June 8, 2006

Dixie Chicks see slow ticket sales in some cities

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Country music trio the Dixie
Chicks, still taking heat for criticizing President Bush, are
weathering sluggish ticket sales in several cities for their
upcoming U.S. tour, industry watchers reported on Thursday.

While early ticket purchases for their first major tour in
three years are generally robust in Northeastern cities,
initial sales have fallen short of expectations in numerous
markets, especially in the Midwest and South, forcing some
dates to be scrubbed.

By contrast, the group's latest album, "Taking the Long
Way," opened atop the U.S. pop charts last week, selling
526,000 copies during its first seven days and remaining No. 1
in its second week to notch one of the year's strongest debuts.

But with many country music stations denying the Chicks
airplay, box office business is off to a slow start in places
where the group has sold out in the past, said Gary
Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry magazine Pollstar.

According to Pollstar, dates in Memphis, Tennessee,
Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, and Fresno, California, have been
dropped from the tour schedule for now, while box-office sales
also were canceled for Houston.

Billboard magazine reported that ticket counts for shows
that went on sale last weekend were averaging 5,000 to 6,000
seats per date in major markets, and less in secondary locales.
Arena capacities on the tour generally top 15,000.

"Basically, they're having to rethink the entire tour at
this point," Bongiovanni told Reuters. "Clearly their problems
seem to be strongest in the red states," he said, referring to
those areas carried by Bush in the 2004 presidential election.


A key factor in tepid sales was the continuing backlash
against the Dixie Chicks by many country music stations over
the anti-Bush remarks of lead singer Natalie Maines in 2003.

Publicists for the band declined to comment, as did
officials for AEG, one of the companies promoting the tour.

Maines sparked an uproar when she declared during a London
concert in March 2003 that the band was embarrassed to come
from the same state -- Texas -- as the president. She fanned
flames anew by retracting an earlier apology for "disrespecting
the office of the president," telling Time magazine in a recent
interview: "I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel he is
owed any respect whatsoever."

"Country radio in many places has really closed the door on
this group," Bongiovanni said, adding that some stations have
not only refused to play the Chicks' music, they have refused
advertisements for their tour as well.

Still, ticket sales were strong in cities such as Boston,
New York, Philadelphia and Toronto, where a second October show
was added to the schedule after the first concert quickly sold
out, he said.

Further complicating the Chicks' commercial outlook has
been their recent transformation as a band, Bongiovanni said.

"They've moved away from being a purely country group, so
their audience is changing," he said.

Bongiovanni said it was not unusual for concert schedules
to be altered after being booked, but he said the Dixie Chicks
tour was drawing more attention than usual "because of the
politics behind it." After two shows in London this month, the
tour was set to begin on July 21 in Detroit.