In 1998, the Dixie Chicks sold more CDs than all other country music groups combined. But in 2003, their latest single, Landslide, suddenly dropped off the charts, and the bands’ concerts, all over America, were boycotted. A seemingly offhand comment made by Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, at a London concert, had spiralled out of control. The group were ostracised by the country music community. In 2007, the girls won five Grammys following their ‘Taking the Long Way’ album, but were never welcomed back into the country world. This week however, the group announced the Long Time Gone Tour 2013, a set of nine Canadian dates.
It seems like strange timing. The Courtyard Hounds, made up of Emily Robinson and Martie Maguire- the other two Dixie Chicks, released their second album in July, and Natalie Maines released her first solo album in May. All three artists have clearly matured since the heyday of the Dixie Chicks, and Maines has been outspoken with regard to her country music views.
Maines has been reported as saying that country music is not where her ‘passion’ is, even going as far as saying that having fans that listened to their music alongside the likes of ‘Toby Keith and Reba McEntire’ could ‘limit’ their artistry. Even earlier this year, in an interview for Rolling Stone, Maines stated that she ‘just didn’t like how blatant country music was.’ Since the ‘incident,’ as the band refers to it, Maines has spoken about how she felt pigeonholed by country music- fans assumed her beliefs were conservative, due to her country style.
To put this in perspective, Natalie Maines has received multiple death threats after a comment she made on stage. This backlash is reflected throughout the Taking the Long Way album, specifically in the single ‘Not Ready To Make Nice’:
‘It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over’
Despite her controversial views, Maines is an incredibly talented musician, and the Dixie Chicks are one of country music’s greatest contemporary bands. Sisters Emily and Martie are multi-instrumentalists, often adding a complexity to their sound, and display musical prowess rarely seen in Mainstream country. This was the band that made the banjo cool again.
As fans of country music we should hope that this tour is a sign of things to come for this band. It is doubtful that they will ever be embraced by the mainstream country music market, but there is a market for them. We shouldn’t expect the Dixie Chicks to return to the days of ‘Wide Open Spaces’ and ‘Goodbye Earl’, perhaps a more likely scenario is a combination of the sisters’ bluegrass tinged instrumentation, and Maines’ matured, bluesy vocals. However they decide to continue, this is a talented band, who have, and will, hopefully, go on to produce music of a high caliber. Hopefully the fears and trepidations of the band will not come to fruition on this tour, because no matter personal views, the Dixie Chicks are a band that the country music world can not afford to loose.