Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Conservative Appreciation for The Dixie Chicks

Not ready to make nice
Dixie Chicks at West Palm Beach on August 20, 2016

On August 20, 2016 in West Palm Beach one of my favorite music groups Dixie Chicks put on a great show that will be cherished by those lucky enough to have attended. Go see the show if you can before the tour ends. Hopefully they will record a new album. However, in the midst of the current polarized political season the Texas based country rock band reminded me of events that had taken place 13 years earlier.
I am a conservative, but I was not a supporter of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and thought that the war would be a disaster. Needless to say the Dixie Chick's lead singer criticizing the President of the United States at the time did not shock or upset me. Nor was I alone among conservatives in that reaction. 

 Aaron D. Wolf on April 1, 2003 in the pages of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture wrote an essay on the Dixie Chick's controversy titled "A Divisive Statement" reflecting on the reaction to singer Natalie Maines on March 10, 2003 in London stating, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.”  The crowd that heard this statement roared with approval. Wolf described in the above essay how the Dixie Chicks were living up to their name as a group and the excerpt below outlined the aftermath and shameful behavior of those claiming to be "patriots".
 Reacting to the swell of press coverage concerning their singer’s lighthearted comment, the Chicks issued a statement on March 12: “We’ve been overseas for several weeks and have been reading and following the news accounts of our government’s position.  The anti-American sentiment that has unfolded here is astounding.  While we support our troops, there is nothing more frightening than the notion of going to war with Iraq and the prospect of all the innocent lives that will be lost.”  Maines added, “I feel the President is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world.  My comments were made in frustration and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view.”
The Dixie Chicks have been around since 1990, after sisters Martie and Emily Erwin, young bluegrass virtuosos, teamed up with singers Robin Macey and Laura Lynch.  In 1996, Macey and Lynch were replaced by Miss Maines, the daughter of pedal-steel legend Lloyd Maines, and the Chicks reconfigured their sound to be more country and less bluegrass.  Their latest record, Home, contains more bluegrass and includes the song “Traveling Soldier,” about a small-town boy dying in Vietnam after writing several letters to his high-school love back home, echoing Jimmie Rodgers’ “Soldier’s Sweetheart.”
Whatever you think of the Dixie Chicks (their music is too rock-’n’-roll, their dress is often immodest, they sometimes associate with leftist musicians of the Lilith Fair variety), one thing is clear: When Natalie Maines made her infamous statement, the Dixie Chicks were living up to their name.  Contrary to the war drums of the reconstructed country-music industry, our Connecticut-born President’s war of conquest in Iraq does not reflect the spirit of Texas, let alone the land where old times are not forgotten.
On March 14, Miss Maines, without compromising her convictions about the war, attempted to show deference to the Commander in Chief: “As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. . . . 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.”
Pop-country jingo Toby Keith, whose “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” has become the hee-haw anthem of pro-war country fans, began to show a split-screen on his concert jumbotron, featuring Miss Maines’ face next to Saddam Hussein’s.  At the climax of Keith’s Nuremberg rant, he declares, “We’ll put a boot in your a- - / It’s the American way.”  Now, wars of foreign aggression may have become the American way, but they sure ain’t Dixie’s.  Miss Maines later replied that Keith’s lyrics “make country music sound ignorant.”
Following the March 18, 2003 crackdown in Cuba I went on the air on an Irish radio station to discuss what was going on and the Castro apologist I debated wanted to argue the Dixie Chicks controversy. At the time I had their album Home in my car's CD player and enjoyed their music and was against boycotting them, much less destroying their CDs. My response shut him down quickly and we continued debating what was going on in Cuba.  

Amidst the rising wave of criticism, boycotts, CDs destroyed, and credible death threats, Merle Haggard and Bruce Springsteen both came to the band's defense. Springsteen on April 22, 2003 and Merle Haggard in June of 2003 in an editorial on his website. Below is Springsteen's April 22, 2003 statement:
A Statement From Bruce Springsteen

The Dixie Chicks have taken a big hit lately for exercising their basic right to express themselves, To me, they're terrific American artists expressing American values by using their American right to free speech. For them to be banished wholesale from radio stations, and even entire radio networks,for speaking out is un-American.

The pressure coming from the government and big business to enforce conformity of thought concerning the war and politics goes against everything that this country is about - namely freedom. Right now, we are supposedly fighting to create free speech in Iraq, at the same time that some are trying to intimidate and punish people for using that same right here at home.

I don't know what happens next, but I do want to add my voice to those who think that the Dixie Chicks are getting a raw deal, and an un-American one to boot. I send them my support.

Bruce Springsteen 
Three years later they released the album Taking the Long Way and the single "Not ready to make nice" expressing their continued defiance in their music. The album and tour that followed were a success.

In conclusion, don't agree with all their causes, but do appreciate their music and the rebellious stand taken by Natalie Maines and the rest of the band back in 2003, maintained in 2013 that is in the best tradition of both Texas and Dixie. The legendary country artist Merle Haggard, who passed away earlier this year, summed it up best back in June 2003 in an editorial on his website:
"I don't even know the Dixie Chicks, but I find it an insult for all 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."

West Palm Beach Setlist 

Let's Go Crazy (Prince cover)
Taking the Long Way
Lubbock or Leave It
Truth #2 (Patty Griffin cover)
Easy Silence
Some Days You Gotta Dance
Long Time Gone
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince cover)
Video Top of the World (Patty Griffin cover)
Goodbye Earl
Travelin' Soldier (Bruce Robison cover)
Don't Let Me Die in Florida (Patty Griffin cover)
Daddy Lessons (Beyoncé cover)
White Trash Wedding
Instrumental Bluegrass
Ready to Run
Mississippi (Bob Dylan cover)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Cowboy Take Me Away
Wide Open Spaces
Sin Wagon

Not Ready to Make Nice
Better Way (Ben Harper cover)

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