Iowa City, IA 2004

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Iowa City
photo by Hannah van Zutphen-Kann / Press Citizen

Show Delivers Tunes, Not Talk

Dixie Chicks, Taylor serenade Hancher

By Deanna Truman-Cook
Iowa City Press-Citizen

With all the pre-concert hype surrounding Tuesday's James Taylor and the Dixie Chicks concert, one might have bet it would become more a political rally than a concert.

If you are one who did, you had better pay up. The superstars kept the music center stage and the politics secondary.

No Vote for Change talk or even a big introduction opened the more than 2-hour concert.

Instead, singer/songwriter James Taylor came out unannounced in blue jeans and a long-sleeve white shirt and sang the first song, "Something in the Way She Moves," with just his guitar.

The Chicks took the stage during the fourth song, "Sweet Baby James," one of Taylor's signatures songs, with Natalie Maines singing lead vocals and Taylor harmonizing.

From there, the concert rolled on in a back-and-forth manner, including Chicks favorites "Long Time Gone," and "Travlin' Soldier," as well as Taylor standards such as "Carolina In My Mind."

Perhaps they were testing the waters, or not wanting to alienate any fans in the audience who paid $73 a ticket, but during the first half of the show the political jabs were slight.

Taylor made a reference to the first presidential debate being just the day before his and the Chicks' tour kicked off, and added that now things were "rolling" for the candidates. And Maines poked fun at the remark she made about President Bush last year in London where she said the Chicks were ashamed he was from Texas.

"A lot of things have changed definitely since the incident," she said. "I think of my life now pre-incident and post-incident."

Maines said she now wonders when she goes out to a restaurant if the chef is a Republican and is spitting in her food, or with the recent birth of her second child if the nurse messed up the anesthetic in her epidural on purpose.

It wasn't until after the 15-minute intermission that the stars seemed to get more comfortable talking politics on stage.

"We usually would steer clear of talking politics, and I hate the competition, but things are too dire right now," Maines said, "... politeness must go out the window. We must spread the truth; the media does not do it."

Soon after, Taylor, who called himself "a big old yellow dog Democrat," said undecided voters should, "Look at both candidates very carefully and then you choose the smart one."

The crowd applauded, but it was clear that it was the music they were after.

From the very beginning, they began cheering a few bars into a song, and many of the numbers received a standing ovation from the Hancher Auditorium audience.

Maines and Taylor both proved to the audience exactly why they are such big stars with their powerful vocals, touching lyrics and their strong stage presence. And they even came back for an encore.

Musically Sweet, Politically Sedate

By Kyle Munson
Des Moines Register

Iowa City, Ia. - There was no ducking presidential politics on Tuesday in Iowa.

John Kerry campaigned in Tipton. The DVD version of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" had its first day in stores. The vice presidential debate blanketed prime-time TV.

At Hancher Auditorium, the Dixie Chicks and James Taylor were the state's first taste of the Oct. 1-11 "Vote for Change" tour of swing states, designed to get out the vote for Kerry. Five other concerts took place simultaneously Tuesday in three surrounding states.

"A lot of things have changed definitely since 'the incident,' " Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks told the capacity crowd of 2,533, referring to her March 2003 slam of President Bush on stage in London that ignited controversy among the Texas trio's fan base.

"I thought about taking back what I said just for a second," Maines continued. "But, you know, I thought Bush would just call me a flip-flopper."

That punch line was greeted with thunderous applause, but so was Taylor earlier in the evening when he shuffled on stage to start the concert by himself, sitting on a stool and strumming his acoustic guitar.

Applause was more scattered later when Maines claimed that 67 percent of Republicans believe that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11.

"Things are just too dire right now," she said. "Politeness has to go out the window, and we must tell the truth."

The Chicks and Taylor together? Musically, how sweet it was.

After a few songs from Taylor with a growing backup band that eventually included six musicians, the Chicks joined him for "Sweet Baby James." Their harmonies sounded even sweeter in "October Road."

Taylor disappeared for a portion of the seven-song set before intermission, while the Chicks rocked up Bob Dylan's "Mississippi." He returned for a rendition of "Shower the People."

Taylor was a soft-spoken campaigner. He said Kerry's performance in Thursday's presidential debate, on the eve of the "Vote for Change" tour, "definitely picked us up."

Zell Miller he wasn't.

The Chicks returned after intermission with two of their more rollicking songs, "Sin Wagon" and "Long Time Gone."

But the overall tone of the concert was more reassuring than revolutionary. The night ended to the tune of a joyous sing-along to "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)." The band exited, and the Chicks and Taylor remained on stage for a hushed acoustic take on "You Can Close Your Eyes," almost a lullaby, which they dedicated to their myriad children backstage.

That was how Tuesday night felt, really: heart-tugging politics from a bunch of parents.

The scene in Iowa City wasn't raucous offstage, either. Hancher hired six extra security guards, at least two of them standing guard in the auditorium throughout the performance. But the only disruption was the occasional confiscated camera.

The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety reported no arrests midway through the concert and no problems with protesters.

University policy kept campaign literature and sloganeering out of Hancher's lobby, but an hour before showtime, the sidewalk out front was a mini-festival swarming with Democratic activists.

MoveOn.org (the "Vote for Change" organizer), America Coming Together, Rock the Vote, the producers of the Kerry biopic "Going Upriver," and even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were represented.

Des Moines native Jolynn Daniel, a singer-songwriter now based in Nashville, performed anti-war songs on her acoustic guitar and encouraged people to take a free CD if they'd be willing to donate money to one of the activist groups. If concertgoers reached their seats without signing up for an absentee ballot, it wasn't for lack of the hard sell.

Across the Iowa River, some 200 yards from Hancher, U of I students supporting Bush held a counterevent before the concert.

"We didn't really want to protest, but we wanted to make a presence," said Jeff Daker, a U of I junior from Illinois.

Daker said about 30 students gathered on the back lawn of a fraternity to show their support for Bush. The group chose to keep their distance from the concert because they think many people came just to hear the music, not to support Kerry.

But is "Vote for Change" changing votes in Iowa?

Each ticketholder Tuesday paid $73 to the liberal political action committee America Coming Together (ACT). Chris Pratt, Iowa coordinator for ACT, said proceeds would pay for 750 part-time canvassers in Iowa who will knock on doors statewide the two weekends prior to the election. On Tuesday night, Pratt's 20 or so ACT volunteers were split between Hancher and downtown Iowa City, taking advantage of concert hype.

Eric and Marianne Davenport of Solon and their daughter, Madison, 8, lounged in lawn chairs next to their minivan in the parking lot. Madison, decked out in a matching lime green hat, coat and boots, was there as a Dixie Chicks fan - obviously not as a voter. It was her first concert, and she was determined to hear the song "Goodbye Earl." Her parents were there as Democratic activists in Johnson County and new members of MoveOn.org.

"I've never volunteered, never felt the need to until now," Mariannne said. War in Iraq is the No. 1 issue of the campaign, they said.

At Hancher, the Chicks and Taylor complemented each other nicely. The larger question is whether "Vote for Change" will complement Kerry at the polls come Nov. 2.

No matter who's president for the next four years, the real story of Tuesday night might be that the Dixie Chicks seem to have warmed up to their roles as spokeswomen.

Taylor has been a New England liberal since before Watergate, but now the White House must contend with a multiplatinum country trio that, due to recent events, made the giant leap from perky to political - and like filmmaker Moore, become a force to be reckoned with.

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