Hallowed Dolly 

Big hair is Parton parcel of the Beachland's upcoming tribute.

Jessica Skerry, all Dolly-ed up.
  • Jessica Skerry, all Dolly-ed up.
A few weeks ago, the Beachland hosted two separate concerts: The Stone Coyotes, a rock trio from Massachusetts, played in the Tavern, and the White Stripes, a duo out of Detroit, performed in the ballroom. As a matter of pure coincidence, both bands ended up doing haunting covers of the Dolly Parton song "Jolene," a track that was a hit for the ample-bosomed country singer some 25 years ago. Over a couple of beers at La Cave du Vin on Coventry Road, John Chaich responds enthusiastically to news of the Parton odes surfacing in such a hip context.

"It's all warming up for this," says the Parton aficionado, alluding to "I Beg Your Parton," a concert he's put together that will feature local acts Hayshaker Jones, Lounge Kitty, and the Dirty Bottom Band (featuring Beachland owner Cindy Barber on vocals). The groups will all perform Parton songs as part of a benefit to raise money for Chaich's 'zine, Sway.

"I think she's a cult of personality," says Lounge Kitty's Jessica Skerry, whose reddish-brown hair isn't yet tied up into the beehive that she'll wear in honor of Parton. "I think there are people like John [Chaich] who have never ever put her down. She went through these popular periods, but there's been an appeal to her music the whole time. And that to me is the sign of a true artist. When I surfed the web for Dolly Parton information, I found a lot of German websites dedicated to Dolly Parton. Maybe there's a particular Dolly frenzy in Germany."

Because his father was a bluegrass musician, Chaich grew up in a household where "country music was always playing." But his "sick fascination" with Parton came about when he realized that she was a possible relative.

"She's almost kin," he says, unable to prevent a mischievous grin from coming to his face.

He goes on to explain that Parton is the niece of his dad's second cousin's mom, and that his birthday is the day after Parton's. Her baby-blue eyeshadow, enormous breasts, and press-on nails all contribute to Chaich's thinking there is something cool and campy about her.

"She just makes your inner gay love child sick," he says, adding that he celebrated his 21st birthday by throwing a costume party he dubbed the "Best Little Whorehouse in Bedford."

Parton's story itself is ripe for parody. Born to a Locust Ridge, Tennessee family so poor it had to pay the doctor that delivered her with a bag of cornmeal, Parton never let her modest upbringing keep her down. She started performing at the age of 12 and had her first record contract two years later. By the late '60s, she had moved to Nashville and married Carl Dean, a guy she met in a Laundromat on her first day in Nashville. Shortly thereafter, her career was in full swing, thanks in part to an appearance on Porter Wagoner's television show and frequent performances at the Grand Ole Opry. By the '80s, Parton was landing roles in films such as 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Rhinestone, and Steel Magnolias. With her own line of cosmetics, a theme park named Dollywood, and a recent Grammy for last year's The Grass Is Blue, Parton is as popular today as ever. But it's the early '80s period that Skerry, who choreographed an entire dance routine to the song "9 to 5" and memorized all the words to the song when she was 9, likes best.

"I remember seeing a picture of her in this hot-pink satin outfit," Skerry says. "It was skin tight, and it was in her chubby stage. I prefer the chubby Dolly, but I still love Dolly, no matter what size she is. There she is, in all her glory, with the long pink nails and her hand on her waist. She was sassy and sensitive. She's always had this thing where she comes from this working-class background, and in 9 to 5, she was this take-no-shit secretary. To me, with all her blond hair and those hips and those breasts, I was like 'That is femininity right there.' I could see myself being Dolly. I didn't have blond hair, but that's nothing that a wig couldn't fix."

"I Beg Your Parton" is the second tribute concert that Chaich has put together to raise money for Sway, an annual publication he started in 1998 to increase sexual-health awareness. Last fall, he held "Durantastic," a tribute to Duran Duran, at the Beachland, and it was then that he came up with the idea of doing a similar event dedicated to Parton. At "I Beg Your Parton," there'll also be a life-sized cardboard cutout of Parton available for photos, two renditions of Parton done by local artists Lyz Bly and Laura Forsythe, and a bake sale of Parton-related food (you can bet the "boob cupcakes" will be a hot item). Chaich says he's hoping to make the tribute shows happen twice a year, and he already has ideas brewing for a fall event.

"Another dream is to have a concert called 'Beyond the Valley of the Cuyahoga Dolls,'" he says. "All the bands -- primarily chick bands -- would do songs from the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls soundtrack."

He's also debating between hosting a tribute to Blondie and one to Olivia Newton-John, and is contemplating another show called "Keeping Up With the Joneses," which would be held in honor of unrelated singers Tom Jones and Grace Jones. But for now, the focus is on Parton. And Chaich, who has been making Parton mix tapes steadily since deciding that Parton would be the theme, couldn't be more excited.

"I'd love to do a thesis one day on Dolly Parton, called 'Ain't She Got No Gingerbread,' that would be about her dead children songs," he says, making a reference to the song "Little Andy," in which a child freezes to death. "In 'Letter to Heaven,' there's a little girl whose mom is killed in a car accident, and she herself walks into traffic."

"Now that's a crossover into the creepy realm," Skerry says.



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