Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Dolly Parton’s Minnesota comes to life at Turf Club tribute

A Tribute to Dolly Parton at the Turf Club in St. Paul, Minn. on Jan. 17, 2020. All photos by Darin Kamnetz for MPR.

All too often, we in the Twin Cities only pay tribute to beloved musicians after they’re gone. So it was a treat to gather with a few hundred others last night at the Turf Club, celebrating someone who’s very alive: Dolly Parton, whose 74th birthday is Sunday, Jan. 19.

Dolly Parton feels zeitgeisty lately, thanks to the superb WNYC podcast Dolly Parton’s America, which wrapped up in December. But the truth is, Parton never went out of style. Since her ’70s hits “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors,” she has opened Dollywood, a popular, autobiographical theme park; joined the Country Music Hall of Fame; and reached new audiences as “Aunt Dolly” on late-’00s Disney show Hannah Montana.

“It made total sense,” Seth Duin told writer Colleen Cowie about this weekend’s Parton tribute. Duin is a founding member of A Little Too Short to be Stormtroopers, the backing band who supported last night’s vocalists.

The “Shortroopers” first joined forces in 2018 as the backing band for country singer Savannah Cole, whose repertoire included several Shania Twain covers. “We need to do more Shania songs,” Duin remembers thinking, so they recruited vocalists and played a whole Shania show at the Turf Club in Aug. 2019, benefitting Women Winning and Planned Parenthood.

“[That] show almost sold out,” Duin continues, “and the First Ave/Turf folks got right back at me wanting to schedule some more tribute shows with another fundraiser focus, leading up to the 2020 elections in November. We were looking at the January calendar, and Dolly was the obvious choice.”

This time around, proceeds went to the Women’s March MN, who will skip a march this year in favor of voting rights and registration efforts. The show sold out in advance, but due to yesterday’s snow storm, the Turf reopened ticket sales at the door.

A Little Too Short To Be Stormtroopers — comprising members of Tabah, the 4onthefloor, General B and the Wiz, and more — are mostly men, but last night’s vocalists included many women and non-binary folks. Leslie Vincent did a lovely version of “Here You Come Again,” a Parton songwriting gem; Katy Vernon aced her vocals on “It’s Too Late To Love Me Now.” Kerry Alexander of Bad Bad Hats introduced her first song, “Dumb Blonde,” with a quote from Parton herself: “I don’t mind when people call me a dumb blonde, ’cause I know I ain’t dumb, and I know I ain’t blonde.”

Of course, the hits united the crowd. Jaedyn James delivered a mid-set highlight in “I Will Always Love You,” the Parton ballad that Whitney Houston popularized via The Bodyguard soundtrack. HALEY danced through “Jolene,” and Kerry Alexander had the honor of singing “Coat of Many Colors,” one of Parton’s most personal songs. All the musicians crowded the stage for the night’s closer, “9 To 5,” trading hugs and grinning toward the crowd, like an SNL cast at the end of the night.

Thanks to the goofy vibe and up-and-down vocal performances, it’s tempting to describe the show as Dolly Parton karaoke. But that’d exclude the Shortroopers, the enduring champions of the evening. I’m very much looking forward to their next benefit (may I suggest…Bonnie Raitt? Hall & Oates?). See you there.

Setlist:

Mule Skinner Blues (Savannah Smith)
Your Ole Handy Man (Jenna Enemy)
Dumb Blonde (Kerry Alexander)
It’s Too Late To Love Me Now (Katy Vernon)
Better Get To Livin’ (Leslie Vincent)
I’ll Oilwells Love You (Savannah Smith)
Islands In The Stream (Jenna Enemy and Jordan Briley)
The Seeker (theyself)
I Will Always Love You (Jaedyn James)
Here You Come Again (Leslie Vincent)
It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right (Faith Boblett)
Two Doors Down (theyself)
Applejack (Mayda)
Little Sparrow (Katy Vernon)
Coat Of Many Colors (Kerry Alexander)
It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels (Faith Boblett and Savannah Smith)
Jolene (HALEY)
9 To 5 (Faith Boblett and crew)

Photos by Darin Kamnetz for MPR: