Knoxville, TN 2003

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Dixie Chicks Wow Crowd At Thompson-Boling Arena
By Wayne Bledsoe, Knoxville News

Considering the CD-smashing, radio bans, dip in sales and negative media coverage, it would stand to reason that the Dixie Chicks concert Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena would be empty.

Instead, the group, whose antiwar/anti-President Bush comment landed them in the political hot seat, packed more than 18,000 fans into the hall, and the Texas trio put on a show with more pure country music than Knoxville has seen in some time.

The band's most recent album, "Home," emphasized the group's bluegrass roots, and the group's current tour does the same. With Natalie Maines on lead vocals, the women sang tight bluegrass harmonies with Martie Maguire on fiddle and her sister, Emily Robison, handling banjo or dobro. The trio was augmented by a seven-piece band as well as a small string section.

After a brief set by singer Joan Osbourne, highlighted by her hit "What If God Was One of Us?" the Chicks appeared on the in-the-round stage after Elvis Costello's song "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding" played over the speakers.

The Chicks rose up through the stage performing their somewhat controversial hit "Goodbye Earl," a song about an abused wife who kills her husband.

It was clear early on that the Chicks were not deterred by their detractors. "Did I hear booing?" asked Maines after the third song. "Because when I hear booing it reminds me of freedom of speech."

She followed by inviting those who wanted to boo to do so, but if the crowd felt like drowning out the booing with cheers to feel free. Both could be heard.

In truth, the Chicks seem to be capitalizing on their notoriety with a gusto similar to that of their critics. Among the band's pricey merchandise was a "Free Natalie" T-shirt - costing a mere $30. And, when the group performed the song "Truth No. 2," images of civil-rights marches, anti-Vietnam War protests, suffrage and gay rights rallies were mingled with shots of anti-Dixie Chick rallies.

What brought the fans out was music, not politics. Performing favorites including "Long Time Gone," "Wide Open Spaces," "Ready to Run" and the group's particularly pretty rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," the group wowed the crowd.

The show's staging was fun, with the Chicks traipsing from platform to lighted platform with subtle gimmicks.

Some of the biggest cheers of the night went for the hot bluegrass instrumentals and the song "Travelin' Soldier", the hit pulled from many country radio playlists.

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