News Column

Dolly, fans fill EKU Center with love

May 29, 2014

By Bill Robinson, Richmond Register, Ky.



May 29--RICHMOND -- In the three years since it opened, no performer has filled the EKU Center for the Arts with sound or fans as Dolly Parton did Tuesday night.

The Country Music Hall of Famer made her second appearance in Richmond for the St. Mark Catholic Church "Evening Among Friends" in what most observers believe is her final concert tour.

If that is the case, the concert gave the 2,000 fans who packed the house a final opportunity to thank and demonstrate how much they adore her and she them.

As he introduced her, Father James Sichko, pastor of St. Mark, asked the fans to "take the roof off this building and give this icon the welcome she deserves."

They responded with a deafening roar, something they kept repeating for the non-stop two-hour show.

"We're here with love in our hearts," Sichko told Parton, and the fans registered their agreement in resounding fashion.

"Father Jim is the best opening act I've ever had," Parton responded.

"I've been dreaming of this since I was a little girl," she said of performing before thousands of fans, "and I want to thank you all for making it happen."

As the diminutive woman known for her larger than life persona and physique sang and danced in high heels, a huge, high-definition video image of her was projected on the wall behind her.

The EKU Center boasts Kentucky's biggest stage, and the projection used it in an attempt to do justice to the superstar's glittering image.

Parton, who could have become wealthy just from her song writing alone, told the crowd she wrote nine of the songs on her latest CD, "Blue Smoke."

The title is based on the Cherokee name for the "smokey" mountains of East Tennessee where she grew up in a family "poor in everything but love."

Her family home didn't have electricity, it it had running water, she said. "We had to run and get it."

She shared the inspiration for many of the songs she sang, including some of her greatest hits.

"Jolene," a song early in Tuesday's performance, was inspired by a woman who tried to steal her husband, Parton said. I fought her like a "wildcat," she said, adding that she kept her husband and then "got rich" from the song inspired by the episode.

She and her husband, who is rarely, if ever, seen with her in public, will be married 48 years this week, Parton told the crowd.

Neither was ever married to someone else, although with all of her nips and tucks, Parton said, my husband feels like he's been married to three different women."

Although she was talkative during her performance here six years ago, Parton was move reflective Tuesday night, talking at length about her parents and pentecostal-preacher grandfather, as well as her religion faith.

Her pentecostal faith taught her to believe "all things are possible," she said.

"God's greatest gift is beautiful memories," Parton said, before launching into the country gospel favorite "Precious Memories."

Even with the heart-felt seriousness she displayed at times, Parton didn't abandon her trademark humor. And she didn't shy away from joking about herself or her host.

"I was one of 12 children, six boys and six girls," she said, "and no we weren't Catholic. We were just a bunch of horny hillbillies."

Alluding to how her family's faith differs from her host's, Parton said, "We're all just trying to get to God and get to heaven."

Church played a big part in her life growing up, she said, adding "we should celebrate our differences because God loves us all."

She prays everyday, she said, "to be a better person, to be loving, kind and giving."

Her mother was the best wife a man could ever have, Parton said. And she could take "a needle and thread or her old Singer sewing machine and make anything."

From a collection of colorful scraps, her mother stitched together a "coat of many colors" that caused her to be mocked at school but inspired another hit song.

Fans have told her the song helped them enduring teasing at school, she said, calling it an early anti-bullying effort, something now taught in schools.

Her faith also taught her to honor her parents, Parton said, and one way she honored her father was to promote literacy and provide books for children to read.

Her father didn't get to attend school and learn to read, but he lived to see his daughter begin a global effort to promote literacy.

For her closing song, Parton sang "I Will Always Love You," her greatest piece of composition.

In his closing remarks, Sichko said, Parton did something no other "Evening Among Friends" performer has done. She asked him if he was pleased with her performance.

"We love you, and we pray God's blessings upon you," said the priest, who presented her a framed apostolic blessing with a picture of Pope Francis. "You constantly challenge us to think about others."

Reba McIntyre, another member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, will be the next evening among friends performer, Sichko announced after the concert's conclusion. And tickets for the Oct. 12 performance were on sale in the lobby as the crowd departed.

___

(c)2014 the Richmond Register (Richmond, Ky.)

Visit the Richmond Register (Richmond, Ky.) at richmondregister.com

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Source: Richmond Register (KY)


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