“Just a little song that I felt from my heart,” is how Dolly Parton introduced her iconic “I Will Always Love You” midway through her surprise appearance during Saturday evening’s headlining set at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. Parton invited Brandi Carlile, who had curated the entire set of all-female performers including Linda Perry, Judy Collins, Maggie Rogers, and her new supergroup the Highwomen, to sing the 1973 classic with her.
During the song’s introduction, Parton summarized its 45-year history as a perpetual hit, before turning to her duet partner. “I’m talking my damn head off. You got anything you want to say?” Parton asked a stunned Carlile. “Just that I love you,” answered Carlile.
Backed by a simple piano, Carlile and Parton traded off verses, transforming the song (which Parton famously wrote about leaving her duet partner Porter Wagoner) into a torch-passing tribute of sorts to Parton herself.
“Dolly,” Carlile wrote on Instagram after the show, “I will always love you. And I will never forget today.”
The 60th edition of the Newport Folk Festival marked the full-concert debut of the Highwomen, who also joined Parton backstage to harmonize on “Eagle When She Flies.” Other highlights included performances by Sheryl Crow and James Taylor, Yola, Kacey Musgraves, and Kermit the Frog.