When Dolly Parton was a little girl, her family lived so far back in the hills of Locust Ridge in Sevier County that they didn't have electricity. She remembers lying on her back in the grass staring up in the sky watching airplanes fly over. There were no trains, no traffic — just dreams.
"Mama used to tell us that there were people in those planes and they were eating out of little bitty dishes and all of that," Parton said. "We were so fascinated, and I used to think that I wanted to do that someday, that I wanted to get out of the mountains."
Now, she jets around the world accompanied by a team of professionals, including a manager, publicist, wig master and creative director, who work day and night to make her comfortable and help preserve her image.
"I feel like I've gone from the Stone Age to the new age overnight," Parton said. "Well, not overnight. I'm 68 now. We went from no electricity to having our music all over the world with this new technology. It's amazing."
Parton, who has called Nashville home since 1964, released her new album "Blue Smoke" last week and will play a few more shows in the United States in May before she heads to Europe for several weeks to promote the album.
While over there, she'll play for what manager Danny Nozell said is possibly the biggest audience of her career when she headlines the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts for 179,000 people in the United Kingdom.
"I don't know whether to be scared or excited," Parton said of the monstrous show. "Everybody says, 'Are you nervous?' I say, 'Am I supposed to be?' I am excited about it. I hope they'll accept me."
What it's going to take to get the icon to Europe is far more complicated than the move Parton made from Sevierville to Nashville 50 years ago.
Then, she packed her clothes in four Piggly Wiggly shopping bags and hopped on a bus for Music City to follow her dreams. Next month, when she leaves for Europe, it will be the result of months of planning.
Nozell has attended to details ranging from which venues to play to which candles will be on her tour bus. But preliminary work on this tour began years ago when Nozell started managing Parton in 2005. At the time, she hadn't been to Europe or Australia — both places she will tour in 2014 — in 30 years. And, he said, she didn't want to go back.
Nozell, who has previously worked with artists ranging from Slipknot to Bon Jovi, convinced her he had a different way of tackling such a daunting tour. It started with making Parton comfortable.
"She loves her tour bus," Nozell said. "I custom-made Dolly a bus in America. I took those same blueprints and sent them over to a bus company in Europe. He looked them over and said, 'You know what, Danny? I like the setup of this bus.' "
The company agreed to make the multimillion dollar buses, if Nozell would agree to lease the buses every time Parton tours Europe.
On the 2007 tour, Parton's assistants packed all of the singer's favorite things in duplicate — coffees, teas, blankets, candles, fans — and shipped them overseas. Then, Nozell and his team arrived two days ahead of Parton and stocked the two buses with what Nozell calls Parton's "comforts of home."
Nozell flew Parton over on a private jet and arranged for the tour bus to be on the runway to pick her up. Once she was on the bus, they headed to the venue.
Parton played the concert, stayed on the bus that night and then Nozell picked her up the next morning, took her to the private jet and they flew to the next town where the second tour bus picked her up on the runway. In the meantime, the first tour bus was en route to the town Parton would play next.
"I leap frog the buses all over Europe," Nozell said. "I am honestly the only one who does it. It's six months of very tough logistics. It's a whole job separate in itself just to perform these logistics and ... get these buses out on the tarmacs in those countries."
The scenario will be identical when she lands in Europe in June, except for the addition of two attack dogs to Parton's entourage. The dogs were necessary after European fans became unruly on a previous tour.
When Parton plays Australia, as she did earlier this year, Nozell ships the buses from Europe to Australia so she can use them there, too.
In 2011 the tour promoter had to lobby Australia's prime minister to get approval for the buses to come onto the continent. That tour ran seamlessly, so this time he had no problems.
"The prime minister opened up the floodgates for me," Nozell said. "The drivers had to go across the bush from Brisbane to Perth, and that's 3,000 miles across a treacherous area. They're dodging kangaroos and they're dodging camels. The drivers are scared. There's thousands of wild camels there; then kangaroos are like deer. But they made it through two tours without hitting anything. In Australia everything known to man can kill you."
Parton called the overseas touring process "amazing."
"Danny has been tour manager for lots of groups and people for the last 20 years," she said. "I've never seen anybody that can organize and put stuff together like he can."
After Nozell gets the tour put together, Steve Summers, creative director for Dolly Parton Enterprises, and Parton's wig master, Cheryl Riddle, start the tedious process of figuring out what Parton will wear while she's on the road.
For the European tour, that means that Summers and Riddle are responsible for nearly 100 looks. Clothes and hair must include multiple options: attire Parton can lounge around in, wear while performing, use for media functions and more.
"We have to do all this homework before we ever pick anything to make sure she's appropriate," Summers said. "The first thing we do is get with the publicist and we go, 'So, what is she going to be doing in it? How is she getting there? Does she have to sit? Is she on a stage? Is there a tablecloth? Is she speaking? ... Is there a back drop? Do we need to hide the mike pack? What kind of shoes is she wearing? Is she going to move in this at all? How close are the cameras?'
"We have to know all of that before we ever decide anything. That's what happens when you work for an icon. She cannot be wrong."
Summers and Riddle collaborate closely to ensure that Parton's hair and clothes work together in every situation. Riddle chooses what shade of platinum the singer's hair will be based on the color of her outfit and then selects a style to match. Summers often saves scraps of fabric or lace from his designs and gives them to Riddle, who then works them into her wig styles, which sometimes take four or more hours to complete.
"One of her favorite questions that she gets asked is, 'How long does it take to do your hair,' " Riddle said. "She always answers, 'I don't know because I'm never there.' "
Riddle and Summers keep Parton in hair and clothes even when she's off the road just hanging out at home.
"I do 300 outfits a year and that's a lot of clothes," said Summers, who also is in charge of a 50,000-square-foot warehouse filled with nothing but Parton's clothes. "I do outfits for everything. You've seen her body. She can't just go to a store and buy something. Everything is made, or at least altered."
Along the same lines, Riddle keeps Parton supplied with spare wigs for every house the Country Music Hall of Famer owns. She wouldn't say how many houses that is, just several.
"There's dinner hair," she said. "There's family coming over hair. There's going out with her husband hair. Her and (husband) Carl (Dean) like to get in their motor home and go out and hit all the drive-through restaurants, and she has to have something on for everything. She will not leave the house without hair, even though her own hair is beautiful."
The platinum albums, industry acclaim, private designer, wigs, jets, custom tour buses and world tours are a long way from that grassy ridge in East Tennessee. She's often said that she's "dreamed myself into a corner" and can't "physically or emotionally keep up."
But she has no intention of slowing down.
"Unless I lost my voice or had health problems or my husband was sick, I hope to work until I fall over," she said. "I just love the music. I'm a songwriter above everything else. ... I write them and I want to sing them, and if I sing them I want to record them and if I record them I'm going to want to put a show together and get out on stage, which makes you an entertainer.
"It's just my love for ... creating things, creating something that's going to be in the world tomorrow and that wasn't in the world yesterday. It's how I communicate with God, when I'm writing songs."
- People say, 'You always look so happy.' I say, 'That's because of the Botox.'
- All my life I've been optimistic. I guess I was just too stupid to know I couldn't do it until I had it done.
- Look, I don't give advice. Miley (Cyrus) knows what she's doing. I know she's gifted. I know she's smart. A lot of people overreacted.
- Taylor Swift couldn't play me (in my musical.) She's too tall. Maybe Reese Witherspoon. We'd just have to get her a big ol' boob job.
- Why not let the gays marry? Let them suffer like the rest of us.
- I have no regrets. I regret more what I haven't done than what I have.
If you go
- What: Dolly Parton in concert to benefit her Imagination Library and the Robert F. Thomas Foundation
- Where: Thompson Boling Arena, 1600 Phil Fulmer Ave. in Knoxville
- When: 8 p.m. May 28
- Tickets: $46.25 (limited to upper deck) by calling 1-865-656-4444 or 1-877-995-9961