Last year, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks contemptuously dismissed Toby Keith’s popular pro-war song “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” saying it was “ignorant and it makes country music sound ignorant.” No boycott was called. In fact, not a word was said.
So there’s no reason to interpret the hostile response that followed Maines’s anti-war comments as the spontaneous reaction of an outraged country audience. In fact, the attack on the Dixie Chicks was a political maneuver no less calculated than the Watergate break-in.
According to a story from americannewsreel.com sent to RRC by former Reprise president Howie Klein, “Phone calls originating from Republican Party headquarters in Washington went out to country stations, urging them to remove the Chicks from their playlists.The ‘alternative concert’ [to the Dixie Chicks’ tour opener] is actually the work of the South Carolina Republican Party and party officials are helping promote the concert.We received a call from ‘Gallagher’s Army,’ urging us to support the alternative concert. Caller ID backtraced the call to South Carolina GOP headquarters.”
Chain radio stations were quick to dump the Chicks because their parent companies (Clear Channel, Viacom, et al) have pressing business in the nation’s capitol and they want help from the Republican Party.
The Dixie Chicks Top of the World tour was set to begin in Greenville, South Carolina, on May 1. The state legislature had passed a resolution condemning the group. Lipton Tea, their corporate tour sponsor, scrapped most of its endorsement deal with the Chicks, saying that it’s “wrong” to be for peace. In the wake of the many death threats against the three young women in the group, bomb dogs searched the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville before the show.
Lon Helton, country music editor of Radio & Records, claimed that country fans are all right-wing, saying “Country music is for people who live in between the Hudson and the Hollywood sign and they have a different view.” If all country fans opposed Natalie Maines’s plea for peace, that raised the question: Would anyone show up at the Dixie Chicks’ shows? Would the group back away from its beliefs in a desperate attempt to save its career?
Before the concert in Greenville, the arena sound system played “Everybody Wants to Save the World,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Gos, “Band on the Run” by Wings, and Tammy Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.” There were only a few empty seats and the crowd was doing the wave even before the show began. As soon as it did, there was what the LA Times’s Geoff Boucher described as “a landslide of fan love.”
After the third song, Natalie Maines, clad in a tank top emblazoned with “Dare to Be Free,” offered the crowd a chance to boo. “If there were any boos, they couldn’t be heard over the huge applause,” reported the Greenville News. Nor was there any booing during the performance of Patty Griffin’s “Truth No. 2” (“You don’t like the sound of the truth coming out of my mouth”) when a video was shown onstage that highlighted the civil rights movement, Gandhi, Malcolm X, and women’s rights, along with footage of people stomping on records by the Beatles, Sinead O’Connor, and the Dixie Chicks.
The Chicks got the same enthusiastic response everywhere they went on the first Southern leg of their tour. Sometimes there would be one protestor standing outside with a pro-Bush sign, sometimes none. The reception given the Dixie Chicks below the Mason-Dixon line doesn’t change the reality that there is a powerful and dangerous streak of jingoism in America, one that has its strongest roots in the South. But the Dixie Chicks have proven that there are two sides to that story. Even more than their music and their courage, that may turn out to be their greatest gift of all.
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