“It was big news for us because we’re just getting started,” said Jamie Johnson, a singer and guitar player for The Grascals, a six-piece group that will release its debut album February 8. The album includes Parton singing on a remake of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.”

The band, which also backs Parton on her upcoming album, opens her shows with their own 25-minute set then joins her for performances of hits like “Coat of Many Colors,” “Nine to Five” and “Here You Come Again” as well as her more recent bluegrass-flavored material.

While the opportunity is invaluable for a new group, it’s also a challenge.

“We did have to step up a couple of notches and entertain,” he said. “It’s a full production with a big fancy stage. It’s not like bluegrass where you just stand there. We had to do some extra things – like smile from time to time.”

Besides the exposure it affords them, the band also gets to learn from a legend.

“She works way harder than we do,” Johnson said. “You see some artists who are nowhere near in their career where Dolly is, and they complain about all the stuff they have to do. She comes into a rehearsal and sings ‘Coat of Many Colors’ like it’s the first time she ever sang it. It’s changed our whole attitude.”

The tour continues through this year and into 2005.