Dixie Chicks
at Freedom Hall

By Michael W. Stout

In the 1980s, country music fans were longing for more traditional country music in an era where there was a very thin line between country and the slick sounds of pop. A young guy, different from the masses of country-pop crossover artists, emerged with a trademark resonating deep voice and a jukebox full of traditional country songs. He was destined to become a traditional country music superstar and that's exactly what Randy Travis did. By the mid-1990s rolled around, country fans were once again searching for something new. In October 1997, the country audience once again awoke and took note as a brand new female trio hit the radio airwaves with "I Can Love You Better." Just who were the girls behind this long-awaited sound that was heavy on the fiddle and banjo? It was none other than the Dixie Chicks, a Texas trio composed of a champion fiddler and her banjoist/Dobro player extraordinaire sister, as well as a lead singer who cut her teeth on the pop sounds of Madonna. These bluegrass-flavored Chicks began turning heads and upon the January 1998 release of their debut album, Wide Open Spaces, these Chicks also began turning rolls of cash register tape.

Nineteen-ninety-eight was a banner year for Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison. The trio received the Horizon Award and were named Vocal Group of the Year by the CMA, they were named Top New Vocal Duo or Group and Top Vocal Group by the ACM, their debut album was named Album of the Year by the ACM and the Grammys and they took home an additional Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "There's Your Trouble." Those few music fans who had not yet jumped on the Dixie Chick bandwagon were finally on board upon the release of the group's 1999 sophomore album, Fly, with the highly anticipated first single "Ready To Run" from the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere box-office smash Runaway Bride.

The Dixie Chicks' 2000 headlining Fly tour catapulted the group into superstardom and landed the gals the highly coveted title of Entertainer of the Year by both the ACM and the CMA. After taking a sabbatical from the road and the recording studio and after finally resolving a highly publicized dispute with their record company, the Chicks shot straight out of the gate last year with their most heart-felt and most down-home traditional country-bluegrass album appropriately titled Home - the Dixie Chicks at their best, unplugged.

When the Chicks' Top of the World 2003 tour rolled into Louisville's Freedom Hall last month, despite a recent flood of self-inflicted negative publicity, Maines, Robison and Maguire seemed to be on top of the world. Lead singer Maines told the sold-out crowd, "Since we're banned from your radio stations, they said you wouldn't be here, but we knew you would be." If this concert was any indication, it appears that Louisville has forgiven the Texas trio as the enthusiastic crowd reveled in the nearly two-hour show, which weighed heavily on their current, multi-platinum-selling album containing the hits "Long Time Gone," "Travelin' Soldier," and a remake of the Stevie Nicks' classic "Landslide."

Dressed more like punk rockers from a 1980s glam band than country sweethearts, the Chicks brought down the house with in-your-face bluegrass numbers like "Tortured, Tangled Heart" and "White Trash Wedding." Fans were equally pleased with country-rocker treats "Goodbye Earl," "If I Fall You're Going Down With Me," and the controversially shocking "Sin Wagon." The Chicks have created the perfect blend of country-bluegrass traditionalism with ever-changing musical versatility. After all, how many concerts can successfully take its listeners on a musical journey romping through "Ready To Run," gliding through orchestral power ballads "Top Of The World" and "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)" (the trio's next single) and heavily picking its way through a spirited bluegrass instrumental "Lil' Jack Slade."