Two days past 18
He was waiting for the bus in his Army green …
Those are the first two lines from one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard, . If you don’t know it, I encourage you to look it up — unless you’re one of those folks who still hates the group that made the song popular, in which case, its beauty might be lost on you.
It didn’t matter that the evidence to invade Iraq was questionable or that Maines later apologized. The damage was done, and one of the most popular acts in the country became its most hated. Its music was banned from radio, CDs were trashed by bulldozers, and one band member’s home was vandalized. Maines introduced “Soldier” with a call for peace, but she would soon find that the group needed metal detectors installed at entrances to shows on its stateside tour because of death threats.1
On March 10th, 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks stood in front of a crowd at Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre in England, and uttered these now infamous words:
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
The comments at the concert beginning a Dixie Chicks world tour sparked off possibly the biggest black balling in the history of American music. Spoken 10 days before the beginning of the Iraq War, the backlash took the Dixie Chicks from the biggest concert draw in country music to relative obscurity in country music in a matter of weeks.
Despite numerous clarifications and apologies from Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks, a full on boycott of their music was called for by pro-Bush, pro-war, and pro-American groups. Their single “Landslide” went from #10 on the Billboard charts, to #44 in 1 week, and the next week fell off the charts completely. Radio stations who played any Dixie Chicks songs were immediately bombarded with phone calls and emails blasting the station and threats of boycotts if they continued. Even radio DJ’s and programmers who sympathized with the Dixie Chicks were forced to stop playing them from the simple logistics nightmare the boycott created. Some DJ’s who played the Dixie Chicks were fired.
Dixie Chicks CD’s were rounded up, and in one famous incident were run over by a bulldozer. Concerts were canceled in the US as the Dixie Chicks couldn’t sell tickets, and rival concerts were set up that would take Dixie Chicks tickets in exchange. The Dixie Chicks lost their sponsor Lipton, and The Red Cross denied a million dollar endorsement from the band, fearing it would draw the ire of the boycott. The Dixie Chicks also received hundreds of death threats from the incident.
The boycott eventually lead to the virtual demise of the band. They went on hiatus in 2008, though their bounce back album in 2006 produced by Rick Rubin called Taking The Long Way went gold in its first week, debuting at #1 on the Billboard country charts despite absolutely no radio play.
Perspective on the Demise of the Dixie Chicks 10 Years After
Whether anyone wants to look at what the Dixie Chicks comments as right, wrong, poorly timed, or misplaced being said on foreign soil, it is hard to not see 10 years after the hypocrisy of how the Dixie Chicks were handled by the country music community. At the same time Natalie Maines made her comments, Willie Nelson was also openly criticizing the war, but taking it to another level by floating the idea that 9/11 was a potential governmental conspiracy perpetuated by the Bush Administration to drum up public support for war in Iraq. Merle Haggard released an anti-war song in the summer of 2003 called “America First” with little to no backlash. And then there is the idea that whether you agree with Natalie Maines or not, her right to speak her mind is guaranteed by The First Amendment, one of the things President George W. Bush pointed out himself when responding to the controversy in April 2003:
The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say…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. I don’t really care what the Dixie Chicks said. I want to do what I think is right for the American people, and if some singers or Hollywood stars feel like speaking out, that’s fine. That’s the great thing about America. It stands in stark contrast to Iraq.
As President Bush points out, the people boycotting the Dixie Chicks were also exercising their rights to freedom of speech. The controversy also created positive sentiment and appeal for The Dixie Chicks that it wasn’t there before. Their album Taking The Long Way won 2007 Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year; something that was likely not possible without the sentimental vote by the greater recording industry. Outlets like NPR who would have never touched the Dixie Chicks’ music before the boycott began playing them in regular rotation. Taking The Long Way went 5 times platinum eventually, partially on the support of people who sympathized with the Dixie Chicks politically.
How The Death of the Dixie Chicks Changed The Music
Possibly the most untold story of the Dixie Chicks’ saga is the sonic repercussions the boycott and eventual demise of the band has had on country music. The Dixie Chicks were a traditional country band, especially by today’s perspective. They wrote most of their own songs, played traditional acoustic instruments like fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and featured 3 part harmonies. The Dixie Chicks benefited greatly from the resurgence in interest in American roots music and bluegrass spurned by the release of the movie O Brother Where Art Thou in 2000. The Dixie Chicks were helping to usher in a more acoustic, more traditional era in country music, and were the biggest-drawing, best-selling artists in country music at the time; the biggest thing since Garth Brooks in country, and one of the biggest acts in all of American Music.
Meanwhile the opposition to the Dixie Chicks and the person at the opposite end of the political and sonic spectrum was Oklahoma’s Toby Keith. He symbolized the loud, electric, arena rock approach to country music that could be argued is still heavily in place in country music today. Toby positioned himself as the antithesis of the Dixie Chicks, and ended up becoming the best-selling artist in country in the 2000’s decade. Toby’s flashy, rock-style arena show thrived while the Dixie Chicks’ stripped down, acoustic approach dwindled back into obscurity in mainstream country. (Source)
The Dixie Chicks Were Right
by Amy Branham
Last night, while surfing for something to watch on the television, my husband ran across the show “Austin City Limits.” The Dixie Chicks were playing, so he stopped his surfing and we watched them perform. It was good to see them up on stage performing again, especially in a Texas venue, though I do believe the show was a rerun from about a year ago.
As I listened to the songs they performed, I thought of what the Dixie Chicks had been through because they dared to voice an opinion contrary to that George Bush and the war in Iraq. They have had death threats, nearly lost their careers, and have virtually been blacklisted in country music. Their patriotism and right to life have been called into question time and time again, their CD’s burned. Yet they came back, full of defiance, to sing and perform for us again, to a new crowd and fans that were happy to see them back.
I couldn’t help but think, as I sat there listening to them, that the Dixie Chicks were right… They dared to speak the truth..
When Natalie and crew spoke out, when so many others spoke out again the war in Iraq during the lead up, we should have listened to them. They had more sense than so much of the rest of our country. We were caught in fear, and that fear was used to fan the flames of war.
When the Dixie Chicks spoke out, my son and the sons of my friends were still alive. They had just released a CD that had a song called ‘Traveling Soldier’ that tore me up every time I heard it. I could imagine that traveling soldier being my son, going so far away from home, writing letters to some girl back home. I could imagine my son coming home in a box and his name read in a memorial to the war dead. I could imagine…
Yet I could not, even in my wildest dreams, have imagined the true despair, the true heartache, the true fear and the pain I was to later experience.
3,422 American sons and daughters have died since this hideous war began. If we had only stopped and listened to the voice of reason, such as the Dixie Chicks or so many of the others who cried out to our nation’s leaders to not hastily go to war, those men and women would still be alive today. 25,378 soldiers would not be wounded and facing the rest of their lives learning to live with their wounds. Countless civilians of Iraq would not have had to bury their dead. If only we had listened to some voice, one voice, any voice, of reason.
But we did not listen. And now, when I listen to the Dixie Chicks defiant song, “I’m Not Ready To Make Nice,” I can stand up with my head held high and say, Hell, yeah! I’m not ready to make nice. I’m not ready to back down. I’m mad as hell… You get the picture.
The Dixie Chicks were right.