Dolly Does Seattle and GravelRoad Gets Schooled

Southern charms.

Many artists talk about having had a precocious knack for showmanship, giving their all at the school talent show or putting on staged performances for patient family and neighbors at a young age. When you watch Dolly Parton on stage, it's very easy to envision such childhood ambitions—though in her case, the audience likely would have been the woodland creatures of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains. Parton's admirers at her appearance at WaMu Theater last Friday were an even more unusual mix: red-state seniors, rowdy rural rockers, well-heeled gay men, and a sprinkle of Dolly-emulating rockabilly sirens. Given her iconic status and gregarious demeanor, I figured the show would be a treat. But I had no idea she would prove to be not only one of the most generous performers I'd ever seen, but a classically talented stand-up comedienne with perfect timing. After every song, Parton stopped to tell another tale, many of which were presumably tall, but uniformly charming. Her description of her magical childhood idol ("I think the term would be 'the town tramp'"), with her mesmerizing red toenails and towering lucite high heels ("They had those itty-bitty plastic goldfish in them!") was particularly endearing, as was her plucky assertion that "Jolene was a real woman who tried to steal my man! And sometimes now I think I should get a hold of her and see if she wants him back!" In case there was any mystery about why her latest album was called "The Backwoods Barbie" tour, she offered a tutorial Q&A. "How do you know if you're a Backwoods Barbie? If your dream car is a pink Corvette—and it's up on blocks in your front yard!" And in a sly nod to her devoted gay fan base, a shirtless, country-boy slice of beefcake helped her change out her instruments, passing her a rhinestone-encrusted dulcimer and periodically jigging around her. All the glittery staging and witty banter could be an entertaining show by itself, but the music didn't disappoint either. She hit all the classics in a carefully paced set (well over two hours including intermission), bringing down the house in particularly smashing form with an a cappella version of the title track from her 2001 return-to-roots masterpiece, Little Sparrow. By the time she got to her traditional closer, "I Will Always Love You," the crowd had been on its feet for nearly four songs, and didn't budge 'til she came back for her encore, the spiritually impassioned "Jesus and Gravity." The region Dolly grew up in has proven fertile for local roots-rockers GravelRoad, who recently returned from a dizzying tour with Mississippi blues legend T-Model Ford. Though he's not even from the area, front man Marty Reinsel has been making regular trips back to the South for the past few years to tour and hit the occasional festival, eventually deciding it was time to track down one of his heroes. "We hunted [Ford] down at [the] Walnut Street Bar in Greenville, Mississippi," Reinsel explains. When the band invited Ford to join them onstage, a fast and easy friendship formed, and GravelRoad eventually ended up playing two sets a night: their own opening set and a second one backing up the octogenarian guitarist in sprawling, educational sessions that often lasted nearly three hours. "It was like an internship, really. I'm certain he schooled me in a heap of valuable life and music knowledge...I will be forever indebted," says Reinsel, still audibly awed by the experience. GravelRoad will no doubt share great stories from that tour when they celebrate the release of their sophomore effort, Shot the Devil, at Slim's Last Chance in Georgetown this Saturday, Aug. 16. Finally, hearty congrats to Nectar booking agent Colin Johnson and his wife Shiho, who recently welcomed the birth of their daughter, Ame Sophie Johnson, on July 24. "It meant that I missed the Zombies show that night," he says, "but that's OK, this is bigger than the Zombies."

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