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 acts.
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."