Country legend Dolly Parton never stopped making music and playing before audiences, but in the second half of her career, her live show has been relegated to festival gigs and brief runs. It’s been nearly 25 years since she’s embarked on the kind of major tour that sells T-shirts with a long list of North American cities on the back.

Just over 50 years since her first charting single (1965’s “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby”) and, as she liked to point out, the year of her 50th wedding anniversary (commemorated in part with the romantic nature of her upcoming album, “Pure & Simple”), she’s returning to places such as Bangor for the first time in a long time.

As such, her performance Saturday night frequently felt like an introduction. The first of two sets featured many of her older hits, sprinkled heavily with biographical anecdotes between songs, while the second was more hits-laden. The audience skewed toward fans that are old enough to remember her from radio and TV, but the under-30 portion of the crowd also got a wonderful introduction to the artist. It was all Dolly – engaging, endearing, and hilarious.

Within three songs she had already uncorked timeless songs such as “Jolene,” complimented the audience’s looks (“not ugly like last night’s crowd”) and thanked us for our money (“It costs a lot to look this cheap.”). She kept the crowd in stitches throughout, with a clever combination of high- and low-brow humor (“I will not be deterred – even though that’s what he was being.”).

In 2016, she’s better known for this kind of humor, her iconic image, and Dollywood-sized personality. It’s easy even for longtime fans to forget how much her songwriting contributed to American pop culture, and many fans old and new might not have known how accomplished a musician she is – over the course of the concert she performed on guitar, piano, banjo, autoharp, fiddle, harmonica, recorder, and even a rhinestone-encrusted saxophone. And for a woman who’s proudly gotten herself nipped and tucked as desired (“My heart is the only thing about me that’s real,” she quipped), her voice remains preserved in amber. “I Will Always Love You,” for example, sounded as good in concert as the song ever has – whether by her or Whitney Houston.

She was backed by three men in sharp black suits, whom she’d toured and recorded with for decades. In the old Nashville tradition, her band was tight as a unit but loose and playful in their individual solos, singing harmonized backing vocals that laid a bedrock of bass and baritone for Parton to soar atop – perhaps never better than the bare, gospel-tinged take on “Little Sparrow” and an intimate mini-set of material from the iconic Trio albums. Parton noted that with Trio (recorded with Linda Rondstadt and Emmylou Harris) and the feminist comedy “9 to 5” (filmed with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda), she felt working with women brought out the best in her.

Of course, Parton is a feminist icon in her own right. As a businesswoman, she built a miniature empire while modeling herself after what she referred to as the “town trollop” and not giving a hoot if some people thought her best assets were between her shoulders rather than between her ears. As a performer, she’s from the era when entertainers entertained. That meant you were a singer and musician, a storyteller and comic, who could work a crowd – wearing a dress that sparkled even from the back row, talking like she understood everyone, and prefacing many songs by humbly saying, “I hope you enjoy this.” As if we wouldn’t.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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