Chicks in the Wilderness

A decade ago, they were riding on top of the world, selling millions of records to mothers and daughters (and even a few fathers). Then, after one fateful night in London, the Dixie Chicks were banished from country music. They still haven’t found their way back.
Photo Illustration by Justin Carrasquillo

The thing nobody ever remembers about the Dixie Chicks is how much fun they were. But back when the nineties were winding down, when the Chicks were making the leap from hot-selling country act to objects of a national crush, the only thing they appeared to take seriously was their music. They were ubiquitous then, a brassy girl group that could outplay and outsing any band in Nashville, with runway-model looks and a refreshingly genuine manner. Their image was equal parts strong-willed big sister, freewheeling college dorm mate, and potty-mouthed flirty girl at the end of the bar, a combination that drew country fans of both sexes and all ages and then soaked up more listeners from outside the genre. Their appeal was infectious. They were clearly enjoying every minute of their ride to the top.

Jog your memory for specific examples. Picture their old magazine ads for Candie’s shoes. One showed them packed into a bathtub with giggling faces and goofy sneakers sticking out of the bubbles, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison clutching their fiddle and banjo while singer Natalie Maines belted a song into a scrub brush. Another had them stuffed in the back of a limo, all glammed-up and chowing down on fast food. Or watch their videos on YouTube. For their first single, 1997’s “ I Can Love You Better,” they introduced themselves to the world with lilting three-part harmonies while riding into the frame seated on an airport baggage carousel. In 1999’s ridiculously catchy “ Ready to Run,” they did street stunts on BMX bikes and started a food fight, all while wearing wedding dresses and running shoes. And in 2000’s “ Goodbye Earl,” with its “nah-na-na-na-nah” chorus and “Thriller”-style choreography, they turned a song about killing an abusive husband into a delirious girl-power dance party.

But the joy of the Chicks came through best when they performed live, so stick with YouTube to find clips from their 2000 NBC concert special, Dixie Chicks: On the Fly. It’s just network television, which means you can expect a little cheese, like the show’s running gag that the girls, as everyone in Nashville referred to them back then, are new to the high life. In one prerecorded vignette, Natalie mistakes the bidet in their fancy hotel bathroom for a water fountain. In another Emily fails miserably in a tutorial on smashing her banjo on stage, à la Pete Townshend. But that’s

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