On January 30, 2020, Dolly will take the stage of the historic Ryman Auditorium for The Dustin J. Wells Foundation’s The Gift of Music concert. Tickets for The Gift of Music Concert are $100 and $85 (for obstructed view) plus applicable service charges. Concert tickets are available online starting at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, January 24. The event is also the featured entertainment for The Crown Council, a group of dental teams gathering in Nashville for their 25th Annual Event.
A portion of the proceeds from this year’s Gift of Music concert will go to Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation. Established as a national identity in 2014, this charitable organization is dedicated to changing the future of cancer by funding advanced, innovative research that treats cancer while sparing the patient. For more information, go to the Scott Hamilton Cares Foundation.
Since its inception in 2008, the benefit concert has had the support of some of music's greatest artists, including Ronnie Dunn, Kellie Pickler, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Peter Cetera, Peter Frampton, Ronnie Milsap, Gunnar Nelson, and many other generous and talented musicians who have donated their time and talent to support the efforts and causes of Dustin's foundation. This year’s Gift of Music concert continues the trend of big star participation including Dolly, Lee Greenwood, Lonestar, Collin Raye, T.G. Sheppard, Drew Baldridge, Abby Anderson, and more.
Because of his strong love for music, donating to the W.O. Smith Music School is another way Dustin can be remembered, by sharing the “Gift of Music” with underprivileged children in the Nashville community. With the provision of free instruments and 50 cent lessons, these young lives can continue to be changed, grown and enriched in memory of Dustin.
Ryman Auditorium, known as the Mother Church of Country Music, played home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974. Backstage before Friday’s show, Dolly—dressed in a denim skirt and gold top, her nails painted a Backwoods Barbie pink—recalled her first appearance at the Ryman and what it meant to get on that stage, coming from a two-room house in the Great Smoky Mountains all those years ago.
“My Uncle Bill Owens used to bring me back and forth to Nashville,”
“And he would always try and get someone to let me on the Grand Ole Opry. The stars had two spots on the Opry. So finally my Uncle Bill talked to Jimmy C. Newman”
—the first Cajun member of the Opry—
“and he let me have one of his spots.”
It was 1959 and Dolly (a girl who made her first guitar out of an old mandolin and two bass guitar strings) was all of 13 years old. There were 4,000 people in the audience as she stepped out on stage.
“Johnny Cash was kind of hosting that night and he brought me on and I sang a George Jones song, ‘You Gotta Be My Baby.’ I guess that came out about 1956. And so that was one of my big numbers. It was a thrill beyond compare.”
She laughed, adding:
“I got an encore. I know now it wasn’t because I was good, it was because I was little.”
But the importance of this moment cannot be overstated.
“As a kid in the Smoky Mountains, I used to stand on the porch and sing in a tin can with a tobacco stick stuck down on the porch thinking I was on the Grand Ole Opry. It’s kind of like that song, ‘New York, New York.’ If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, and the Grand Ole Opry was my dream.”
The Ryman became something of a second home for Dolly. For more than seven years she appeared on The Porter Wagoner Show, which broadcast live from the auditorium, (watch raw video of Dolly singing "Dumb Blonde" in 1967—the same year her solo record "Hello, I’m Dolly" was released on Monument Records.)
The Ryman—once a tabernacle church dating back to 1892, where patrons still sit in pews—has always been celebrated for its acoustics. Before the building was renovated in the 1990s, there was exactly one dressing room for the men; the women, meanwhile, had to change in the ladies restroom. When it got too crowded, the performers famously went across the street to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which acted as an unofficial green room.
“The old Ryman didn’t even have air conditioning,”
Dolly recalled backstage.
“There was one dressing room for the boys, one dressing room for the girls. We’d almost get in fist fights, you know, trying to get a spot at the mirror. You know how girls are. It’s air conditioned now, but it still has the same old feeling. I just love this place.”
Dolly’s return to the Ryman had been billed an acoustic tour.
“It’s not really some big statement I’m making,”
she said, with a smile.
“Like, oh, it’s Dolly unplugged!'
Rather the decision was as much about practicality as it was about honoring the Ryman itself.
“I didn’t have a band together. Everyone is out on the road working with Garth Brooks and all the other bands. I said, let’s put together a show of our own. We don’t have big screens or big productions or big sound. But hopefully, it’ll be more enjoyable—especially in a place like the Ryman where you don’t want a whole big bunch of stuff. It is the Mother Church of Country Music. And there’s just something sacred about it. We have the new Grand Ole Opry House, which we love. But there’s nothing quite like this old building.”
As for the title of the show, the [producers] said,
“What can we put on the tickets?”
“I said, 'Well, I guess just Dolly pure and simple?'”
Nashville is famously a songwriter’s town, and over the course of two hours, Dolly—dressed in a white suit, opening the show in silhouette—would return to some of her biggest hits, admitting:
“All those old songs are gonna hit me in a different place tonight. It’s gonna take me back in time.”
Of “I Will Always Love You,” she said:
“That will be a very special song tonight. As you know I worked with The Porter Wagoner Show all those years. I was with Porter when I became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1969. I owe so much to Porter. But that was a song I wrote when I left Porter’s show. So singing songs like that will be very special and very emotional to me.”
Proceeds from Friday night’s concert benefited the W.O. Smith School of Music’s Dustin Wells Foundation, which encourages young people to play music, and the show sold out in minutes. Dustin Wells was killed in a car accident in 2005 at just 21 years old; Wells’ father, Dennis, has been Dolly’s dentist for more than 20 years. Bringing levity to the stage, Dolly told the crowd:
“You know you’re a hillbilly when you get your boobs done before you get your teeth cleaned.”
A second show was added benefitting the Opry Trust Fund, which helps members of the country music family who are struggling with medical expenses. Lines stretched down the block, and level of interest in the two concerts surprised even Dolly.
“I just felt like, that many people didn't really want to see me in Nashville,”
“I don’t get to do the Opry as much as I’d like to. When I’m here, I just want to be at the house. I’m gone so much I want to hang out with my husband.”
But looking around, she said,
“This is kind of like home to me.”
If the concerts were about looking back, rest assured Dolly is looking ahead, too. She is producing a film, Coat of Many Colors—set in 1955 in the Great Smoky Mountains and inspired by her childhood—that will air on NBC this winter. And Dolly hints at more potential films to come inspired by her songs "Jolene" and "The Seeker." She’s also at work on a Broadway musical based on her life. She smiled, adding:
"Lord, I’ve lived so long, I got a lot of stories to tell. I can’t just tell ‘em all in one place. I’ll just scatter ‘em around.”
Special thanks to guest author, Mickey Rapkin.
Featured image courtesy of Stacie Huckeba.
Update: After selling out Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium in record-setting time, Dolly adds a second benefit concert on Saturday, August 1.
In addition to the sold-out performance on July 31, Dolly will showcase her new concert “Pure and Simple” again on August 1, in support of the Opry Trust Fund. The July 31 show along with the encore performance on August 1 mark the first time in 12 years Dolly has headlined in Nashville.
"The show won't be flashy, but I will be. I don't have … video screens, pyrotechnics and the like," she said. "But I hope people will enjoy sittin' back and enjoying the stories and songs told and done in a simple way. Hopefully the shows will represent the spirit of our beloved, historic Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry...where I became a member back in 1969. I am so looking forward to performing there again."
In 1965, the Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 40th birthday and started the Opry Trust Fund as a way of helping those in the country music industry. To date, the fund has distributed over $2 million to those in need. On the Ryman Auditorium's website, Dolly was quoted saying,
"I love being a member of the Grand Ole Opry...have been since 1969. It's important to me to be able to do a concert for the Opry Trust Fund as so many of my old Opry friends have benefited from it through the years. The money raised will go to help fund the medical needs and hospitalization for those who are not able to afford it and need the help. I am proud to be of help in any way."
Dolly originally announced one scheduled performance for July 31, 2015, at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN, as part of The Gift of Music presented by the Dustin J. Wells Foundation. The foundation supports the W.O. Smith School of Music in its efforts to share the gift of music with children. Dolly said,
“Through all of us working together we can make a difference in helping a child feel the magic in making music.”
In addition to Dolly's "Pure and Simple" performance at the Ryman, to kick off Dollywood's "Showcase of Stars" this summer, Dolly will bring her "Pure and Simple," concert to Dollywood on August 8 and 9. As part of their ongoing commitment to Dolly’s Imagination Library, Dollywood is donating all proceeds to the program in an effort to help garner $1 million. Dolly said,
"I am so excited that Dollywood is bringing back the celebrity concert series, and I'm honored that I get to be first. It's always great to play in my own backyard and I know all of my country music friends who are coming to do their concerts will love it as much as I do. So look for my show 'Pure and Simple' in August and help support my Imagination Library."
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and that’s cause for celebration! Since launching in 1995, Dolly’s book gifting program, which once mailed just a few hundred books each month, now mails more than 800,000 free books to children in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, every month!
The new show featuring Dolly with a three-piece acoustic band. The simple style spotlights the purity and heartfelt emotion of Dolly's music in an up-close and personal setting.
Dollywood's popular concert series first began in 1988 in the newly opened 1,739-seat D.P.'s Celebrity Theater. It featured performances by the biggest names in country music. In addition to Dolly's 2015 performances, Kenny Rogers will close out the series. More entertainers will be announced throughout the summer.