We Heart: The Newport Folk Festival’s Feminist Jam Session

Last weekend, Newport Folk Festival attendees bore witness to a groundbreaking occasion: the event’s first all-female headlining collaboration.


Show curator Brandi Carlile worked hard to ensure that the main event lived up to its billing as “♀♀♀♀,” enlisting a multi-generational group of feminist performers to pull of a set that celebrated women’s crucial, but often overlooked, contributions to country, folk and rock music.

The “Highwomen” supergroup—Amanda Shires, Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby—made their debut alongside Sheryl Crow, Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney, Judy Collins, Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray and Linda Perry. Singing new songs such as “If She Leaves Me,” which Carlile describes as the “first gay country song,” and classics such as “If it Makes You Happy” and “What’s Up,” the newcomers shared the stage with music’s veterans who have proved the patriarchal music industry wrong with songs that have stood the test of time.

Parton later joined the Highwomen on stage for a performance of “Eagle When She Flies.” The entire chorus—including Rodgers, Yola, Jade Brid and Lucy Dacus Rachael Price—joined her for a rendition of “9-5,” and Parton and Carlile closed with “I Will Always Love You.”

The feminist takeover didn’t end there: Our Native Daughters continued the streak Sunday by inserting songs about black women’s identity and history into the historically white festival. Their set, which payed homage to the roots country and folk music has in African music and rhythms, was met with many standing ovations.

“The Newport Folk Festival has had a habit of being on the right side of history for all of its 60 years,” Carlile told the crowd Saturday, referencing the festival’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and the March on Washinton. “We all know these things; this is why we’re here. But today, on its 60th anniversary, Newport Folk Festival is going to have its very first all-female headlining collaboration. It’s time.”


Rachel Kennedy is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and Associate Opinion Editor for The Daily Princetonian. A Bostonian by birth and a feminist by choice, she hopes to empower women by sharing their stories. She is particularly interested in covering maternal healthcare, women activists, pop culture, and politics. Rachel currently studies History, Journalism, and African American studies at Princeton University.