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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Dolly Parton Was Terrified a Show in England Would Be a Complete ‘Disaster’

Even Dolly Parton gets jitters ahead of shows. As she prepared to play a concert in England, she felt increasingly concerned that she wouldn’t go over well with the crowd. Parton worried the crowd would turn their nose at her appearance and performance. 

Dolly Parton wasn’t sure a show in England would go well

In 1983, Parton put on a special for HBO at the Old Dominion Theater in London. She was incredibly nervous ahead of the performance.

“At first it looked as if the entire event would turn out to be a disaster. I knew that the British people had heard my songs on the radio and on records but didn’t really know what I looked like,” she wrote in her book Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, adding, “I always thought of England as very proper and conservative. I didn’t know how they would react to the big, overblown, oversequined cartoon of a woman who was about to stand before them.”

Dolly Parton stands in front of a microphone and lifts her arms.
Dolly Parton | Pete Still/Redferns

She was relieved to see that the theater was full, but she began to worry about a group of teenagers in the audience.

“In the cheap seats were teenage punks with lime-green hair and safety pins through their noses,” she wrote. “By ‘punks,’ I don’t mean to put the kids down. This was at a time when the punk movement was at its height, or depth, depending how you felt about it. I couldn’t believe that kids who were into Sid Vicious could want to hear a country singer from East Tennessee. I began to wonder if they had come to heckle me or perhaps try to disrupt the show in some way.”

It didn’t help that just ahead of the show, the theater received a bomb threat and cleared everyone out.

She was touched by the audience’s reaction to her

Despite all Parton’s worries, the show went off without a hitch. Every member of the audience filed back in after the bomb threat, which she found incredibly touching. 

“When the show finally began, I was barely able to sing because of the lump in my throat,” she wrote. “These people didn’t just accept me and my songs, they embraced both of us with warm, open hearts. When I sang ‘Coat of Many Colors,’ I could feel the tears welling up in the eyes of audience members. What’s more, I could see tears in the eyes of the punks in the front rows.”

She realized that the music she played was actually a perfect fit for the country.

“My songs, and the old mountain songs that they were influenced by, come directly from the English, Irish, and Scottish folk songs of old,” she wrote. “A phrase like ‘Come all ye fair and tender maidens’ rolls as easily off the tongue of an ironworker in a Liverpool pub as it does off that of a sharecropper in the Smokies.”

Dolly Parton experienced a disastrous show in Las Vegas

Parton’s nerves may have stemmed from a show in Las Vegas that she actually did think was disastrous. The show was oversized and glitzy. While this may sound like it’s exactly what Parton would like, she felt overwhelmed by it.

“Although I look like a drag queen’s Christmas tree on the outside, I am at heart a simple country woman. I am at my best in simple situations where my true personality can flow naturally. This show was an extravaganza, with big flashy sets and costumes. I felt as out of place as Gomer Pyle at Harvard.”

Dolly Parton wears a yellow dress and holds a microphone.
Dolly Parton | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

She felt incredibly uncomfortable, which led to the show being, in her mind, a disaster.

“I think it’s because my persona is oversized and flashy,” she wrote. “That makes me a kind of a fish out of water in normal surroundings, but when I am surrounded by things that are just as flashy, I become a fish in water and tend to get lost in the shuffle.”

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