At the 63rd Grammy Awards, Lori Mckenna, Natalie Hemby, and Brandi Carlile accepted the distinguished songwriters’ prize, Best Country Song, for The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table.” Hemby and Carlile recorded “Crowded Table” with bandmates Amanda Shires and Maren Morris—a fellow nominee—on their 2019 self-titled debut as The Highwomen.
Their moniker is a playful reference to the Highwaymen—the short-lived collaborative act of legends Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings in the ‘80s. The female-power outfit, energized around a heightened political climate that highlighted inequity everywhere, set out to change the “Nashville Sound.” As a direct response to country radio’s underrepresentation of female voices, The Highwomen records content that expands beyond gender norms to welcome in all walks of life. Each member, an advocate in their own acclaimed careers, reclaim their country roots as a united front of spanning talent, representing a repressed generation while empowering the next and those to come.
This win, which came as a surprise, according to McKenna, aligns with the vision The Highwomen set in 2019. Carlile expressed her shock in an animated acceptance speech via video Sunday afternoon during the pre-show Premiere Ceremony.
“We just wanted to see women in country music embraced, platformed, and seen,” Carlile shares excitedly. “And we’re seeing that more and more in this category with all of our peers. What a complete, astounding honor.”
Beyond taking home the gold, the company these female writers’ kept in their category signaled a victory for the genre as a whole. Four of the five nominees were songs performed by female country artists.
“Crowded Table” was nominated among Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird” (Luke Dick, Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert), Maren Morris’s “The Bones,” (Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins & Laura Veltz), Ingrid Andress’s “More Hearts Than Mine” (Ingrid Andress, Sam Ellis & Derrick Southerland, songwriters), and Old Dominion’s “Some People Do”(Jesse Frasure, Shane McAnally, Matthew Ramsey & Thomas Rhett).
Morris, along with two fellow female acts—Lambert, who won Best Country Album, and first-time Grammy nominee, Mickey Guyton—represented the genre on the socially-distanced stage with stunning performances.
Lyrically, “Crowded Table,” holds a longed-for sentiment 2020 stripped from global society. The song gently unfolds to depict an idyllic space where ‘everyone belongs.’ There is a place at the table for all who seek one where ideas are exchanged, voices are heard, and change is affected. As artists, songwriters, wives, mothers, community members, The Highwomen are not willing to wait for the world they wish to see. As the song mentions, they’re more than willing to put in the work.
If we want a garden / We’re gonna have to sow the seed / Plant a little happiness / Let the roots run deep / If it’s love that we give / Then it’s love that we reap, they sing in harmony.
To meet the present loneliness of the pandemic, the country supergroup released a video last spring with behind-the-scenes footage of the album process. The visualizer features the folks who made it all happen—talented friends like Sheryl Crow and Yola, their producer Dave Cobb, family, and children—all circling the studio as these women put their truth to paper, then production, streaming platforms, radio, and vinyl.
“‘Crowded Table’ resonated with all of us on such a deeper level this year, and this GRAMMY means even more because of it,” The Highwomen shared on social media. “We can’t wait until all of our tables are crowded once again.”