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Dixie Chicks ready to make nice ... music

By Dixie Reid for the Sacramento Bee

The Dixie Chicks have a song that says they're not ready to make nice, not ready to back down. And, yes, they say they're still mad. But here it was, exactly one week since the Nov. 7 midterm elections in which Republicans suffered major defeats - and lead singer Natalie Maines didn't crow about it one little bit.

In fact, she had more to say about her chipped black nail polish than she did politics when the Dixie Chicks played to a raucous and supportive crowd Tuesday night at Arco Arena.

Dixie Chicks historians will recall the "incident." It was March 2003, and the band was performing in London just as the United States was about to go to war in Iraq. Maines, generally the one who does the talking on stage, told the London audience that she was "ashamed" President Bush was from Texas, where she and bandmates Emily Robison and Martie Maguire grew up.

And even though Maines later said she was just joking, the damage was done. The Chicks were branded as un-American. Country radio stations across the land dropped the Dixie Chicks from their play lists, and a once-loyal country base abandoned the group in droves. There were even public gatherings to destroy their CDs. Much worse were the death threats.

However, when the Chicks rolled into Sacramento with their "Top of the World Tour" a little over four months after the London "incident," as the women came to call it, they walked into a sold-out Arco Arena. It was a stop on what would be the year's most successful country tour, grossing $62 million.

On Tuesday, the same arena was about three-quarters full for the "Accidents & Accusations Tour," which was opened by Austin-based singer-songwriter Bob Schneider (readers of People magazine will remember that he once dated actress Sandra Bullock). He ended his set with, oddly enough, a well-received, straight-faced cover of Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman."

And then it was nonstop Dixie Chicks for close to two hours. Gone was the elaborate staging they used in 2003 - the spinning windmill and the miniature Mississippi River. This time it was all about the music.

There was something old (crowd favorites like "Sin Wagon," the murderously funny "Goodbye Earl" and the song Maines said they never tire of performing, "Wide Open Spaces.") There was plenty of new, much of it their lyrical reaction to the post-incident fallout ("Not Ready to Make Nice," "The Long Way Around," "Lubbock or Leave It."). And they borrowed a few songs, such as Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide."

All skilled musicians and moms (they have seven kids between them), Maines, Robison and Maguire put in a long night on very high heels for Tuesday's performance. They never forgot where they were, with Maines uttering "Sacramento" more than once. And it sounds as if they'll be back.

"We'll see you next time," she said as the three Chicks turned to go.

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