Dolly Parton is hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards tonight for the first time since 2000. In the interim, she has hosted the primary rival show, the Country Music Association Awards, twice as well. But clearly the demand for Dolly outstrips the supply she’s been willing to deliver, and she’s never allowed herself to become an annual figurehead on the awards circuit. So why is she returning to the role now?
It’s not a great mystery: She will always love synergy.
“They ask me all the time to host these shows,” she told Variety in a brief Zoom chat leading up to the ACMs. “I decide what’s going on at the time. And if I’m able actually to do it, physically, and if there’s things going on in my life … but this time you really try to connect those things. Everything’s about the business, as you know. And of course I have a new book, ‘Run Rose Run,’ out with James Patterson, and I have written a soundtrack for it, and the book is coming out on the 7th and the album was out on the 4th, so we’re promoting that.”
Of course that’s only a fraction of what Parton has in the pipeline at any given time, but especially now. Although she’s not about to go through the whole list herself, she also has a new scent; a new NFT going on sale; a new high-level resort hotel opening adjacent to her Dollywood theme park; participation in a documentary premiering at South by Southwest about the legacy and history of “9 to 5”; a recent Super Bowl ad with Miley Cyrus… and then of course there is the synchronicity greatness that is thrust upon her, like her being freshly declared a nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. These other ancillary projects are unlikely to mentioned during the ACMs, if only because it’s just two hours long this year.
But the compact time is a result of the show being webcast commercial-free, at 8 p.m, ET/5 PT, with no network broadcast component to answer to. And that novelty, of being part of the shiny new-ish thing, also appealed to her.
“They’re going to be streaming this for the first time through Amazon Prime Video, and it’s not going to have commercials, so it’s almost a challenge,” she said. “It’s almost like a nerve-wracking thing, to be kind of part of something new and exciting. And being able to go back to Vegas is fun. So we’ve tried to take all that into consideration, and it just seemed like the perfect time and the perfect thing to do. I love the ACMs. I watch ‘em all the time, and I had a wonderful time hosting back in 2000.
“That was another thing that was kind of exciting, that they were going to have it in a stadium,” she adds, speaking of Las Vegas’ somewhat new Allegiant Stadium. “But,” she says matter-of-factly, “I’ve worked stadiums before. I’ve done that for years. When I worked with Kenny Rogers and some of those people, we would work some of the biggest arenas and stadiums. I’m never bothered by the size of the crowd. The more, the merrier for me, I love the people. They’re all the same. They’re my fans and I love them. And they have come to support me as well. It’s just a bigger kind of a deal. And being in Vegas is always great, but there are a lot of new things with this one.”
Of the two songs that were previously released ahead of her new album, it’s not hard to guess which one she picked, and it wasn’t the somber one that ends with a death. “I love ‘Blue Bonnet Breeze,’ but I’m not doing that one. I’m doing ‘Big Dreams and Faded Jeans,’ and I’m doing that with Kelsea Ballerini. She’s going to come out and sing with me on that the first verse and chorus, and then she’ll probably join me on the second verse and then we’ll take it on out together.”
Kelly Clarkson is doing a tribute to Parton on the show, but Dolly hadn’t thought to inquire about what Clarkson would be doing; she assumed it would be a medley that would end with “I Will Always Love You.” “Can’t wait to her her sing that one,” says Parton. “With that voice of hers, it’ll have to be incredible.” She was close, in her guess, it was subsequently announced that Clarkson would not be doing a medley but just “…Always Love You.”
Parton did work more directly with Clarkson, recently. They together recorded a remake of “9 to 5” in a more somber arrangement put together by producer Shane McAnally for the aforementioned SXSW doc. “That turned out really good. That’s not something we’re doing on the show, though.But she sang the tar out of that one.”
Another song she won’t be doing on the show: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” which she once recorded for a bluegrass album, and which would make an awfully good choice for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony she might be attending in the fall, if all goes well in the voting.
She demurred on what song she might pick for that occasion, but said: “I was so surprised that that I was even nominated to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I never thought about that, but they say they judge that on a whole lot of things. I’m not expecting to win. But it was a great honor to be nominated. But it did make me think I’ve got to do a good rock ‘n’ roll album — I’ve always thought about it, a good rock album — after next year, when I get some of these things behind m. I’ve always wanted to do a great rock album, like a great Linda Ronstadt-type rock, just to do some things. But I don’t know. I’m not expecting to win, but if I should, I would be very honored and… I’ll just see.”