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Dixie Chicks, radio and fans

Country Standard Time Editorial, June 2006

The Dixie Chicks rode high three years until The Incident. They had lots of hits on the radio, excellent albums that showed they were musicians with chops and direction and enjoyed enthusiastic crowds on the concert circuit.

But that all changed with the famous words uttered in London pre-Iraq war by lead singer Natalie Maines, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the U.S. is from Texas." The response was immediate and negative - sales and airplay took a direct hit.

With great anticipation - but not necessarily expectation, at least with country - the Chicks released "Take the Long Way" in mid-May. First, this is one fine album with a lot of strong songs and excellent singing. Musically, the disc shows a group hellbent on doing something different. Despite that, early indications are country radio isn't responding as the first single "Not Ready to Make Nice," a response to what happened to them since The Incident, stalled in the mid-30s on the charts, even the album debut at number one in the country.

Stations may tell you that their listeners are not interested in hearing from the Chicks, which, as usual, sounds like a situation of the tail wagging the dog. Radio has played that card numerous times saying they will play what people want to hear, but how about being ahead of the curve and playing what deserves to be played instead?

Yet, the blame should not rest solely on the shoulders of radio because the Chicks themselves have made it clear they don't much care. They feel abandoned by radio and say they are not friends of the country radio crowd. But what is disappointing is the need for the Chicks to distance themselves. Martie Maguire went at Reba McEntire and Toby Keith saying the Chicks would be happy with a "small following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do."

Maguire could have stopped right after the word "changer" without dissing others. Was it a slip of the tongue? On purpose as a planned comment to generate further press and attention? And in this day and age, why bother needlessly going after someone - okay they had a beef with Keith, but McEntire?

Why do the Chicks feel compelled to run away from the country fans who do appreciate them, are keen to their music and supportive of their views? Don't paint country fans only as rednecks. Why the need to purposefully alienate them and perhaps lose them? The Chicks may tell you they're saying what's on their mind and aren't going to change their views. That's fine and would be hypocritical if they did, but they may have violated a cardinal rule of country of not being appreciative of their fans. After all, no doubt a chunk of their sales are going to be from country music fans no matter what crowd the Chicks covet.

They should feel free to let their music do the talking - and it does a lot of very fine talking - and letting their fans decide whether to follow them or not (they should) instead of unnecessarily bidding adieu.