In the late 80s through the early 00s, you could say something to me about a popular country musician and it would be met with a blank stare…indifference.
I was into punk rock, alternative and indie rock (not to be confused with what is now called “indie”). I’d see the big hair and mullets on country CD covers and waved it off as not for me (yeah, I judged books by their covers, sue me). At this point I should also mention that I typically had blue, green or pink hair at the time so who was I to judge.
The closest I came to country music was my days growing up hearing my folks play Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Larry Gatlin and the like. Well, there was that time I took my dad to see Johnny Cash in 1996, but that’s another story for another time.
The mid to late 90s saw rise to alt-country (which we here at CMchat call Yallternative). Bands like Uncle Tupelo (who after their split gave us Wilco and Son Volt), The Old 97’s, Lucinda Williams (and countless others) caught my ears and showed me that new country music could be cool. All I needed was a band to bridge the gap between Yallternative and what’s played on the radio.
On March 10, 2003 the Dixie Chicks were on tour in London when lead singer Natalie Maines made an off-hand comment on the eve of the war in Iraq: “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” The statement was well-received in London, but not so much at home. The proverbial doo doo hit the fan. My ears perked up. I’m far from political, but I’m always up for a musician willing to stir the pot in a thoughtful and/or provocative way. The public outcry was resounding: “Why can’t you just shut up and sing?” What followed is well-documented: Record burnings, Radio stations were pressured by listeners to stop playing their music, and Natalie Maines received death threats.
After many apologies (some more heartfelt than others) by Natalie and her band mates, who loyally and fully supported Maines despite the damage to their collective bank accounts (the Chicks were the biggest selling country band in the SoundScan era), the Chicks put out one final album, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, which won the Grammy for Album of the Year (along with four other Grammys).
I was listening to my local independent rock radio station that plays a mix of old rock, hippie, alternative rock and new indie music on my way to work the day that Taking the Long Way was released. The morning DJ introduced a new song by a band that he said they normally don’t play, but he felt the station’s listeners needed to hear it. That song was “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks. My jaw dropped, just as it still does now, when I hear the raw emotion and power in the song.
This was my introduction to popular country music “and I kinda liked it.” Actually, I loved it.
Go figure. I finally get into one of the biggest bands in mainstream country music and the country world wanted nothing to do with them. They were now officially banished from country radio, all for expressing themselves in a profession where honestly expressing yourself is one of the genre’s most celebrated tenets.
In the following years, the Dixie Chicks have stuck together, resolute in never kowtowing to country radio again. They got together in 2013 to tour Canada, but have only performed a handful of times here (mostly benefits) in the States since their last official headlining tour in 2006 (they did open a handful of shows for The Eagles in 2010).
It’s been long enough. It’s time for the country music fans to forgive them and once again enjoy their amazing music.
Here are seven Dixie Chicks songs to remind you why they were so loved. We as country music fans need to rise up and let them back into “the country club.”
COWBOY TAKE ME AWAY
WIDE OPEN SPACES
…that’s right I said mattress dancin’….
I CAN LOVE YOU BETTER
…this song still breaks my heart.
BONUS TRACK — NOT READY TO MAKE NICE
…for those who just can’t get over it…