Atlanta, GA 2003

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photo by Rick Diamond

Dixie Chicks at Philips

Lead singer Natalie Maines, replete in biker-rally chic and massive hair, didn't let a few catcalls at Philips Arena on Sunday night shut her up.

"While you boo, remember: I have your $65!" Maines quipped to the sold-out, heavily female crowd.

But cheers drowned out hecklers as the trio ran through a spirited 22-song set.

Maines alluded to her much-criticized anti-Bush remarks only peripherally -- midway through the concert, as she encouraged people to vote. The group then broke into the freedom-of-speech ditty "Truth No. 2," which included images of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi and anti-Chicks CD-burning rallies, followed by the word "tolerance."

For the rest of the nearly two-hour set, the Chicks barreled through some of their biggest hits, including "Wide Open Spaces," "Ready to Run" and the boisterous closer, "Sin Wagon."

A lone protester marched outside Philips with a sign reading, "Chicks: Closet New York Liberals." He said his name was Gary Edens and that he'd driven up from Jacksonville. "This isn't an issue of free speech," he said. "My beef is they didn't have the guts to say what they had to say in the United States."

Arguably the biggest country act in recent years, the Dixie Chicks have alienated much of their conservative fan base since Maines told a London crowd in March that she was "ashamed the president is from Texas."

They are the words that won't go away. After five months, neither country radio nor average fans seem ready to forgive or forget.

On Saturday night at Wild Bill's country dance hall in Duluth, even a cover of a Dixie Chicks song (singer Crystal Leigh began her set with the humorous getting-even number "Goodbye Earl") drew wrath.

"Why is she singing that?" asked Kym Perry, 38, a Lawrenceville real estate agent, shaking her head in disgust. "Sure Natalie is entitled to her opinion, but we're entitled not to have to listen to her."

Country radio has been even less forgiving: Neither Kicks 101.5 (WKHX-FM) nor Eagle 106.7 (WYAY-FM) has played a single Dixie Chicks song since March. Their latest single, "Godspeed," bombed on radio, the first Chicks single not to hit the Billboard country top 15.

In an e-mail survey of its Kicks listeners last week, two-thirds still didn't want to hear a Chicks song, only slightly lower than when they were polled in March.

-- Rodney Ho

Atlanta Journal Constitution

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