There is a very small group of celebrities whose reputations are stellar enough that their fans would still flock to see them even if it meant having to hear about exceedingly dull and confusing things like cryptocurrency or NFTs. Dolly Parton, most reasonable Americans would agree, is one such star. 

Making her first-ever South by Southwest appearance, the country legend arrived in Austin as part of the Dollyverse—a Web3 experience and limited-edition NFT drop timed to promote her debut novel, Run, Rose, Run, and its accompanying album. Thankfully, though, there was very little blockchain talk to be found. So little, in fact, that, aside from knowing I’m now the owner of a limited-edition Dollyverse NFT, I couldn’t explain the words “powered by the blockchain” if my life depended on it. 

Instead, Parton sat down with her Run, Rose, Run coauthor, James Patterson, for a talk moderated by actress Connie Britton, before delighting the crowd with a few new songs and some of her biggest hits. In other words, no matter how corporate the branding might’ve been, this event was 100 percent Dolly: cherry-red platform heels, sky-high platinum hair, rhinestoned outfit, and all. 

Parton and Patterson teased the premise of their book—a thriller centered on a rising Nashville star running away from her dark past. The duo also announced that there are plans to turn Run, Rose, Run into a movie featuring Parton, in collaboration with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company. Parton took questions from the audience and graciously spun one from a fan about her life inspirations into a call for supporting “our friends and brothers and sisters in Ukraine.”

Dolly Parton and James Patterson in conversation with Connie Britton at ACL Live during Blockchain Creative Labs’ Dollyverse event at SXSW on March 18, 2022.
Dolly Parton and James Patterson in conversation with Connie Britton at a SXSW event on March 18, 2022.Photograph by Cat Cardenas

Then came the part everyone was waiting for: after a short break, Parton returned to center stage, now flanked by a band, three background singers, and idyllic, rose-covered white picket fencing. 

Starting with three new songs from her upcoming album (“Woman Up (And Take It Like a Man)” was a standout), Parton then pivoted to the classics, energizing the audience with “Here You Come Again” and “9 to 5” and then stunning everyone into silence with an impassioned rendition of “Smoky Mountain Memories.” 

Between songs, the singer told stories of her life and family in Tennessee, weaving in anecdotes about her mother, father, and grandfather. At one point, she shared the origins of her signature look, later telling the audience that her Pentecostal grandfather didn’t quite love her fondness for makeup and high heels. “The lady I patterned the way I look after—she went by a lot of names: loose woman, trollop, tramp,” she said to laughs from the crowd. “I thought she was the prettiest woman I’d ever seen . . . My mom said she was nothing but trash, and I thought, ‘That’s what I’m gonna be when I grow up.’”

Depending on the anecdote, you might know that “Jolene” or “I Will Always Love You” is right around the bend, but when Parton slings her guitar around her back and gestures out to the crowd with her perfectly pink acrylic nails, everyone leans in to hear the story for the second, third, or fiftieth time. That’s the magic of Dolly: just like her mother before her, she sure knows how to take an old rag and turn it into a beautiful coat.