You could say that Dolly Parton’s having a moment, thanks to the flurry of buzz around her upcoming “family-oriented, faith-based” made-for-TV movie Coat of Many Colors, but honestly, when isn’t she having a moment? The Smoky Mountain Songbird’s cultural relevance has only increased over her six-decade-long career, now known just as much for her myriad classic country and bluegrass albums (“Jolene” will get you every time) as for her uncontested status as pop culture’s glitteriest, sassiest backwoods grand dame. She proved her mettle as a strong, take-no-shit musician and businesswoman way back in 1968, when “Just Because I’m a Woman” stormed the charts and brought its daring condemnation of sexual double standards — as she said, “My mistakes are no worse than yours, just because I’m a woman” — along for the ride, and she hasn’t slowed down for a minute.
Her brassy, self-deprecating personality and penchant for dropping endlessly quotable kernels of wisdom (“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap” is basically Scripture) is enough to make an open-minded soul love her, even before you throw in her extensive charity work and support of the LGBT community (and her own masses of LBGT fans). “I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are, and to love who they love. I don’t think we should be judgmental. Lord, I’ve got enough problems of my own to pass judgment on somebody else,” she told Billboard last year, and she’s practiced what she preaches, even famously entering a drag competition as herself — and gracefully accepting the second-place trophy. She spit a little more truth on the subject later, saying, “I am not gay, but if I were I would be the first one running out of the closet.”
A woman like Dolly — who once proudly proclaimed, “I may look fake but I’m real where it counts” — is a drag queen’s wet dream. All big hair, big boobs, sequins, and flamboyant femininity, she’s long been a beloved muse for Dollypalooza: An Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton organizer Bevin Branlandingham. The event — which takes place September 4 at Littlefield in Brooklyn — promises a night bursting with drag, burlesque, performance art, music, and (duh) glitter, and was originally inspired by Knoxville’s Night of 1,000 Dollys.
Branlandingham told the Voice, “I’ve never…known a world without Dolly Parton. She was an iconic celebrity when I was a child in the Eighties, but I wasn’t properly introduced to her until I became a drag king performer in 2002, and my first big act was a duet to Dolly and Billy Ray Cyrus’s ‘Romeo.’ I keep doing the show because of my strong personal connection to Dolly. She is an idol of mine and I look up to her not just for her flashy femininity, but also her business acumen and drive to fulfill her dreams.
“Culturally, I think she shows that you don’t have to be boxed in by other people’s ideas about you,” Branlandingham continued. “She started [in] show business 50 years ago when women were still under very strict ideas of what their ‘roles’ were. She shattered those ideas and kept reinventing herself with the times, proved herself to be a powerful businesswoman — her theme park turned 30 this year — and is still working full time at 69. Her impact goes definitely beyond her boobs.”
The performers and artists at Dollypalooza will be voguing for a cause, too. Proceeds from a silent auction with prizes like Dolly throw pillows, Dolly sneakers, and an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Parton’s homespun mecca, Dollywood, will benefit Dolly’s Imagination Library, the singer’s childhood-literacy charity. As Branlandingham explains, “I had a chaotic childhood and survived because of my love of reading, and the Imagination Library gives that! They provide books to kids under five; once per month from birth on the child gets a hardcover age-appropriate book addressed to them in the mail. We fundraised $1,400 through a raffle last year and are hoping to bring in $10,000 through a silent auction this year.”
It’s a beautiful cause that adds a little extra sparkle to an event that will surely be swimming in it. We’re sure Dolly would approve.
Dollypalooza descends upon Littlefield September 4. For ticket information and more, click here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 3, 2015