“Superstars, renegades, innovators, heroes, villains, and moms.” That succinct sentence is the bio listed in the Dixie Chicks Twitter profile, but it could also double as the Cliff’s Notes to the band’s roller coaster career in the music business.
Once upon a time the Dixie Chicks were one of the biggest all-women acts in the recording industry. The musical trio consisting of Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Martie Maguire were on top of the world in the late 1990s, and into the new millennium. But then, in 2003, the infamous George W. Bush remark happened, and things were never the same for group. In the middle of a concert in the U.K., Maines, musing on the war in Iraq that the U.S. was about to launch, told the audience, “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” The Dixie Chicks, of course, hail from Austin, Texas, and when news of Maines’ declaration made it back across the pond the backlash the band faced in the wake of that comment was ferocious, as The Washington Post points out.
The fallout was profound and chronicled later in the documentary Shut Up and Sing. The band was banished from country radio. One radio station urged listeners to throw out their Dixie Chicks CDs, other disaffected fans destroyed their albums en masse. The band was stripped of sponsorship deals and concert ticket sales tanked. Other Nashville stars criticized the band and the members received death threats. And that was before Twitter even existed.
In 2006, the band released the album Taking the Long Way, which ended up reaching double-platinum status and winning some Grammy Awards, but several dates on the tour that followed the album’s release were canceled due to weak ticket sales.
No one heard much from the Dixie Chicks after that. They explored other musical projects; Maines recorded a rock album and Robison and Maguire performed as the Courtyard Hounds, a bluegrass duo. The trio got together every now and then for a Dixie Chicks gig, but by and large, the band was quiet. And they raised their children. The three bandmates have nine kids among them, according to Cincinnati.com.
The impact the controversy had was enduring. In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Maines said, “I joke that I have PTSD, but there’s probably truth in that joke,” and added that the fallout was one of several factors that sent her into therapy.
On Wednesday night at the Riverbend in Cincinnati, the Dixie Chicks came roaring back from hiatus. They kicked off the DCX MMXVI World Tour to a packed house. In his review for Cincinnati.com, Bill Thompson reported that the band’s “thunderous version of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ whipped the sold-out crowd into a frenzy of anticipation.” Prior to launching the U.S. tour, the Dixie Chicks played a series of shows in Europe and Maines mentioned to the audience how good it was to be home. “We only thought we had fun in Europe,” she told fans. “This is fun!”
Indeed, the audience appeared to be having fun as well. Here’s a clip of the band playing its 1998 smash hit “Wide Open Spaces.”
The video was posted on Twitter by Diandra Harrison who had standing room tickets on the lawn for the opening night show. To say Harrison, a 36-year-old nurse at a pediatric cardiovascular intensive care unit, is a super fan is an understatement. She hails from Dallas, also works as a flight nurse in the Air Force Reserve and has met the band three times and hung out with Maines on several other occasions.
“The feeling inside Riverbend was electrifying,” Harrison told Women in the World in an email. “The love the crowd showed the ladies was tangible, and I could also feel how much the ladies and their music have been missed.”
Harrison certainly would know. She’s been a fan since she heard “Wide Open Spaces” for the first time in 1998 and credits the Dixie Chicks’ musicianship with inspiring her to learn how to play the guitar “in my old age.” Harrison said she admires the band’s humanity and, in particular, Maines’ kindness to her over the years. “She has been incredibly kind to me before and after shows and through other communications, I will never forget the kindness she’s shown to me, that they’ve all shown me,” Harrison said. Maines’ kindness in one instance was truly personal, and heartwarming. “She dedicated ‘Easy Silence’ to me at the last show on their Long Time Gone tour in Canada in November 2013,” Harrison recalled. The gesture, Harrison said, was meant to comfort her as she grieved the death of her father.
In some ways, the show at the Riverbend resembled a time before the Bush controversy, when the cloud of the band’s politics didn’t hang over everything it did. In a recent interview, Maines discussed how that one moment onstage in 2003 radically changed things for the Dixie Chicks.
“What sucks is where people’s opinions used to be a truer opinion about our music, now it feels tainted,” Maines told The Oakland Press. “If someone hates it, it’s probably because they hate me politically. So the judgment of it just isn’t as honest and pure as it used to be.”
Though many fans abandoned the Dixie Chicks after the Bush fiasco, Harrison never did. She blames the fallout on unfair media coverage and thinks it’s high time everyone put the imbroglio where it belongs: in the past. “It has been over 10 years and the ladies are not defined by that one moment in time,” Harrison said. “It’s time to let it go, move forward, and enjoy the music.”
Lest anyone thinks the band is at all hesitant to make a political statement during a concert after that experience, however, the Dixie Chicks dispelled with that notion in resounding fashion on Wednesday night. During one song, the band had an image of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump with devil horns drawn on his head projected onto a jumbo screen behind them.
The crowd ate it up.