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Story Time With Dolly Parton at the Tobin Center 

click to enlarge BRYAN RINDFUSS
  • Bryan Rindfuss
The South doesn't exactly have a reputation for being open-minded. So when Dolly Parton came out as supportive of gay marriage in a Huffington Post interview a couple of years ago, the news was met with mixed responses. (Among her comments: "I think everyone should be with who they love... I think gay couples should be allowed to marry. They should suffer just like us heterosexuals.”)

As a queer person just now really starting to listen to and enjoy country music, Dolly Parton’s openness had shined bright to me since then, like the sea of glowing rhinestones stitched across her fabulous outfits. It's an openness you can hear in her stories. At the Tobin Center Thursday night, after I was guided through a crowd of cowboy hats, denim jeans and fur coats, the lights dimmed, the music started, and Dolly took us all for a ride down an old dusty road through the smokey mountains of Tennessee.

Yes, as expected, there was a lot of talking and not as much singing, but Dolly's charm and hilarious personality made the experience something special. She spoke to us like she was meemaw; like we were sitting around the kitchen table decorating Christmas cookies and telling stories over hot chocolate. She talked to us about growing up without electricity. About getting made fun of for having a coat made of rags. About a girl named Jolene who almost stole her husband from her.

Towards the end of the two hour show, Dolly and her band charged into “9 to 5" and the entire audience stood up, clapping to the 36-year-old hit. I noticed a couple, probably in their sixties, holding each other and dancing. In the same row, I saw a man kiss his husband (or boyfriend or partner or whatever) and begin to dance, too. The whole night was pretty much like that, with little reminders of how Dolly's music has impacted people of every generation, race, gender and sexual identity. One of the coldest nights this year, she warmed us with charm, music, and the kind of heartfelt stories that connect us all.

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