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2003: Looking back at the year

Country Standard Time Editorial, December 2003

The past year in country music was highlighted by several major events. Without a doubt, the most important, overarching event of 2003 in the country world was the passing in September of Johnny Cash, absolutely one of the most important, seminal figures of country music ever.

First formidable in the '50's with his distinctive sound and vocals, isn't it truly incredible how important and vital his music remained even today? Like any artist, he had his ups and downs in the business, but over the past 10 years, Cash released a series of superb albums, filled with his distinctive voice, yearning and feeling.

It seems a shame that he never got his due from the country crowd during this highly productive period - no airplay on the radio, but fortunately his legacy will live on forever through his music.

The big event involved the Dixie Chicks. Everything seemed rather routine regarding their Top of the World tour until lead singer Natalie Maines opened her mouth in March in London with her now famous words about President Bush.

The Chicks found themselves on the receiving end of a tremendous amount of backlash including from other artists - primary among them Toby Keith.

Concerns arose about the safety of the women during their tour. But it seemed from the very first night in Greenville, S.C. until the end, the Chicks overcame whatever opposition they encountered by putting on an outstanding performance, letting their great music do the talking.

As they have throughout their career, the Dixie Chicks did it their way. Their music hasn't exactly the norm coming out of Nashville these days as their new live album proves.

The Chicks grew disenchanted with support from the country community in the wake of their problems, but they never really fit in anyway.

With too much of a lockstep mentality in this world, in some ways the Chicks could be considered a breath of fresh air even if they don't always intelligently present their views.

Let's hope the vitality exhibited by the Chicks continues.

Who else will step up to the musical plate in the future remains to be seen. Several artists released some very fine debut albums in 2003, like Buddy Jewell and Dierks Bentley, but whether they will become one album phenoms, of course, is an unknown. At least, they gave us something to cheer about.

The embattled music business in general hasn't been too kind to developing artists, but let's hope that cream will rise to the top because it's good music that matters most.

2003 had its ups and downs with big losses and a number of bright spots.

May 2004 build upon the latter. Have a healthy and peaceful 2004.