Ames, IA 2003

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Hilton Crowd Enjoys Dixie Chicks' Music

Fans come for the sound, not the politics

By Kyle Munson, Des Moines Register
Ames, Ia. - Forgive, forget and play that fiddle.

That was the collective sentiment in Ames on Tuesday night as a sold-out audience of 13,845 fans in Hilton Coliseum ignored the political controversy swirling (and apparently dissipating) around the Dixie Chicks.

During a March 10 concert in London, lead singer Natalie Maines made the remark heard "round the world: "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

If outraged patriots milled around outside the area before the show to protest, they numbered too few to be spotted.

But devoted fans were abundant. Shanna Stonestreet, Michelle Royals and her sister, Sarah, all road-tripped from Kansas City, Kan., where they had attended the Chicks' concert on Saturday.

Stonestreet, 18, gripped a sign with words and symbols that translated as, "Peace, love and Dixie Chicks."

"I think (Maines) made a mistake, but I think we can forgive her and move on," she said.

"Look at who's No. 1 in hip-hop: R. Kelly, a child molester," Michelle Royals chimed in while clutching a "Free Natalie" sign.

Inside Hilton, the three Texans (sisters Martie Maguire on fiddle and Emily Robison plucking banjo in addition to the perky Maines) proved that they've kept their senses of humor in the face of the backlash. They chose such appropriate pop songs as Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny "Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?" and the Go Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed" to pipe into the arena before they took the stage.

Happy murder hoedown "Goodbye Earl" was the first song from the Chicks. They roamed around an expansive complex of platforms and catwalks at the center of the arena floor that let them play to all sides.

"Anybody aware of what's happened to us in the last couple months?" was Maines' rhetorical question to fans and her first nod to the controversy. "It was definitely life-changing," she said, "and once that happened I understood every single word to this song."

Then the Chicks kicked into "Truth No. 2" from their third and newest CD, "Home."

"You don't like the sound of truth comin" from my mouth," Maines sang as footage of 1960s civil rights marchers flashed on video screens above her.

"It's very important to start the song quickly," Maines quipped later in the concert, "because we all know what happens if I'm given too much time to talk."

Musically, the Chicks cultivated a down-home acoustic flavor despite their beefy eight-piece backup band. A separate four-piece "String Squad" joined them for an even more rootsy take on "White Trash Wedding," followed by an instrumental jam.

The Chicks shined with their cover songs off "Home." Robison introduced Radney Foster's tender "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)" by telling Hilton that when her son was born six months ago she thought "he looked like a little baby lizard." Then came the sweet harmonies of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide."

The audience lavished the Chicks with cheers from the start, and everybody was singing along by the time "Wide Open Spaces" closed the set proper. Fans raised the roof to welcome an encore of "Top of the World" (the night's elegiac, showpiece ballad) and "Sin Wagon" (the Chicks' most furious jam, which for a departure featured Maines on electric guitar).

The trio clearly learned from its previous arena tour, which suffered from inconsistent pacing and static staging. By commanding the arena floor and playing up their bluegrass roots, the Chicks have matured into a winning arena act.

Ames was the ninth stop of the tour, which thus far has encountered minimal political flak.

A radio talk jock in Knoxville, Tenn., organized about 50 people to protest the Chicks there, and two country radio stations in the Kansas City area still refuse to air the trio's songs.

Inside Hilton, sales were brisk at the merchandise tables. Phone Philavanh of Ames purchased a $25 T-shirt to celebrate her 25th birthday and first arena show.

"I thought they made too much of a big deal about it," was her take on the Chicks flap. "I don't think it should affect their music, anyway."

Tickets to the Chicks' tour (May 1-Aug. 4) went on sale just prior to Maines' much-publicized stage banter and earned $49 million in a single day, setting a music-industry record.

"When you paid $71 for a ticket, you're not gonna not come because of something somebody said in London," said Glen Carpenter, reflecting Iowa practicality while sipping a beer during soul singer Joan Osborne's opening set. His future father-in-law, Kim Larson, agreed that politicizing the Chicks had been "blown way out of proportion."

Just before launching into her signature radio hit, "One of Us," Osborne primed the audience to praise the Chicks.

"If you've been listening to what's been going on in the Dixie Chicks' world . . . you know that tonight is your night to show them the love and respect that you feel for them, so don't hold back," she said.

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