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May 30, 2006

Timing is Everything

Karen Lewis

The Dixie Chicks - Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire - were the top-selling country group of the late 1990's and early 2000's. After "the Incident," the anti-Bush remark that lead singer Natalie Maines made onstage in London in 2003, the group went into a self-imposed exile.

Ten days before the war in Iraq commenced, Ms. Maines, a Texan, declared: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." This statement not only put the Chicks in the headlines but it also resulted in boycotts of their music and even death threats.

After right-wing blogs and talk show hosts accused the Dixie Chicks of lacking patriotism, Ms. Maimes released the following statement: "I feel the president is ignoring the opinion 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."

On March 14, 2003, Ms. Maines apologized to President Bush for being "disrespectful" to his office, but added, "I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers' lives are lost."

A week ago, "Taking the Long Way," one of the most anticipated albums in recent years, was released. There is much debate about how it will be received. The first single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," tells us exactly where the Chicks stand on their March 2003 experience. Ms. Maines has stated that she now regrets having made an apology to the president.

A few things have happened, or not happened, since the group outraged the largely conservative, Republican country music community: no weapons of mass destruction have been found, Saddam Hussein has not been linked to 9/11, a few thousand lives have been lost in Iraq, the war shows no signs of ending soon, several senior military officers have criticized the handling of the war and President Bush's approval rating has dropped to a dismal 29%, according to a Harris poll. Perhaps a few of the Dixie Chick's former critics might agree with Ms. Maines' 2003 statement now.

Some radio stations and consumers will certainly boycott the new album. Some say that it was a big risk to come out with this political commentary after the "Incident." Since when is war protest music unpopular? I can remember listening to Joan Baez and Judy Collins in the '60's. For me, the message resonated as much as the music.

I predict that "Taking the Long Way" will be wildly successful. Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Neil Young have all released ant-war albums that have been highly successful. Recognizing this, the Dixie Chicks may be attracting a slightly different audience; but they are certain to retain their core supporters. The new album is far closer to rock than it is country.

The media has helped the Chicks as well. This new album has created a wave of publicity which will only serve to create interest and awareness. Look at what controversy did for the sale of movie tickets to "The Da Vinci Code!" This movie did not quite live up to all of the hype. On the other hand, the performance of the Dixie Chicks is nothing short of spectacular. The songs that I have heard from the new album reinforce both their incredible growth and talent.

Again, I predict a real comeback for the Chicks. The time is right, the music is good and these ladies have more chutzpah than anyone on the American music scene at the moment. I've never been much of a country music fan and I don't own any Dixie Chicks music. That will change really soon!

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