Skip to content

You're Lookin' Swell, Dolly!

'Too busy to get old,' Dolly Parton hits the road again

Dolly Parton performs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. during her Pure and Simple Tour on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

Christopher Dolan/AP Images

Dolly Parton showing no signs of slowing down

The Smoky Mountain Songbird is on the wing.

Dolly Parton's new concert tour — humbly titled "Pure & Simple" — kicked off June 3 in Greensboro, N.C., and will hit 60 cities across the U.S. and Canada before winding down Dec. 10 in Thackerville, Okla. It is Parton's largest North American tour in 25 years.

Why the wait, Ms. Dolly? "I thought people possibly weren't that interested in seeing me," Parton explains from her manager's office in Nashville, Tenn. "I hadn't had any big hit records on the radio in several years."

What Parton did have, however, were fond memories of touring Europe and Australia in 2014; a critically acclaimed album, 2014's Blue Smoke; and Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors, a made-for-TV movie based on her signature song that aired last December. (A sequel is in the works.) "Things have been going really well lately," the singer acknowledges.

As renowned for her work ethic as for her mega-selling records and artfully constructed, ultra-feminine image, Parton turned 70 in January.

Yeah, try telling her that.

"I haven't had time to get old," says Parton, "because I always stay so busy. That's the key to youth. We can't stop the years; they're gonna happen. But we can do our best to have and keep a good attitude. I'd rather wear out than rust out, so I have no intentions of ever retirin'.

"When I do slow down someday," she concedes, "I hope to get my life story on Broadway." And until then? "I'm the best 70 I'm ever gonna be."

May 30 was the 50th wedding anniversary of Parton and her famously private husband, asphalt contractor Carl Dean. The couple plan to renew their vows before friends and family. "I've got my beautiful wedding gown," Parton reveals, "and Carl's getting all dressed up." The elaborate party will compensate for their no-frills ceremony in Ringgold, Ga., in 1966, witnessed only by a Baptist preacher and his wife, plus Parton's mother.

Parton recently recorded a handful of new love songs for Pure & Simple, her upcoming double-CD hits compilation that has romance on its mind. None of the new songs addresses her marriage per se, she reports, but "one way or another they're all about us."

On tour, Dolly shares a bus with two drivers and Judy Ogle, her best friend of more than 60 years. "I love living on that bus," Parton admits. "I just roll right up to the venue where we're playing, get out, do the sound check, come back on and get dressed for the show. After the show I get back on the bus, take off all that stage stuff and get into bed. I get a lot more rest than I would if I had to go in and out of hotels."

In addition to a mirrored wig closet, the bus features a refrigerator that Parton stocks with country specialties she cooks herself, notably pork roast and chicken with dumplings. She tries to stay on a low-carb diet, but also confesses: "I'm a pig! I could eat it all!" For costume-survival reasons, that seems unlikely to happen: "I really do have to be mindful when we tour because of the clothes," says Parton, referring to her tight, bright, expensively tailored stage outfits.

Weeks of hard work are required to synchronize all the lights, costumes, musicians and myriad other details that go into a Dolly Parton show. The reward for fans is obvious — and the affection goes both ways: "I love to travel. I love my fans, and I love to perform live," Parton says. "So here we go!"