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Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks on co-hosting the ACM Awards

It’s hard to believe, but Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks — two of country music’s biggest and most enduring superstars — have known each other for only about a month.

“We’d crossed paths many times through the years backstage on the same shows,” Parton says, “but we’d never had a real chat.” Adds Brooks: “I just admired her from a distance.”

What finally brought them together was a gig: On Thursday night the duo will co-host the 58th Academy of Country Music Awards from Frisco, Texas. Set to stream live on Amazon’s Prime Video, the show will feature performances by Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Morgan Wallen, Ashley McBryde, Keith Urban and Lainey Wilson, among others; top nominees include Hardy, who leads the field with seven nods, and Chris Stapleton, who’s up for male artist of the year for the eighth time in a row.

For Parton, 77, the ACMs (which she hosted in 2022) come as she’s preparing to release a rock album later this year; Brooks, 61, will open his latest Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace on May 18. As busy as they are, surely the new pals have traded numbers and plan to stay in touch?

“I don’t want nobody bothering me — even Garth Brooks,” Parton says with a laugh in a recent video interview alongside her co-host. “I’ve texted her a hundred times,” Brooks says. “She’s never texted back.”

Dolly Parton performs during the 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

(Chris Pizzello/Invision)

What makes for a great TV host?
Garth Brooks: Dolly’s fun because you see the script, but I doubt you’ll hear a word from it.

Dolly Parton: Even if you make mistakes, make that part of the fun. There’s an art to it. You just have to not be afraid of the crowd or afraid of the camera.

You worked with all the legends of late night, Dolly. Who was the best?
Parton: Johnny Carson and I had a great relationship. Everybody knew it was gonna be fun because he had kind of an innocent sense of humor and he’d get embarrassed working with me.

Brooks: Jay Leno was fantastic. What I loved about Jay was he understood why you were there — that you’d traveled to promote whatever you were doing — and he’d set you up like a ball on a tee. Today’s hosts, it’s a lot about the host himself or herself. At least until somebody like Dolly Parton comes on. Then they just kind of clam up.

Parton: They clam up because I won’t shut up.

Modern awards shows are always looking for a moment to get audiences talking on social media. Will there be one on the ACMs?
Parton: I’m doing my first rock ’n’ roll song, “World on Fire,” which has a great message — that’ll hopefully be my moment. But we’re gonna just let it flow. What my heart says do, I do it.

Garth, you famously explored rock music in the late ’90s as your alter ego Chris Gaines. What drew each of you to the genre?
Brooks: I think it’s just showing the versatility. Waylon [Jennings] said, “I sing country music, which means I can sing anything.” I was lucky enough to grow up in the ’70s, which was maybe the greatest era ever for rock. Lot of influences there.

Parton: That was a great album, by the way.

Brooks: There’s nothing better than when somebody comes up and goes, “Hey, man, I love what you do, but the Gaines album is my favorite thing.”

Parton: I’m not one to let timing go by, so when I was gonna be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I thought, Well, I’m like my daddy — you give me something, I’m gonna earn it.

You made headlines by initially telling the Rock Hall that you felt you didn’t deserve to be inducted.
Parton: I honestly didn’t — it wasn’t to be controversial. I just thought that there are many people working out there every day [in rock music], and they don’t get nominated. I didn’t want to take any votes from anybody spending their life doing that. But they put me in anyway. I’d often thought about doing a rock album. My husband’s a rock ’n’ roll freak — that’s his music, the harder the better.

You corralled some impressive guests.
Parton: I have Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney both on “Let It Be” — the last of the Beatles. I had Steven Tyler sing with me on a song, and Steve Perry and I did “Open Arms.” And of course Elton John — we did “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” We have a lot of girl power on it too: Joan Jett. Stevie Nicks. Pink and Brandi Carlile singing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” We did 30 songs. I don’t plan to ever do it again, and I want to leave that for my legacy.

Dolly, you released a string of classic albums in the early ’70s; Garth, you did the same in the early ’90s. When you’re in the middle of a hot streak like that, does it feel like you can’t miss?
Parton: No, you worry each time and you think, How am I gonna beat that? You never take anything for granted in this business.

Brooks: But you understand there’s a window of opportunity. Would a song like “Papa Loved Mama” [from 1991] be accepted today like it was then? I’m not sure. At the same time, “We Shall Be Free” [from 1992] is probably more relevant today than it was when it was written.

Garth Brooks onstage

Garth Brooks performing in concert.

(Becky Fluke / Courtesy Nancy Seltzer & Associates)

You’ve each taken a different approach to keeping your music out there. Garth, your records aren’t readily available on streaming, but you still perform regularly; Dolly, your records are everywhere, but you’ve said you won’t tour again.
Parton: For me, life makes my choices. I’m not able to tour anymore because my husband in not in great health, and I don’t want to be gone for a long period of time. I’m also one of the older ones in the business. Garth’s younger than me — he can climb up on top of the building and jump off while he’s still singing and never get out breath. My high heels wouldn’t let me do that if I wanted to.

Brooks: It’s personal, right? Each artist is their own person. If you think there’s a formula where you do this, do this, do that — I guess some artists do that and they’re fine. But Miss Parton and I feel like this is our one shot, and we’re gonna do it our way.

Can each of you name your favorite song by the other?
Brooks: “Jolene.” What a song. And I gotta say, man: There’s the song, and then there’s the record. And the record on that thing… If you look at Dolly’s career, you listen to her records as they go on, the producer may be different, but the sound is still phenomenal. Kind of tells you what the heart and soul of the artist is.

Parton: As a writer, I tend to really favor Garth’s songs like “The Dance” or “The River” — those songs that are just so deep and so heartfelt and so real.

Brooks: You talk about entertainer, singer, writer — I think writer is what I’d love to be known as. So to have Dolly Parton, who I think is one of the greatest writers of any format of music, say something about “The River,” which I had a hand in, that’s quite a compliment. “The Dance” I didn’t write. Unless you think I did, Dolly. Then, yes, I wrote “The Dance.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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