Imagine being at a party with 20,000 people dancing, singing, cheering, high fiving and sharing food with the people next to them. That was the Dixie Chicks concert at Madison Square Garden last night.
I have been at many great concerts over the last 50 years, from the Rolling Stones at Madison Square in 1969 to Hugh Masakela in Berlin in 2008, but I have NEVER felt crowd love at a concert like this one.
The audience knew every one of the songs the Chicks played, including their brilliant tribute to Prince "Nothing Compares to You" sang along with all, and danced to the rocking numbers. Which was encouraged not only by the impact of the songs themselves, but the Chicks incredible musicianship and kick ass band mates.
These three brilliant women played guitars, percusission, keyboards, fiddle while singing impeccable harmonies during songs filled with history and meaning—to everyone there—songs from the early days of their career when they were the hottest and best loved group in country music, and songs that followed their excommunication from country for making negative comments about George Bush during the Iraq War. The audience knew them all, and loved them equally. Which was a statement in and of itself
Imagine you took a representative group of country music fans, big, strong, proud, casually and sometimes skimpily dressed, and overwhelmingly white, and eliminated most of the men! That was the Garden last night.
And the audience, that was a show in itself. I have never been in a crowd like this in New York City, maybe anywhere. Imagine you took a representative group of country music fans, big, strong, proud, casually and sometimes skimpily dressed, and overwhelmingly white, and eliminated most of the men! That was the Garden last night.
Filled with women in their late teens to mid fifties out to PARTY! None of whom looked like they wanted to or could fit in skinny jeans! These were women who ate pizza and fries and hot dogs and chicken fingers with abandon and drank huge amounts of beer!
The three women in front of me and Liz, fortyish, attractive, looking like they came from small town or suburban New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Long Island, were constantly hugging each other, taking selfies, dancing, and swilling so much beer Liz and I prayed they weren't driving home. The Dixie Chicks clearly represented a bond between them, one that they didn't share with husbands or boyfriends., if they had any. And they were one of thousands of groups like that around the Garden.
Country Music Turns Its Back
Which brings up a point. When the Chicks were excommunicated from country music after making negative comments about the Iraq War, it shattered their lives. They lost their audience. Their songs were banned from the radio. They were no longer able to tour. And they had to reinvent their musical identities, which they did brilliantly with a subsequent album,"Taking the Long Way Home" produced by Rick Rubin, which used what happened to them as a theme.
But their sudden and total exclusion from country music radio—and its associated performance venues—was still crushing. The people who loved you and led their lives to your music turned their backs on you. And the question remained. Did they have an audience following this catastrophe? And if so, who was it?
Well, this concert answered the question for me. Their audience wasn't hipsters, or (present company excluded) Park Slope or Upper West Side liberals. It was country music loving WOMEN who identified with their message of defiance, joy, love and refusal to be kept down by arrogant and powerful men—women who would have looked at home at a NASCAR Race or a barbecue or a country music bar.
Fallout from War Opposition
And what about the Dixie Chicks politics—their opposition to War, their involvement in prison reform, their support for gay rights? Well, it didn't seem to bother them a bit. They rocked to "Wide Open Spaces" and "Goodbye Earle" and shouted the words of "Not Ready to Make Nice." No, America, there are a lot of working class and middle class white women NOT READY TO MAKE NICE about the injustices in our society. Live with it. It is part of our reality and it was celebrated last night
Which brings me to the close of the concert where the Chicks brought out their children and hoisted a Rainbow Flag to honor the victims of the Orlando shootings. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
This was an evening of celebration of love, of female power.
Because when all is said and done, the Chicks were powerful, transcendently talented women who were punished when they criticized the most powerful man in the country. Then the powerful men who ran the country music industry wanted to make them disappear and almost succeeded.
But they came back, defying all odds, thumbing their nose at their abusers, and producing the same great music that was almost silenced.
And THAT, my friends, is a story a whole lof of women can identify with.
With A Brooklyn Accent