love You I think its all over, but Dolly quickly comes back for the epic Stairway to Heaven and everyone is on their feet and for me this is outstanding, the absolute highlight of the show. Dolly's vocal's are just stunning. Well that was it….. just one more show to go tomorrow night.
19th November 2002 - London
As soon as this show started I could tell that this crowd were a very lively
crowd and that we were in for a good night. They certainly clapped along
sang and cheered the loudest out of all 3 shows in the UK so far, but then
I'd expected that. Dolly was very aware of this fact and seemed to be
enjoying it, but she just wasn't as relaxed as last nights show for some
reason, talking a lot less and a lot faster. The set list was exactly the
same as the previous nights and truth be told her vocals, although good,
didn't reach the heady heights of Monday night, except for a rousing I Will
Always Love You where she soared on the high notes and then the encore,
Stairway to Heaven, which was really quite powerful. Over on the left side
of the hall and unaware to Dolly, a group of girls started to become quite
rowdy, shouting out requests and comments, none of which were offensive, but quite off-putting to the audience around them. During the last few numbers a couple of them came to the side of the stage and climbed up into a gap and
stood there. The bouncer tried to get them off and a scuffle occurred where
the girl hit out at him. Backup security was called and the girls were
Meanwhile as one drama ended and Dolly still oblivious to what was going on
around her, another one was about to begin. As soon as As Will Always Love
You ended a surge of people came to the front of the stage and waited for
Dolly to come back, which she did to do the encore of Stairway. These people
stayed there for the whole song and as soon as she finished it and started
to take her final bow, several girls suddenly climbed up on stage, totally
surprising Dolly and the security. One of them went for Dolly to give her a
hug and as she did security suddenly arrived in numbers and escorted Dolly
off, but during these 10 or 20 seconds there more girls had got on stage and
were being chased off. It was really quite bizarre and although Dolly wasn't
hurt it still left a strange atmosphere in the air and several people who had flowers for Dolly were left unable to give them to her. Despite all this, it was still an unforgettable show and marked the last of the 4 shows I witnessed.
To summarise, I don't think anything can match the excitement and euphoria that swept over all of us at the show in Washington DC and as it was my first show and the atmosphere was just so much more exciting. However, the other shows were each special to me in different ways, certainly Dolly's candid manner in the first London show was a pleasure to be part of. And so we wait for the next time Dolly tours in 2004… can't wait!