August 10, 2006

Dixie Chicks make major detour — nix Dixie

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Country-pop trio the Dixie Chicks,
still feeling a backlash for criticizing President George W.
Bush, have been forced to mostly abandon the American heartland
and Deep South on their latest tour.

Facing lackluster ticket sales in many U.S. cities where
radio stations had banned their music to protest the band's
anti-Bush remarks, the Chicks' promoters have revised their
tour with new stops in Australia and Canada.

Only four Southern U.S. cities remain on the newly
overhauled 49-date concert itinerary posted days ago for the
Chicks' "Accidents & Accusations" trek, their first major tour
in three years.

Those four -- Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas and Austin, Texas
-- were pushed back about two months to the end of the tour,
now set for late November and early December.

Dropped from the original tour schedule released in May
were 14 stops in the Southern and Midwestern regions that
traditionally form the core of fan support for country music

Cities stripped from the original itinerary include
Indianapolis, St. Louis, Houston, Memphis, Greensboro, North
Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida.

The band and its promoter, Concerts West/AEG Live, say the
overall number of North American dates remains the same.

But there is no question the Chicks are spending a lot less
time in Dixie than they did during their 2003 tour, when
Southern stops accounted for nearly a third of the 57 cities
they visited.

"It is skewed more north," John Meglen, president and CEO
of AEG Live, said of the band's current tour. "But remember,
some of the markets we just haven't put on sale yet."

Meglen said the biggest handicap for the Chicks in the
so-called red states, those carried by Bush in the 2004
presidential election, has been fallout from the band's
political comments.

Lead singer Natalie Maines sparked an uproar in March 2003
when she declared during a London concert that the band was
"ashamed" to come from the same state -- Texas -- as Bush.

She later said she was sorry for "disrespecting the office
of the president" but fanned flames anew when she retracted her
apology in a Time magazine interview this year, saying: "I
don't feel he is owed any respect whatsoever."

Many country radio stations reacted by refusing to play the
Chicks' music, "and some of those stations wouldn't even accept
our money to run advertising" for their tour, Meglen said.

Meglen suggested that the lack of on-air promotion in
various markets had more to do with sluggish ticket sales than
with declining support from individual fans.

"I don't know if it's a question that the fans aren't
buying the tickets. It might be that those fans don't even know
the show is in town," he said.

Meglen pointed to Nielsen SoundScan figures showing that
sales of the group's chart-topping latest album, "Taking the
Long Way," were relatively even across the United States. The
album has sold a total of 1.5 million copies domestically since
its release in May.

And Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry magazine
Pollstar, said it is not uncommon for a band to adjust its tour
schedule as it goes on.

"They're not necessarily going to every place they
originally intended to go, but they've added other cities," he
said. "They're going where they think their fans are."