The Dixie Chicks are flying high again, after keeping a low profile for much of the past decade.
Their summer tour, which includes a Friday show at the nearly 20,000-capacity Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista, is playing to mostly full venues despite the fact that the group’s most recent album came out 10 years ago.
That is also when they last toured in this country, although their 2006 Accidents & Accusations concert trek fell flat at the box office in a number of markets. Now, conversely, demand for their concerts is so great that extra shows have been added.
The DCX MMXVI Tour has grown from 40 dates to 53. In Los Angeles, where their five-month concert tour will conclude, the trio is performing Oct. 8 at the 18,000-seat Forum and Oct. 10 at the similarly sized Hollywood Bowl.
Dixie Chicks, with Augustana and Smooth Hound Smith
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Sleep Train Amphitheater, 2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista
Tickets: $49-$153.50, plus service charges
Phone: (800) 745-3000
The fact that this veteran Texas country-music trio is, to paraphrase the title of their triple-Grammy Award-winning 2006 hit, still not ready to make nice is a tribute to their perseverance, if not an outright vindication.
Thirteen years after the group became national pariahs - at least to country radio (which banned their records), Toby Keith, Reba McIntire and the many listeners who suddenly shunned them - Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer (formerly Robison) are soaring once more. The best-selling American female trio in history, they are in the midst of one of the most formidable music comebacks of this century.
Moreover, they are now drawing a new generation of listeners, many in their teens and 20s, who grew up hearing their parents’ Dixie Chicks records. Where the Spice Girls used “girl power” as a catchy (if largely content-free) marketing tool, the Dixie Chicks have embodied the phrase, refusing to compromise their music or their political views.
Super Bowl, followed by controversy
True, some country fans and radio programmers still resent Maines for denouncing President George W. Bush and the then-pending U.S. invasion of Iraq, as she did during a March 2003 concert at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Her brief comments, which ignited a firestorm of controversy in this country, came barely six weeks after the Dixie Chicks sang the national anthem at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium to kick off Super Bowl XXXVII.
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all,” Maines told the audience, as she introduced “Travelin’ Soldier,” a song about a doomed enlisted man serving in Vietnam in the 1960s. “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
A few days later, as the radio-fueled backlash in this country began, Maines added a clarification: “I feel the president is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world.”
This was followed by a qualified apology from Maines, issued while the Dixie Chicks were still on their 2003 tour abroad.
“As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect,” she said at the time.
“We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers’ lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American.”
Maines’ reasoned response did nothing to quell the uproar, burned records and threats made against the trio.
Merle Haggard defended the Dixie Chicks
Country legend Merle Haggard rose to their defense, saying: " I don’t even know the Dixie Chicks, but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching.”
President Bush seemed to want it both ways. “The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say,” he said in 2003, adding: “They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out. ... Freedom is a two-way street.”
Given how the war in Iraq turned out - more than 4,400 American casualties, close to half a million Iraqis, and a Middle East that seems more unsettled than ever - it’s unlikely that the Dixie Chicks would have been excoriated had Maines questioned Bush and the war after it ended, rather than before it began.
Hindsight being 20/20, she no longer needs to be on the defensive, 13 years after her she and her band mates were labeled “traitors” and worse.
“I’m really proud of what went down,” Maines, 41, told The New York Times last month. “I spoke up for what I believe - that’s what art is about and what musicians should be about. And if I’d known anybody was listening, I would have said something to really make a mark.
“I look at how much more polarized and intolerant people have become now. With social media, opinions all start becoming noise, but at that point (in 2003), people weren’t really supposed to have an opinion.”
To demonstrate that they remain unafraid to express their opinions, the Dixie Chicks have added a visual component to performances of their 2000 hit “Goodbye Earl,” which slyly describes how two women, Mary Anne and Wanda, murder Mary Anne’s abusive husband.
On the group’s current tour, “Goodbye Earl” is accompanied by a photo montage that includes O.J. Simpson, Chris Brown, Robert Durst and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, with added devil horns, a goatee and a mustache.
Ultimately, of course, it is the Dixie Chicks’ music that speaks loudest. They are blessed with a bevy of terrific songs and the vocal and instrumental skills to bring them alive anew each night.
But, like everyone from Beyoncé and Ani DiFranco to Neil Young and U2, Maines, Maguire and Strayer aren’t afraid to mix high-quality entertainment with timely social commentary on stage. And if they ruffle some feathers along the way, well, who better to do so?