Music

A Love Letter To The Dixie Chicks And Strong Female Friendship

A true story about why you should always stand up for yourself at shows.

I’ll never fully understand my best friend’s affinity for all things country. The music, the clothes, the ideal of porches and wide-open spaces filled with swaying wheat. Girl grew up in Parramatta, for one. The furthest place from country living you could dream of.

But she’s always treated the country like the epitome of a life well lived. She’d befriend absolutely any person in a cowboy hat and boots just because they had the good sense to wear them. As a young girl, instead of obsessing over Britney Spears and N*sync like the rest of us, she was reciting every word to Kasey Chambers and Tania Kernaghan. Her 21st was ‘Barn’ themed, for crying out loud.

We became friends through no choice of our own, tiny babies brought along to our older sister’s play dates, and morphed into an unlikely, indestructible pair. She’s strong and loudmouthed and has absolutely never taken anyone’s shit. I’m soft, bookish, always willing to please: in the business of shit taking every single day.

I would always turn my nose up at her obsession with country, or lovingly tease, depending on my mood. But there was one mutual love, amongst many many differences, that grew as our friendship did. That was one for three ballsy women from Texas who went by the name of the Dixie Chicks.

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Not Shutting Up

All these years later, the Dixie Chicks remain the most groundbreaking female musicians I’ve ever known.

The subject matter of their songs, driven by uniquely female stories, feel like an anomaly in modern country music. Their lyrics are so overwhelmingly about setting out on your own, about loving your friends and taking a different path. Not only do these words delightfully sting, they nestle at a place formerly undiscovered in your heart, dislodging a yearning for freedom and a reliance on self that sits dormant in every female I know.

“the Dixie Chicks were the strong females my friend and I saw all around us, in our working single mothers and our older sisters”

And of course, the Chicks understand this better than most, because they’re all best friends. Two sisters and a ring in, the Dixie Chicks were the strong females my friend and I saw all around us, in our working single mothers and our older sisters. Just like Martie Maguire and Emily Robison’s attitude towards Natalie Maines, we’re the closest to sisters that two friends can get.

In their seminal documentary, Shut Up And Sing, the Dixie Chicks detail their career defining run in with the dark side of conservative US country music. It’s an important story — one already told to death — but for the purposes of this article, I’ll go it again.

Playing a London concert in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, Natalie Maines filled the between song banter with a peace offering to the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

What followed seems hard to believe in 2017: country radio refused to play their music, their concerts were boycotted, protests ensued, their families received handwritten death threats.

It’s upsetting to watch three women left entirely alone to be abused by the genre that they lovingly pioneered.

But what makes the documentary so special are the stark contrasts in it. Two years after the incident occurred and showed no signs of quietening down, guitarist Emily Robison is in the hospital waiting to give birth to her second child while Natalie and Martie sit in the room with her. Pouring over copies of US Weekly, complaining about photos of themselves in it, self effacing jokes flying, feet up. All while the world swirled hot and red around them.

They never apologised or took back what they said. Much like my friend, the Dixie Chicks were fearless females who took no-one’s shit and never have. They’re too sturdy a unit to be bulldozed.

So when I got to attend the Dixie Chicks’ Sydney show with my very best friend, I was excited to share with her what I thought would be a nostalgic, run of the mill concert. But instead it came firing out of the gate as a badass protest, led by three female country musicians who stick so far outside of their genre, and so well within their story.

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On the set of the ‘Goodbye Earl’ video / Photo via Facebook

Refusing To Make Nice

The greatest thing about the Dixie Chicks is that they go so much deeper than the caricature we associate them with.

The majority of their songs aren’t about boys or pick up trucks. In fact, when they do incorporate the bluegrass and twang, you can sense their self-awareness. At the concert, when Natalie Maines’ yelled “Yeehaw” after a knee-slapping rendition of ‘White Trash Wedding’, you could see the wink without her having to offer it.

It’s as if they revere their influence so much, they actively fight against its shortcomings. On stage, they flashed a slide of Donald Trump with devil horns squiggled on his head. It reminded me of a part in Shut Up And Sing when Natalie Maines wore an ‘F.U.T.K’ shirt at one of their concerts in reference to Toby Keith, a country musician who was not only outwardly critical of them and their music, but seemed to inhabit everything sexist and conservative about the genre.

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Photo via Twitter / Meghan Stabler

So it seemed very fitting that at the concert, like many other situations that have come before it, my dear friend’s fierceness got us in trouble, too.

The Chicks were tuning up to play their third song and Maines invited us all to stand up and dance. “Doesn’t matter if you annoy the person behind you,” she said, “I’ve been known to annoy a few people in my time.” We whooped in support. Because we weren’t in a position to be denying the wise advice of Natalie Maines, and the permission felt like a relief, ‘Some Days You Gotta Dance’ played and we stood up and danced.

Then my friend and I felt a very strong poke on our lower back. The girl behind us rudely told us to sit down, not afraid to use obscenities to make her point. I immediately apologised and began to float down. My friend stopped me. “No, we can stand if we want to.” The girl behind us rallied on. I begged her to please, just sit.

“No,” she told me, loud enough for the girl to hear, “We have a right to stand, I’m allowed to stand.” I shook at the thought of the impending confrontation. And lo and behold, not too long after, the girl threw a beer right at my friend. It landed all over her hair and body, soaking her white linen dress and trickling down into her tan cowboy boots. The girl behind us shrugged, smug as all get out.

Refusing to make nice, my friend kicked into gear. She marched straight to security, explained what had happened and requested they be thrown out of the concert. Immediately.

Security were sympathetic to our plight — agreeing that yes, we absolutely had the right to stand — but said that they couldn’t throw the girl behind us out of the concert. They could, however, relocate our seats. So we ran, throwing middle fingers in the air that didn’t reach anyone and singing along to ‘Goodbye Earl’, until we reached the other side of the stadium where our new seats were. Wildly better ones at that. Like always, I felt so full of pride to be her friend.

Watching the concert from this new perspective, sweaty and victorious, three rows from the stage, I saw what life can afford you if you’re a ballsy, take-no-shit kinda woman. It was a definitive reminder to always follow the advice of strong women.

Women like my best friend, and the Dixie Chicks.

Josephine is a writer from western Sydney who likes to blatantly lie on her bios. She played the youngest sister in ’80s sitcom Family Ties and looks fantastic running with a backpack on. She is on Twitter.