It had been one of my biggest musical regrets, that I hadn’t gotten the chance to see the Dixie Chicks back when they were tearing up the charts. I was only 18-years-old when they disappeared from the music scene after releasing critically acclaimed and Grammy Award-winning Taking the Long Way. Just three years prior to that, lead singer Natalie Maines had made the political comment heard ‘round the world, especially in my rural small town’s world. It was simple, but the statement made overseas poisoned the country music watering hole back home: “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.”
With their music banned from country music stations, albums burned in protest, and death threats being thrown their way, it seemed like they would never rise again beyond their response album.
Last night, the Dixie Chicks brought their MMXVI tour to the Forum just outside of Los Angeles, and although my excitement was high, my expectations were in check. It had been ten years since the Chicks last toured together- perhaps this would be a tired reunion to collect a much-needed pay day. We’ve all seen that far too often.
So imagine my surprise when I did get to see the Dixie Chicks in their prime….in 2016.
The rebels of country music made it abundantly evident from the moment you stepped into the outdoor concourse just where they stand on social issues, not shying away from the political aspect that nearly killed their career years ago. Tables for the Human Rights Campaign, an organization advocating for LGBTQ rights, and Planned Parenthood were positioned next to one another, providing pamphlets, valuable information, a support system and, to many people’s excitement - free condoms.
On the big screens inside the venue played a video where Natalie Maines spoke on Proclaim Justice, an organization in which she’s a board member that is “dedicated to winning freedom for inmates who are factually innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.” In the merchandise stand, you could even purchase a limited edition tour t-shirt that supported Proclaim Justice.
And it’s because of the way the Dixie Chicks support people of all walks of life, that the energy in the venue could only be described as “One Love.”
Elle King opened the show, strutting on stage in a leather fringe jacket that read “Wild Child” on the back, and no one doubted that was true by the time she finished her first song. Elle King is the perfect opener for the Dixie Chicks, a modern outlaw that throws up her middle finger at conforming to anybody else’s idea of what she should be. She’s bluesy, she’s rock ‘n’ roll and she’s a bad ass. At only 27-years-old, she’s already won two Grammy Awards, toured with Ed Sheeran, Modest Mouse, Train and, of course, the Dixie Chicks, among others. She broke the top ten with her single “Ex’s and Oh’s,” and she’s not showing any sign of slowing down anytime soon.
She toasted the crowd multiple times throughout night with her beer, and when she spoke, she garnered big laughs from the crowd with her dry and unapologetic sense of humor.
“This is a true story...if you’re into that sort of thing,” she said, shrugging, before starting one song.
Elle King is a breath of fresh air, a modern day Johnny Cash with a Janis Joplin style.
The Dixie Chicks flew onto the stage at promptly 9 pm, all dressed in black and white with a stage production that was sleek….and didn’t quite match the cowboy hats, daisy dukes and spurred boots that were scattered amongst the crowd.
From the moment the ladies started singing together, it was immediately chill-inducing. They’ve not lost an ounce of their magic over the years; if anything, the tribulations have seemingly strengthened them. The setlist spanned their career, not staying overly focused on any certain era, but every song felt deeply personal to them, even today.
It was when they sang Patty Griffin’s “Don't Let Me Die in Florida,” that Natalie Maines’ voice shined the brightest, displaying the dark and colorful bluesy tones she possesses, and speaking of covers, their version of “Daddy Lessons” by Beyonce added a whole new depth to the song.
While Natalie did not speak directly on politics throughout the night, cheers from the crowd erupted when Donald Trump’s face briefly appeared on the video screens during “Goodbye Earl,” a cameo that has probably taken place every night of the tour but was especially fitting last night.
Just one day after a tape was released featuring the presidential candidate making lewd remarks about women and commentary that can be interpreted as sexual assault, my social media timeline had mostly been filled with condemnation, including Republican leaders and his own vice-presidential running mate. Yet, it was incredibly disheartening to see men and women also defending his remarks, using memes that said things like “If American women are so outraged at Trump’s use of naughty words, then who the heck bought 80 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey?”
As a woman and someone who has witnessed sexual assault first-hand, I’ve been deeply troubled by the comparison. A work of fiction about a consenting couple is not comparable to a (real life) man who has just described grabbing women by the “pussy” and being a star means you can "do anything." Some men defended the statements, claiming that's how all men talk. I've seen women reminding us that men have testosterone, and they can't help it if they feel or talk that way. That's the way men are made. Or sling mud at another candidate, because two wrongs make a right.
Admittedly, I was feeling pretty down all day by witnessing people I know-- some I love dearly-- support this kind of behavior, which is both disgusting and inexcusable.
Last night, watching three women of such conviction and strength gave me strength. It gave me hope. This was more than a concert, it was a much-needed shared experience among other people who understand that a woman is more than our bodies and sexuality. And when you have something to say, even when it’s not the popular thing, even if it means your career, you risk it all.
The Dixie Chicks aren’t so dixie anymore, and I probably wouldn’t refer to any of them as “chicks,” especially to their faces, but like many of our musical icons, they’ve always been ahead of their time. But last night, it was right on time for this young woman.