Birmingham, AL 2003

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Dixie Chicks Draw Cheers In 'The Capital Of Free Speech'

Kathy Kemp, News staff writer, The Birmingham News

If fans are mad at the Dixie Chicks, you couldn't tell it during the Texas-based trio's Friday night concert in Birmingham.

From the first strains of "Goodbye Earl" to the final encore of "Sin Wagon," the sold-out crowd maintained an appreciative roar.

The Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines, fiddle player Martie Maguire and her sister, Emily Robison, on dobro, banjo and guitar served up a string of hits, including "Wide Open Spaces," "Ready to Run" and "Landslide," their remake of the Stevie Nicks classic.

The ballad "Traveling Soldier" was a high point. It was already a hit in March when Maines, in a characteristic burst of off-the-cuff stage chatter, told a London audience the group was ashamed President Bush was from Texas. In Birmingham, audience members stood and held lighters aloft during the quiet number and cheered at the line, "Waitin' for the soldier to come back again ..."

On up-tempo songs, such as the fabulous hoedown "White Trash Wedding," Maines in black miniskirt and a black sleeveless tee that read, "Dare to be free" stomped like an untamed mare.

There were hints the controversy lingers. Empty seats were noticeable. Souvenir tables, featuring $17 "Free Natalie" T-shirts, drew sparse business.

Maines toned down her stage chatter and didn't mention the Bush comment, which had drawn the wrath of country music fans and even death threats. (Fans entered the BJCC Arena through metal detectors as six demonstrators waved pro-Bush placards across the street.)

Maines announced she'd visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Friday and added, "Y'all are the capital of free speech, I would say." With that, the Chicks performed "Truth No. 2," which begins, "You don't like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth ..." It included video images of Rosa Parks, civil rights protesters and abortion-rights and gay-rights marchers.

Opening act Joan Osborne joined the Chicks for "Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)." As usual, the sound in the Arena was abysmaly distorted and loud enough to puncture eardrums. But you can't blame Natalie for that.

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