LENOX — Never be fooled. Behind the "aw shucks," corny-joke, down-home exterior of Dolly Parton resides a formidable talent.
Parton opened the 2016 Popular Artists Series at Tanglewood Friday before a near-sellout crowd, quashing any thoughts from local critics (hello, me, that she was a potentially dicey choice.
Parton fronted a stripped-down, three-piece band that gratified the crowd with a 28-song, 150-minute set that covered most of her greatest hits.
This is how stripped down the operation was: Instead of a live drummer, Parton set up a drum machine on one corner of the stage. As she explained, "Well, it only cost me $400, which is a lot less than the $400,000 I'd be paying a real drummer over the length of the tour."
The multi-talented Parton is, of course, a prolific and successful songwriter. She performed many of her hits on Friday, including "Jolener," "Coat of Many Colors", "Nine to Five," "Two Doors Down," "Here You Come Again," and "Islands in the Stream".
At 70, her voice is still strong and melodic.
But she wasn't afraid to stretch out. During what she described as the "folk section" of the show, Parton led the band in performing, in order, "American Pie," "If I Had A Hammer," "Blowing in the Wind" and a moving version of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,"
Later in the show, she performed several tunes from her memorable collaboration albums with friends and fellow singer/songwriters Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, The songs included "These Memories," "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" and "Little Sparrow."
"I think, looking back," said Parton, "The best work I ever did was with Emmy and Linda."
What also stood out on Friday was Parton's musical talents. By the 11th song," Rocky Top," she had played five separate instruments, including guitar, banjo, steel guitar, piano and saxophone. In fact, her sax solo of "Rocky Top" was superb. Later, she played the flute and mandolin in separate songs.
If there is any quibble with the show, it was that the stories she told between songs weren't always great. Parton was clearly enjoying herself and also clearly relished interacting with the audience. But if had I my druthers, we'd have had fewer stories and more music.
To be fair, the stories kept the pace brisk, and they were mostly pretty entertaining. But Parton was most entertaining when she was singing.
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251