She’s known almost as much for her show wigs and rhinestones as for the dazzling array of country music she’s delivered for five decades. Now 70, Dolly Parton is busier than ever.
Her latest CD, “Pure and Simple,” due Aug. 19, is also the title of her new North American tour (her first in 25 years), with more than 60 dates across through early December, including a stop Sunday in Highland Park at the Ravinia Festival. Her latest made-for-TV movie, “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” (based on her autobiographical song) became one of the most-watched shows in recent history with 16 million viewers; a sequel, “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors” is slated for fall.
The country music legend boasts seven Grammys (she’s been nominated 46 times), 10 Country Music Association Awards and five Academy of Country Music Awards, and is one of only five female artists to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year Award. She earned an Oscar nomination for best song for the title track from her movie debut “9 to 5.” Other film work includes “Steel Magnolias,” “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Rhinestone” and “Straight Talk.” Her Imagination Library delivers one book a month to preschool children across the U.S. and Canada (more than 60,000,000 have been shipped to date) to ensure young children of every income level are exposed to reading. She wowed thousands at the massive Glastonbury Festival a few years back. And then there’s her namesake Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Not bad for a girl who grew up in near poverty in rural Locust Ridge, Tennessee.
“It’s been 25 years since I’ve done this extensive of a tour,” Parton said during a media teleconference. “I have done shows here and there [in the U.S. the past 20 years]. But I’ve done a lot of European touring, Australia, England, New Zealand. But this is the first time we’ve booked North America and Canada.”
Parton sums up the new album in one word: love. She and her husband, Carl Dean, recently celebrated their 50-year marriage with a renewal of their vows. The album is all love songs, all written by Parton.
“How many people can say they’ve been married 50 years,” Parton said. “Fifty years is a long time to do anything — especially to be married in this business!”
On the new tour, she’s accompanied by just three musicians: no backup singers, no drummer (she uses a drum machine).
“Of course, I will do the hits — ‘I Will Always Love You,’ ‘Jolene,’ ‘9 to 5,’ ‘Here You Come Again,’ ” Parton said. “There’s a whole segment about home, family. I do a lot of the mountain music, bluegrass, gospel. We tell stories. . …This is the simplest [tour] I’ve ever done.
An edited transcript of the teleconference follows.
Q. What surprises do you have in store for your fans with the new tour?
A. Every time I put a tour together, I try to come up with things I think will be entertaining. I try to refresh it and revamp it a little bit for the fans who have seen me through the years. We always do our big hits. Have a segment where I talk about my family. I do some gospel music. We don’t have as big a band on this tour. Pretty much just broke down to three or four of us on stage. We don’t have big lighting, pyrotechnic stuff. It’s called pure and simple, and it basically is that.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Ravinia Festival, Lake Cook and Green Bay Roads, Highland Park
Q. When you’re on stage, all these different parts of your professional career come together — singer-songwriter, entrepreneur. What’s the difference between [the real] Dolly and the artist?
A. I think I’m pretty much the same. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and say what’s on my mind. I don’t have too many big secrets. I do love people, being brought up in a big family, just loving people. I work harder at some things that others, but my personality is the same.
Q. What message do you want fans to get from the new songs?
A. The album is called “Pure and Simple” cuz I thought it was time I did an album of love songs. But they’re also pure in nature and pretty simple. A lot of them sound like records I used to record long ago.
Q. When it comes to your fan base, you’re beloved by men and women and straight and gay. What is it about you and your music that attracts all backgrounds?
A. I don’t know for sure. I’m just happy that it does. A lot of people grew up with me so I feel like an aunt or older sister. I’ve fought for the right to be allowed to be myself. I appreciate everybody for who they are. We should accept each of us for exactly who we are. I’m not out to preach no sermons. I’m out to do my work, write my songs and share my songs.
Q. Talk about the phenomenal success of “A Coat of Many Colors.”
A. It’s always been my favorite song that I’ve written. People can relate to being made fun of, not about something you wore, but being made to feel less. I addressed a lot of things like love and kindness and acceptance understanding and the differences between people. And it also shows there’s not a lot of family faith-based shows on TV any more, and I think people are kind of hungry for that.
Q. What do you do to make road feel like home?
A. First, I have that bus stuffed with everything I like — all my favorite pillows, favorite makeup, favorite foods. And I do cook for a week before I go on tour. So I put stuff in the freezer, so we’ll have great country food if we don’t have what I want in all the places we stop. I always have to have a taste of that Southern stuff like chicken and dumplings, pork roast, fried corn. I can’t eat it all the time. I have to stay in those show clothes! But every once in a while — it helps you not to be so homesick if you have a little taste of home.
Q. You’ve been in the business for so long — music, movies, books. What is that drives Dolly Parton to get up and be Dolly Parton the star?
A. I made all these dreams come true, and I have to be responsible for it. I have to think of myself as a working girl. You don’t just get a dream come true and then let it go. You have to work it and rework it.
Q. How do you stay so joyful?
A. I love what I do. I’ve got the freedom to do it. I love that people love what I’m doing. I try every day to leave the world a little better, a little brighter. I’m not religious person, but I’m very spiritual. I just try to have good attitude a bring everybody up with me.
Q. Do you have one or two songs you’ve written that stand out to you?
A. I found “Coat of Many Colors” is closest to my heart. It means more to me for so many reasons cuz it’s about Mama, about an attitude, a philosophy, and it covers a lot of territory — even bullying. I love love songs, too. “Down from Dover” is one of my favorite songs. It never was a single or a hit, but it’s a story song that I love.
Q. What advice would you give teenage girls writing songs and making YouTube videos?
A. Be true to who you are. Have faith in your talent and yourself, and be willing to think: I may have to sacrifice. If you can really answer all those questions and you have the talent, you should just get out and make a go of it.