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Dixie Chicks fly the coop, get back on the road

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, June 3, 2016

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After 10 years of not touring or recording, the three members of the Dixie Chicks know that some would like to paint the once dominating country group as fractured and fighting.

And while they hate to disappoint anybody...

"There's nothing to grab onto -- but people try," the group's Emily Robison, who co-founded the Chicks during 1989 in Dallas with sister Martie Maguire, said during an interview in Austin, Texas. "It's much more interesting for people if we're squabbling and there's an undercurrent of jealousy and hatred and all that stuff. People want to stir things up like that, but we don't see it.

"We talk about it -- a little. We realize it's gonna happen. We just let it roll off our backs."

This year the Chicks have taken wing again, at least as touring act, for the first time since it hit the road to promote its 2006 album "Taking The Long Way." The trio -- lead singer Natalie Maines, the daughter of country musician and producer Lloyd Maines, joined during 1995 -- has played a handful of dates during the interim, but this year it launched a bona fide DCX MMXVI World Tour, which began during April in Europe and starts its U.S. run this week.

And those expecting, or hoping for, any signs of rancor will likely be disappointed.

"It answers the biggest question, the elephant in the room, which is 'Have the Dixie Chicks broken up?'" said Robison, 43 "To us it's almost the perfect, 'Shut up! Stop asking! Believe us when we say we're still together, we're just not working right now.' So it just kind of helped us do that."

Maines, 41, added that, "We respect each other as sisters first. I'm always open to touring. I like our stuff. I like playing it live. I love our fans. That part's easy to do."

The Chicks flew highest between 1998-2004 as one of country's dominant acts. Its 1998 album "Wide Open Spaces," Maines' first with the group, was the first of four consecutive No. 1 country albums and went 12-times platinum. The Chicks scored 14 Top 10 country singles during that time as well, and won 13 Grammy Awards.

But Maines placed the group in a delicate position on March 10, 2003. While performing in London as tensions were building towards the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, she told the Chicks audience that, "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." The British fans loved it, but the blowback at home was immediate, from fellow artists and from country radio stations, some of which removed the group from its playlists and instituted boycotts against it.

That the Chicks' next album, 2006's "Taking The Long Way," still went No. 1 and double-platinum, was a testament to the group's popularity. But the aftermath -- chronicled in the documentary "Shut Up And Sing" -- took its toll, and Maines still feels the burn (pun intended).

"What sucks is where people's opinions used to be a truer opinion about our music, now it feels tainted," explained Maines, who subsequently moved to California. "If someone hates it, it's probably because they hate me politically. So the judgment of it just isn't as honest and pure as it used to be."

Emotional wear and tear certainly had something to do with the Chicks' subsequent hiatus. So did personal relationships and family issues. Less acknowledged, however, is musical ambitions that were growing apart on both sides -- and made clear when Robison and Maguire started their rootsy band Court Yard Hounds, while Maines released a rock-leaning solo album, "Mother," in 2013 that she recorded with Ben Harper.

"I always liked what the three of us had and the sound that we made, but country music was not what was the most honest to me," Maines said. "As great as that sound is, there are rules to that sound. You've got to pick songs that can have a banjo or a fiddle, and I wanted everything a little more open."

However, she added, the Chicks never kowtowed strictly to those perceived rules.

"Our creative decisions weren't dictated by a radio format or this or that; they were dictated by our instrumentation and three-part harmony, so it felt good creatively," Maines explained.

Robison recalled that she and Maguire, 46, spent "a year of trying to convince Natalie to get in the studio. She didn't want to, and we had to respect that." Launching Court Yard Hounds, meanwhile, actually helped push Maines towards making her own album. "I'm glad they were doing that because I felt like everyone was waiting for me, and I felt a lot of pressure," Maines said. "I know they have such a need to do music, and I didn't like feeling responsible for taking that away from them. And then I could do (a solo album) without feeling like I was cheating on Emily and Martie."

That opportunity actually made Maines "more willing to play Dixie Chicks shows," according to Maguire. And now, as the DCX MMXVI World Tour hits the U.S. there's still a question of whether or not the Chicks will become a recording entity again. Robison and Maguire clearly hope so, but the latter noted that, "We realized a long time ago we couldn't push (Maines) too hard." And Maines isn't sure the three would share much common ground right now in creating new music.

"I'm sure they'd rather I do a Dixie Chicks record...but I think it's hard for me to imagine making a country record," Maines says. "I think 'Taking The Long Way' is as far outside of country as (Robison and Maguire) would be comfortable going. That's my favorite of our records, but I don't know that they would say the same.

"But I try not to project, and never say never. So who knows? I guess anything could happen."

Dixie Chicks. Augustana and Josh Herbert

7 p.m. Saturday, June 4.

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.

Pavilion and lawn tickets are sold out.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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