We will always love Dolly Parton for doing things like this. Parton showed up to this year’s Newport Folk Festival in Fort Adams Park, Newport, RI to perform “I Will Always Love You” with Brandi Carlile and send a message to the LGBTQ+ community: love is love is love. And maybe, just maybe, piss off a few sexist country bros running the music industry in the process.
After a few songs from The Highwomen, the country supergroup of Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby, Parton strutted out in her yellow rose-covered jumpsuit to perform as part of an all-woman super jam called ♀♀♀♀: The Collaboration. As she explained to the Saturday night crowd, “Me and Rhode Island have a lot in common. We’re little, but we’re loud.” It was clear: Parton was here to make a little noise.
And she did just that with her “I Will Always Love You” duet, which had her sweetly harmonizing with Carlile, an openly queer singer who Parton’s a big fan of. The fact that these two women sang this love song side-by-side, sometimes looking into each other’s eyes, turned this classic into a gay anthem. It’s something Carlile is also doing with The Highwomen’s new single, "If She Ever Leaves Me,” which is the rare country song not about heterosexual love. In fact, during The Highwomen’s Newport debut, they referred to it as their “gay country song.”
During her surprise appearance, Parton didn’t just show support for LGBTQ+ love, but for her fellow female country singers. It’s “all about the girls this week and I love being one of the girls,” Parton said, before joking that she loves her men to and has been with the same one for the past 53 years. But, she said, “I just love being up here with all this girl power. I love to see us do good. I love it when we get a chance to certainly present our music and all that.”
This year’s Newport Folk Festival included the highest number of female acts in its 60-year history with performances from Sheryl Crow, Maggie Rogers, Yola, and Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray. But, it’s also possible that Parton was throwing a little shade at country music radio, which has a serious woman problem. And, it’s not a new problem, just one that has received more attention in the last few years. Want to know how bad it is? Women only get 11.3% of radio airplay in the genre — a huge problem, because radio still breaks country artists.
Of course, having the women at Newport perform Parton’s feminist anthem “9 to 5” felt like a "we see you" to the patriarchy that still runs the music industry and tells radio programmers not to play too many women. And if the men of country music radio didn’t hear them, let’s assume Parton will just start yelling a little louder.