(Editor's note: SPIN contributor Marissa R. Moss's book, Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed, is out today. Moss interviewed 70 sources for it, which traces how difficult it is to win when there are so many obstacles to clear. In this exclusive excerpt from Her Country, she outlines how Brandi Carlile engineered yet another historic moment in Newport Folk Festival history by putting together the first-ever female-only set in 2019.) It was a fall of both empty gestures and important strides: the CMA Awards would announce in August that Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire would be taking over hosting duties from Brad Paisley to join Carrie Underwood in \u201ccelebrating women\u201d when the show aired in November (though plenty dismissed this as lip service from an organization that has otherwise done next to nothing to further gender equality), while Carrie would simultaneously lose Entertainer of the Year to Garth Brooks at a show she was hosting. Appropriately, Jennifer Nettles showed up in a Christian Siriano pantsuit and cape with the words \u201cPlay our f*@#in records please and thank you\u201d written on the inside. Lil Nas X and \u201cOld Town Road\u201d would make delightful waves, only to be rejected from the Billboard country charts and country radio for not having \u201celements of country\u201d while songs with drum machines and snap tracks made by white men hit number one. Brandi was busy producing Tanya Tucker\u2019s comeback record, working to correct the record on a talent that country music had squandered, all while spending the year planning for the Newport Folk Festival: she\u2019d been asked to curate an all-women mainstage lineup, so she got busy handwriting letters to anyone and everyone she wanted to show up, which is what she\u2019d always done when she really wanted to leave an impression. This, she thought, would be the perfect venue for the Highwomen to start sending their messages to the world, and start playing their songs. Newport had always been the sort of venue for insurgent country that they were looking for, and she knew that kind of audience would be won over and ready to listen. But \ufb01rst, she had to send one particular letter, to a particular person: Dolly Parton. Well, before Dolly Parton, it was eight shots of tequila and some Radiohead. Eight shots? Five shots? Who could know, really. A lot of tequila. Like, a lot. Ouch. Brandi had played an explosive set at Newport Folk Festival in 2018, and ended up at one of the festival\u2019s notorious after-parties, hosted by Rhode Island\u2019s own Deer Tick, led by the talented songwriter John McCauley. Deer Tick\u2019s Newport parties were the hardest tickets of all to snag, and Brandi and Jay Sweet, producer of the festival, had found their way there after a long conversation that picked up on one he had started with Margo Price a few years earlier and had continued ever since then. Margo had told Jay that he needed to \ufb01nd more women to populate the stages: less white men, more of everyone else. Margo\u2019s \ufb01rst year, in 2016, she had come on her own dime to a small Nashville-to-Newport showcase. Jay happened to be walking by and heard her set. \u201cThis isn\u2019t my last year here,\u201d she told Jay point-blank. The next year, she ended up onstage with Kris Kristo\ufb00erson. Johnny Cash had actually introduced the world to Kris at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969, just a couple of dudes sticking up and vouching for each other. Women often had to give that vouch, that public \ufb01st- bump, to themselves. Newport was always more than a festival. Famous for being the site where Bob Dylan went electric, it has been at the forefront of the intersection between music and culture\u2014or counterculture\u2014since its inception, especially when it came to civil rights and activism. Jay, who became the head after leaving Paste magazine, had felt an allegiance to positioning it as both ful\ufb01lling that mission and driving it further. Legendary folk icon Pete Seeger, who was one of Newport Folk Festival\u2019s original board members, had instructed him as such. \u201cLearning how to sing marching songs for civil rights for extremely wealthy, college-educated Ivy League schoolers to mix with Black blues men from the Deep South, for the Georgia Sea Island Singers to mix with Appalachian shape note singers who obviously had not had the most integrated upbringings,\u201d Jay said. \u201cThis festival has always been a conduit to not only speaking truth to power and for bucking the norm, and providing a safe haven for that to happen and to be explored and celebrated. But that hadn\u2019t happened for a long time.\u201d \u201cThis is yours to do and build, and hopefully build it back,\u201d Pete told Jay. \u201cFind those that are trying to speak truth to power, and those that are being their authentic selves.\u201d He also said that one of the biggest ways to do this and to make sure that Newport stayed true to its founding mission was by making sure that there was a woman or a person of color on every stage, every day. \u201cIt was just kind of the rule,\u201d Jay said. Amanda Shires, Jay remembered, had also been seminal in keeping the pressure on: applauding him when lineups looked balanced, and checking him when they did not\u2014even pushing for Mavis Staples to close the show in 2019. She was, Jay said, \u201cmy mentor for holding me accountable,\u201d and he was already looking to her for guidance as he thought toward the next incarnation of the festival. Newport Folk, founded by George Wein in 1959, had always booked their lineup intentionally, but it had never had an all-women set on the headlining stage. So Jay handed the keys over to Brandi on that night in 2018 to make that happen, the very night that Jay felt he watched her transform into a world-class star right in front of his eyes. Brandi had played a monstrous headlining set earlier in the day, and they were cruising around after the show on the Newport Helicopter, the festival\u2019s thirty-four-foot boat, doing some shots with Phil Hanseroth. They were emotional\u2014the crowd had been ravenous, and Brandi and the band had sucked up every bit of lingering energy, a respite in the midst of a toxic political climate. It got Brandi thinking about what else it all could become, because \u201cthere\u2019s a revolution happening here,\u201d she said. The world was complicated if not downright sad\u2014Donald Trump\u2019s presidency had not only further divided the country, kids were being separated from their families at the border, and long-fought-for protections for LGBTQIA+ Americans were at risk of being rolled away. Newport couldn\u2019t change any of that, but it could use music as a model. \u201cHas a woman ever put together a headlining set?\u201d Brandi asked Jay, who quickly shook his head. \u201cNo,\u201d he said. \u201cBut we are going to do a shot, shake hands, and I am going to give you the keys so that a year from tonight, you will MC an all-female stage.\u201d Brandi was immediately on board. They set the speci\ufb01c rules: if men were there, like Jason Isbell or Hozier, it had to be in support of women, and everyone was going to be paid the same. \u201cYou\u2019re going to make history,\u201d he said, \u201cand it\u2019s going to be one of the best ones I\u2019ve ever been involved in in \ufb01fteen years.\u201d After shaking hands and making it o\ufb03cial\u20142019 would be Brandi\u2019s all women-headlining stage, signed and sealed with their grasped palms\u2014she and Jay decided to celebrate their \u201cblood oath pact\u201d at that Deer Tick after-party back in Newport at the Newport Blues Caf\u00e9. They\u2019d snaked up to the front row to watch the band at the tiny, packed club, and, between songs, the crowd started chanting out of nowhere\u2014they\u2019d spotted her there, and wanted more. Brandi! Brandi! Brandi! Brandi and Jay looked at each other. \u201cShould I sing a song?\u201d she asked. \u201cWhat do I do?\u201d \u201cYes!\u201d Jay responded, urging her up. They\u2019d had enough tequila to make it all seem like a good idea, and, besides, they were on a victory lap. \u201cAnd Deer Tick knows every song\u2014they\u2019re a human jukebox. Why don\u2019t you sing \u2018Creep\u2019 by Radiohead?\u201d \u201cFuck yeah,\u201d Brandi said, hopping onstage and whispering into John\u2019s ear, who laughed and immediately launched into the song. Jay, in the audience, was awestruck: there was Brandi, drunk and with a band she\u2019d never met before, screaming the words to \u201cCreep\u201d to a crowd that had beckoned her there, a queer woman and a singer-songwriter \ufb01nally reconnecting with the country roots that she\u2019d loved in a more signi\ufb01cant way, on the cusp of international stardom. A red bandana wrapped around her head, her denim shirt partially unsnapped, her sunglasses hanging on her collar: \u201cI don\u2019t belong here,\u201d she hollered into the crowd. Jay got chills. No one here belonged, so together, they all did. \u201cI watched her transform right there in front of my eyes, screaming like a fucking rock star,\u201d Jay remembered. \u201cAnd I just need to get the fuck out of this woman\u2019s way. Amanda is the blueprint person, who will put her \ufb01nger between your eyes. Brandi is the one who will make you believe the dream, and when your head gets too big, Margo is the one who will kick you in the balls.\u201d Jay woke up the next morning with an enormous hangover\u2014and Brandi got to work planning the lineup. They brought up Dolly almost as a joke. She would make it killer, they agreed\u2014she was motherfucking Dolly Parton. No one thought it would be possible to pull o\ufb00, but Brandi started writing those letters, because the importance of Dolly wasn\u2019t just symbolic. Her place as an agent of change could not have been more clear: Dolly worship was reaching a resurgent fever pitch, with podcasts, books, and documentaries exploring her in\ufb02uence at every corner, including a series inspired by her songs called Dolly Parton\u2019s Heartstrings, her \ufb01fty-year anniversary at the Grand Ole Opry, and the Net\ufb02ix \ufb01lm inspired by her songs, Dumplin\u2019. Over the course of the year, everything felt like it was going to either implode or explode. Egos emerged and retreated, artists canceled and rebooked. Brandi and Jay went into crisis mode and back more than once, but somehow artist after artist just kept saying yes. Jay\u2019s phone would ring with constant updates, \u201cBC\u201d showing up when she\u2019d call. When the Highwomen formed at the end of 2018 and introduced themselves to the world after the new year, Amanda and Brandi knew Newport would be the perfect place for them to perform. \u201cIt was just a rolling snowball,\u201d Jay said, \u201cthat you either allow to envelop you, and go along for the ride, or get the fuck out of the way. And it was the most powerful thing I\u2019ve ever witnessed. Watching this ball of musical energy start rolling downhill after people kept putting up barricade after barricade.\u201d There were many times when it felt like everything was going to fall apart, but never more severe than when Maren\u2019s song looked like it would head to number one just as they were rounding close to showtime; she was the \ufb01rst woman to hit that slot in well over a year, since Kelsea Ballerini\u2019s \u201cLegends.\u201d Suddenly, Jay could feel her team pulling back\u2014they wanted her to be somewhere else, he thought. That was a huge deal, and he knew it\u2014\u201cGirl\u201d was exploding in country and beyond, and maybe Newport wasn\u2019t the best place for her to be, about as far from Music Row as you could \ufb01nd, with Maren not even as the headliner. Folks from her label were calling Jay en masse: This could be the biggest weekend for the biggest woman in country music, and how the fuck are you telling us that she is not available? Everyone was pulling back, except for Maren herself, that is. She wasn\u2019t backing down or dropping out, and the Highwomen\u2019s set went o\ufb00 without a hitch that Friday afternoon on July 26, 2019\u2014save for the lack of permit that the band had wanted to secure so festivalgoers could get their own \u201cHighwomen\u201d tattoos. In custom Manuel suits and backed by Brandi\u2019s bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth as well as Jason Isbell, Brandi let her nerves show. \u201cThis is our \ufb01rst show, y\u2019all,\u201d she said to the crowd. \u201cAnd we\u2019re fucking terri\ufb01ed.\u201d Newport also introduced honorary Highwoman Yola to the mix, who sang with the group on the record\u2019s title track and stunned everyone with her tremendous voice. Even Sheryl Crow showed up. \u201cI didn\u2019t feel like a token,\u201d Yola told Natalie Weiner of the New York Times. \u201cThis felt like a cross intersection of women\u2014and in country music, of all the places where you\u2019re like, \u2018That\u2019s so white bro it\u2019s out of control.\u2019\u201d Catherine Powell, who had become the go-to photographer for Kacey and Maren, came along to shoot the band\u2019s \ufb01rst live photos, and she was shocked by how many people had turned up to hear songs from a band whose record wasn\u2019t even out yet. \u201cThere were people pouring out of the tent to watch them,\u201d she remembered. \u201cWe were all buzzing.\u201d And just as \u201cGirl\u201d was going to number one, Maren was congratulated by Dolly Parton herself, on the Newport stage. It was the day after the Highwomen\u2019s set, the vision that Brandi had been planning all along: The Collaboration, she called it. Yola, Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls, Sheryl, Courtney Marie Andrews, Lucy Dacus, Linda Perry, Maggie Rogers, Judy Collins, and Molly Tuttle were just a few of the women who gathered to sing together (Margo, at home with her newborn daughter, had missed the festival, but Jay considered her very much there in spirit): leading to the seminal moment of Dolly. Backstage rehearsing \u201cEagle When She Flies\u201d a cappella in a circle with the Highwomen, Jason Isbell had teared up, while Natalie\u2019s hands shook. Right before they walked onstage, they all got on their knees and prayed together. Dolly had her own yellow suit embroidered with roses, and the crowd erupted at the \ufb01rst sight of her: a surprise they managed to keep by shrouding Dolly in a voluminous black robe as she arrived at the property (she\u2019d \ufb02own in on a jet she arranged and paid for herself), only her ruby-red cowboy boots peeping out of the bottom. They closed the set with everyone onstage for \u201c9 to 5,\u201d dancing together, revelatory as hell. \u201cEveryone had this look as if they had met fucking Snow White,\u201d Jay remembered, watching the women walk o\ufb00stage afterward with their mouths agape. Writer Suzy Exposito was left afterward with a lingering, important question. \u201cThough this year\u2019s Newport lineup was the closest it\u2019s ever come to feminist utopia, how many more years will it take until we achieve a wider-scale semblance of gender parity in music, much less any industry in the United States?\u201d she wrote in Rolling Stone. \u201cAnd if the future is female, will it get any blacker, or browner, or more \ufb02uid in its expression? Will it speak languages besides English, and still play guitar?\u201d The band was staying at a hotel across the harbor on an island\u2014 they rode the ferry afterward in shock. \u201cWe were just all sitting at dinner being like, did that really happen?\u201d Catherine remembered. \u201cAnd then we just all drank a lot of wine.\u201d It was far di\ufb00erent than how someone in Nashville might usually celebrate a song going number one\u2014certainly not surrounded by \u201cAmericana\u201d artists in day-old clothes after performing at a folk festival. But that was Maren. \u201cShe was not on a fucking stadium tour with rhinestones and singing to people wearing cowboy hats,\u201d Jay said. \u201cShe was at by far the lowest-paying gig she\u2019s probably ever done in her career once she was discovered, not singing her own songs, not even being part of the Highwomen, which had happened the day before. But literally being a backup singer to a collection. Being part of something greater. Maren fucking Morris. Maren fucking Morris was not taking a bow or doing anything. She was standing among others, singing \u20189 to 5\u2019 into the same fucking microphone, in cuto\ufb00 jeans, doing the makeup by herself in a fucking trailer. She could have done a festival as the headliner, but she chose not to, and to do something that was better for all women, not just her.\u201d She had walked offstage and given Jay a big hug with tears in her eyes. He couldn\u2019t believe that Maren was there, that Brandi had just spent a chunk of the biggest year of her career yet leading to this moment, that Jason Isbell had eagerly taken a spot in the back seat to help elevate those around him. He couldn\u2019t believe it, but it had all come true. \u201cThere were ten things trending in the world,\u201d Jay continued. \u201cIt was the only thing that was musical and positive. There was a shooting at a garlic festival in California, a chemical attack in Libya. The world was trending the wrong way. The only things trending positive were Brandi Carlile, the Highwomen, Newport, and Dolly Parton\u2019s surprise set.\u201d The impact was instantaneous. \u201cEvery single festival was like, We need to get Maren Morris,\u201d Jay said. \u201cAnd we will pay the High- women whatever they want.\u201d Also at Newport was Our Native Daughters, with a performance that didn\u2019t get the same kind of trending topics but set in motion something even deeper and more disruptive to the status quo. Though the Highwomen were referred to as the supergroup of the weekend, here was a foursome of one MacArthur Grant recipient (Rhiannon) and three dynamite and unique songwriters in Allison, Amythyst, and Leyla, putting the banjo at the forefront of the conversation, an instrument that came from West Africa and had come to be intentionally adopted as a symbol of whiteness\u2014an act Rhiannon had referred to as \u201ccultural genocide.\u201d Our Native Daughters rolled in on Sunday, the day after Dolly\u2019s set, in the wake of nonstop media coverage, and felt, as Allison put it, \u201ca little left out of the party.\u201d Rhiannon had never played anywhere but the main stage at Newport, and she was a little taken aback as to why Our Native Daughters hadn\u2019t been given that spot. \u201cI guess you get demoted if you bring along other Black women,\u201d she quipped. \u201cWe pulled in with these derelict buses with the kids in various stages of meltdown,\u201d Allison remembered\u2014the band had traveled with their young children and a Montessori teacher to help wrangle them all when the moms were onstage. \u201cAnd saw this absolutely gorgeous, perfectly shiny Highwomen bus. It was just very funny.\u201d Their set, though, was transformative: six standing ovations, lots of tears, and a mostly white audience being confronted by uncomfortable truths about who exactly built their country and roots music\u2014almost hungry, Allison thought, for what they were saying. \u201cWithin the span of an hour, the quartet traded o\ufb00 on an all-embracing array of old-time songs\u2014equal parts gut-wrenching and galvanizing\u2014that told a four-hundred-odd-year story of black womanhood in America,\u201d Jonathan Bernstein wrote for Rolling Stone. \u201cThere were repeated standing ovations . . . and plenty of tears . . . , but also an endless display of joy all the while. . . . As Kiah put it at the end of the set, \u2018This has been a spiritual experience with y\u2019all today.\u2019\u201d The quartet would join Mavis Staples later as she closed out the show, warming up beforehand in Hozier\u2019s trailer and then rehearsing in a circle with Mavis herself before heading onstage with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jason Isbell, Hozier, and Phil Cook. \u201cThat\u2019s the heart of Newport,\u201d Allison says. \u201cA festival that started racial reconciliation in this country in a sense.\u201d The Highwomen, Dolly, even a sweet duet between My Morning Jacket\u2019s Jim James and Kermit the Frog on \u201cRainbow Connection\u201d captured the media zeitgeist. But Our Native Daughters, that day, were steering everyone to an even bigger conversation, and speaking truth to power. There would be no Newport Folk Festival in 2020, but Allison would go on, in 2021, to curate her own mainstage set called \u201cOnce and Future Sounds: Roots and Revolution,\u201d after the May release of her debut solo album, Outside Child, which was stunning, truthful, and beautifully raw. It was a performance that seemed to tackle Suzy Exposito\u2019s question: Yola, Amythyst, Joy Oladokun, Adia Victoria, Sunny War, Celisse, Yasmin Williams, and many others all gathered to sing, with Chaka Khan as the legendary surprise guest this time. Backstage, Yola and Chaka were chatting in German, and Brandi and Margo were just happy to be dancing in the background in supporting roles, with Brandi\u2019s Looking Out Foundation helping to foot the bill to pay the artists for their time. Jay Sweet had handed over the keys once again, this time to Allison, who created the collaboration in the spirit of folk icon Odetta, who had played the very \ufb01rst Newport Folk Festival. Chaka had \u201cThe Fort\u201d jumping and dancing to \u201cI\u2019m Every Woman\u201d harder than Jay had ever seen\u2014Allison and Adia Victoria sharing a mic, grinning like schoolchildren, Brandi pointing to the crowd and hollering with joy, Allison\u2019s rainbow jumpsuit re\ufb02ecting the lights as she moved. \u201cI was very much conscious on building what Brandi began and making sure Black women were centered on that stage that we built,\u201d Allison re\ufb02ected. \u201cBecause there is no scarcity. There is no world where you only need one woman\u2019s voice. Or one Black woman\u2019s voice. It\u2019s just a fallacy. And this is what happens if you let more than one of us in. It\u2019s joyful. And it\u2019s glorious.\u201d Excerpted from HER COUNTRY: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be by Marissa R. Moss. Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright \u00a9 2022 by Marissa R. Moss. All rights reserved. You can buy it here.