Hello (Again), Dolly! The Singer Headlines Her First Nashville Concert in 13 Years
updated 08/03/2015 AT 05:20 PM EDT
•originally published 08/03/2015 AT 12:00 PM EDT
What took her so long?
"Usually when I'm in Nashville I just want to go to the house and lay around," Parton, 69, confessed to the crowd at one of her two standing-room-only shows she performed at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, this weekend.
What finally got the country icon back on the world-famous stage was a good cause: raising money for a local music school and the Grand Ole Opry's charity fund.
Besides being known as the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman also hosted the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, and it was on its stage that Parton joined the Opry, as she recalled, "on January the fourth nineteen and sixty-nine."
So it was not surprising that Parton spent some of her time onstage reminiscing. She recollected to her Saturday audience her time as a duet partner with Porter Wagoner – their professional breakup inspired her to write "I Will Always Love You" – and she chuckled as she recalled trying to squeeze into the one "girls' dressing room" with Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dottie West, and Jeannie Seely (who was in the audience).
"It's just sacred ground to me," she said of the Ryman. "It's like going home. It feels like family. It feels like your momma and your daddy and your whole family is just surrounding you."
Parton felt the love on Saturday night, taking the stage amid deafening cheers and applause. Dressed in a rainbow of sequins and fringe, she delivered a 20-song acoustic set for the next hour and 40 minutes, beginning with such early autobiographical hits as "Coat of Many Colors" and "My Tennessee Mountain Home" and capping the evening with pop crossovers "Nine to Five," "Islands in the Stream," and of course, "I Will Always Love You." In between, she entertained the crowd with her home-spun banter and reminded them of her musical chops with turns on guitar, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, harmonica, piano and recorder.
She's set to do four more sold-out shows, benefiting her childhood-literacy charity, at her Dollywood theme park next weekend in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and she hopes to take a little Ryman magic with her on upcoming yet-to-be-announced international dates.
"I'm just gonna carry this feeling in my heart," she said before her Saturday show, "and kinda pretend I'm always on the Ryman stage when I do it all around the world."
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