Long Time Gone

On July 6, 2003, the Dixie Chicks disembarked from a plane at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and climbed directly into police vehicles bound for the American Airlines Center. It had been nearly three months since Natalie Maines told a London crowd she was “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas, and the Chicks front woman received a threat that she would be shot dead on stage at her Dallas show.

The invasion of Iraq was still very fresh at that point. Guerrilla groups of Iraqi insurgents began attacking U.S. forces with improvised bombs, leading Bush to vow to continue the occupation despite declaring an end to combat a month prior. Violence in Iraq was high, the political climate in the U.S. was equally fraught—and Maines’s pronouncement from the stage was a powder keg that seemed like it would destroy the Dixie Chicks.

Maines publicly apologized to Bush, saying that her comments in London were “disrespectful,” but that didn’t do much to shut down the controversy. The death threat in Dallas, credible enough that the band was whisked directly back to the airport after the show by police, was a culmination of what could be the biggest controversy in country music.

In 2016, the Chicks returned to stages across the country in the DCX tour that kicked off its U.S. leg in Cincinnati in June. Tonight, the Chicks will appear in Dallas after thirteen years and one month away from the city where the band first got together, and it seems that they can expect a much warmer reception than their last Dallas gig. Tickets to the August 5 show at Gexa Energy Pavilion sold out in minutes, and can be found in the secondary market for upwards of $500 each. Dates in Austin and Houston are also sold out, indicating that Texas is ready to make nice with the former country darlings. But it wasn’t easy.

In the wake of the stage banter heard ’round the world, radio stations unceremoniously pulled the Dixie Chicks’ music from the airwaves. As morning show DJs across the country encouraged listeners to bring Chicks CDs to radio stations where they would be burned or crushed by a bulldozer in 2003, Eric Raines assumed people would would view Maines’s comment as “Natalie being Natalie.”

Raines, who was then a morning show host at Austin’s KASE FM, had apparently underestimated the country’s volatility. “The reason we fell in love with her was because she spoke her mind,” Raines says. “It made people upset, but it’s a thing she did her entire career. The exact reason we loved Natalie Maines was because she was this spunky blonde who did her thing and said what was on her mind, whether it was just to one person or in front of a crowd of thousands.”

At the time, KASE FM was playing almost a dozen different Dixie Chicks songs every single day. The decision to remove the Chicks’ catalog from the station came gradually, but it was final. “We dumped their music off the radio and never put it back on. If you played a Dixie Chicks song, you were going to get in trouble,” Raines says. “Even four and five years later, I was never allowed to put their music back on the radio. ”

Raines views country radio’s reaction as a betrayal to the Dixie Chicks. “This is a band that made a lot of people across the country really rich, that earned radio stations a lot of ratings, and we just turned on them,” he says. Nowhere was that sting more sharp than in Maines’s hometown of Lubbock. Born in nearby Levelland and a graduate of Lubbock High School, Maines is part of a West Texas musical dynasty. Her father, Lloyd Maines, is a legendary Texas musician and producer.

As Wes Nessman, host of “The Rock Show” on Lubbock’s Rock 94.5, remembers it, the uproar in Lubbock was swift and intense. His daughter, who was working as a receptionist at the station in 2003, was inundated with threats of murder and rape because the Dixie Chicks weren’t immediately removed from the rotation of Rock 94.5’s country sister-station. “I was on the morning show, so of course this was a little bit of fodder for us. We never realized that it was going to blow up and become this obsession,” Nessman says. “We didn’t remove it quick enough. It got that insane around here.”

Prior to those comments in London, Natalie Maines was the biggest thing to hit Hub City since Buddy Holly, who the city didn’t always claim as its own. When Nessman first moved to Lubbock, the Buddy Holly memorial statue had not yet been erected. There were no murals at Lubbock International Airport honoring Holly, who was the city’s first real national celebrity. And before his untimely death in an airplane crash in 1959, Buddy Holly was ostracized in the city because, as Nessman believes, he was a white man who married a Hispanic woman.

In many ways, the parallels between what happened to Natalie Maines and Buddy Holly are too stark to ignore. “It’s the exact same thing that this town did to Buddy Holly,” he says. “They attacked this girl like she was a cancer. When I first moved here, there was no recognition for Buddy Holly in this town. It was very gradually that things started to come around, and it took a really long time.”

But this time, reconciliation may not come as easily. “This town still has a huge—huge—simmering anger with this young lady. It’s not that much different now than it was back then,” Nessman says. “If I put up a poll asking if we should forgive the Dixie Chicks, I think nine out of ten people would say ‘no’ even now. People are still pissed off about it. It’s just something we do around here. We eat barbecue and we hate the Dixie Chicks.”

Two years after the peak of the furor, Lubbock would be ranked the second most conservative city in the country, just behind Provo, Utah. The city has since dropped out of the top ten, but it remains fiercely conservative. In 2012, Lubbock County judge Tom Head made headlines for claiming that President Obama would send United Nations troops into the city to quell any “uprising” against his presidency.

Source : http://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/long-time-gone/

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