Happy birthday, Dolly: Local fans to hold roller skating, costume party for singer's 72nd

On a mid-July night in 2016, a wicked storm with hurricane-force winds whipped through the region. There were violent thunderstorms. Trees bent; powerlines fell. Entire roads were blocked, and some Northlanders lost electricity for days.

Photo illustration by Gary Meader /
Photo illustration by Gary Meader /

On a mid-July night in 2016, a wicked storm with hurricane-force winds whipped through the region. There were violent thunderstorms. Trees bent; powerlines fell. Entire roads were blocked, and some Northlanders lost electricity for days.

Erin O'Daniel had no idea.

She was fresh from Hinckley, Minn., where she had just seen Dolly Parton in concert for the eighth, maybe ninth, time. Back at home the storm raged, and she was plugged into headphones in a state of "pure Dolly bliss," she said.

"People have asked where I was that night," O'Daniel said. "It was a completely different experience."

O'Daniel is a fan of the singer-songwriter-actor-businesswoman-provider of books to young children - and has been for a long time. She liked the Dolly Parton music her parents played when she was young, and she liked re-creating Dolly-esque costumes with the help of wigs and flare. Still does. Which is why this weekend, when Parton turns 72, O'Daniel and friends will be celebrating - as they always do.


O'Daniel's 20th Annual Dolly Parton Roller Skating Birthday Party is 7-10 p.m. Saturday at World of Wheels. The event will be held during regular open-skating hours, and is not an official skate-center event, so expect big blonde wigs, rhinestones and choruses of "Jolene" mingling with the general skating public. The Dolly crew will have an after-party at Blush.


O'Daniel, who has lived all over the country, went to a small private college near the Smoky Mountains, just a couple hours away from Dollywood, a theme park partly owned by Parton. One year, she and her roommate decided to throw a birthday party, which required borrowing a cardboard Dolly that was - inexplicably - in the college's math department.

They ate Appalachian food; people played guitar.

O'Daniel continued the birthday tradition when she moved to Minnesota. She has made mixes of fan-favorite tunes. And costume-wise, she's ranged from pantsuit Dolly to tight-skirt Dolly. She has big-hair Dolly, and a blonde wig that she described as a Dolly-Axl Rose hybrid.

And she has a stockpile of balloons.

"So if other people don't have the boobs, I can be generous," she said.

Trish Crego is in it, partly, for the costumes. She's been Rhinestone Cowboy Dolly, and she has dressed in a long V-neck gown. One year she was half Dolly, half Burt Reynolds. For this year's party, the local costume maker and collector has created a look for her 6-month-old daughter. Lila will be a flashy Dolly with a yarn wig and little boots. She won't dish on her own costume, though.


"I always like to surprise Erin with something outlandish," Crego said.

Meanwhile, her friends have their own parties around the country. Three years ago, O'Daniel was at a roller rink in Asheville, N.C., for a Dolly Parton party, and it was rumored that the singer's niece was part of a wedding party sharing the space.


O'Daniel first built a fandom based on her parent's repeated play of Parton's music. She grew up on movies like "Rhinestone Cowboy," "9 to 5" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

As she got older, she found more ways to admire Parton.

"I've always talked about how much of an inspiration she is, not just as a woman but as an artist and businesswoman," she said. "She's owned who she is as a sexual being in a female body. She emanates love. I had a weird childhood, and her music lent love and lightness."

Crego described Parton as a fascinating, beautiful and generous woman.

"And she has been her whole life," she said. "And pro-alternative lifestyles. She's such a great role model."


Dana Bergstrom celebrates Parton's birthday every year, but doesn't claim the same levels of fandom as other attendees. But it's definitely grown.

"I think what Erin has done has made me appreciate Dolly more," she said. "The thing I like about Dolly is that she doesn't take herself seriously. She's all about having fun and doing what she loves."

During a recent phone interview, O'Daniel admitted she was sitting at a desk with a 9-inch Dolly Parton votive candle given to her by a coworker. She's not obsessed, she said, but she is a fan. This party is something to look forward to during what tends to be the coldest time of year.

"January is Dolly month for me," O'Daniel said. "That's intentional."

If you go

What: 20th Annual Dolly Parton Roller Skating Birthday Party

What the?: Celebrate Dolly Parton's 72nd birthday with costumes, music, rollerskating

When: 7-10 p.m. Saturday

Where: World of Wheels, 1218 Oakes Ave., Superior. After-party at Blush, 18 N. First Ave. W, Duluth

Dolly's greatest hits

Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jo-LENE.

The News Tribune asked readers, friends and cubicle mates to pick a favorite tune by Dolly Parton. Though there were a ton of responses, there was a clear favorite: “Jolene,” a song released by the singer-songwriter in 1973.

Parton told National Public Radio in 2008 that the song’s inspiration was two-fold. The name came from a little girl named Jolene who was waiting for an autograph after a show. “Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene,” Parton recalled saying. “That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.”

The subject matter, thought, was another story - a certain red-haired bank teller who paid too much attention to Parton’s husband.  

“So, it’s a real innocent song all around, but it sounds like a dreadful one,” she told NPR.

The second-place pick was one that seemed to inspire nostalgia. “Coat of Many Colors” is Parton’s first-person song about her momma sewing her a coat made from donated rags. Even though they didn’t have money, “I was rich as I could be in my coat of many colors my momma made for me.”

Next up, the workers’ anthem. Parton’s “9 to 5” was written for the fem-friendly, down-with-the-man, workplace comedy of the same name. Parton won a Grammy Award for “Best Country Song” and “Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.”

“Islands in the Stream,” her duet with Kenny Rogers, “Here You Come Again” and “Hard Candy Christmas” were also favorites.

Of note: Parton’s cover of “Shine” by Collective Soul landed a few nods. And, in a world of snarky Facebook comments, only one person veered off topic with: “How is this Twin Ports news.” Turns out Dolly Parton is the great uniter.

Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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