Health Dept. Blocks Girl Group Over Tattoos | VIDEO

IMAGE: NPR/Alysse Gafkjen/Courtesy of the artist (Fair Use)

NEWPORT, R.I. — The Highwomen’s first-ever public performance went off so well at the Newport Folk Festival in July that Nashville’s newest supergroup repeated its laid-back, harmony-rich lead single, “Redesigning Women,” as an encore.

A standing ovation was inevitable: The audience had been on its feet before the quartet stepped onstage.

The only snafu was a failed plan to give festivalgoers free tattoos that said “Highwomen” in the same jagged scrawl already emblazoned on band members Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires — as well as Jason Isbell, Shires’s husband and the group’s guitarist; Shires’s mother and other musicians and friends.

Rhode Island’s health department wouldn’t give the band a permit unless it restricted the ink to the festival’s V.I.P. area.

“That’s so class divided,” Carlile, 38, said the next morning over a plate of bacon and greens, shaking her head as her bandmates brainstormed ways to share the logo online so fans could get their own tattoos. “Way off message.”

The Highwomen — Carlile, Shires, Natalie Hemby and Maren Morris — proudly call themselves a movement as much as a band, one whose mission is clear: solidarity, specifically with other women in country music. Their self-titled debut album is out Friday.

Hear the Highwomen: 

Individually, they’ve all found success:

  • The breakout star Maren Morris (of the pop smash “The Middle”) earned her second country radio No. 1, “Girl,” the day after the Newport performance.
  • Natalie Hemby, one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters, recently had two credits on the soundtrack for “A Star Is Born.”
  • Brandi Carlile is a veteran singer-songwriter who just won her first three Grammys, including best Americana album, for “By the Way, I Forgive You.” (Hemby calls her “Grammy Carlile.”)
  • Amanda Shires, a vocalist and violinist, has been a cornerstone of Americana music since first playing with the Texas Playboys at 15.

But together, they’ve decided, they’re better — especially when it comes to confronting the daunting task of helping women succeed as artists in country.

The genre has a stark gender imbalance.

“It’s the eternal question that no one’s figured out,” said Morris, 29, picking at eggs Benedict … Read more. 

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