Will country forgive or forget Dixie Chicks?
The trio's tour starting Thursday will test the maxim that there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Amid smashed CDs, ripped-up concert tickets, and radio boycotts, the Dixie Chicks launch a much-anticipated tour tonight that will test a question as old as the Beatles: Does political controversy help or hinder celebrity careers?Skip to next paragraph
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When the Chicks open their US tour in Greenville, S.C., there won't be any shortage of Stetsons in the audience, or for that matter, empty seats - despite the Bush-bashing melodrama the group has been embroiled in for weeks.
The band's 51-city tour has been largely sold out for months. Yet some would-be concertgoers have been attracted to the Chicks because of their opposition to war and scorn for fellow Texan George W. Bush.
"Until tonight I was not much interested in any country-western group," wrote one to a Dallas online chat. "But right after [the trio's interview], I went to Amazon and bought their CD and checked out Ticketmaster for tickets to their July concert. None available. So to the people who purchased tickets and ... plan not to attend - I'm a buyer!!!"
Such comments could indicate that a new fan base is emerging for the group that's already one of the most successful country bands ever.
Yet the Chicks may not want to count their next million yet. The controversy that's swirled since March 10, when lead singer Natalie Maines told an audience she was "ashamed" that President Bush was from her home state, has alienated many of the snakeskin-boot crowd that's long been their main fanbase.
Their CD sales have already been as changeable as a slide guitar: Weekly sales of their latest album, "Home," fell from a post-Grammy high of 202,000 to a low of 33,000 in early April - some of which may have been the normal decline of a CD nine months old.
Still, a month after Ms. Maines's tart comments - for which she later apologized - "Home" vaulted back to No. 1 on the country charts. It's currently No. 3.
The Chicks may be proof of an old industry postulate - that America's social bark is worse than its financial bite. Even with the sprouting of anticelebrity websites, caustic comments by radio talk-show hosts, and well-publicized boycotts, efforts to pinch antiwar celebrities in the pocketbook have often fallen short.
After shouting "Shame on you, Mr. Bush" at the Academy Awards, "Bowling for Columbine" director Michael Moore reported that more Amazon.com customers pre-ordered copies of his documentary than of the Best Picture winner, "Chicago." Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon - Hollywood's most strident antiwar couple - work steadily. Mr. Robbins will receive the "Alumnus of the Year" award at the University of California at Los Angeles on May 17.
"Controversy can be good for a career," says David Browne, a music critic for Entertainment Weekly. "Many entertainers have survived worse scandals. The public does tend to forgive and forget."