Finally Ready to Make Nice: Dixie Chicks' Reputation Is Restored

The cultural controversy has no doubt underscored the red-state, blue-state divide that arose from the contentious 2000 presidential election when a Supreme Court ruling sent Bush to the White House.

When Maines' remark was first made in 2003, thousands of country fans wrestled with issues of patriotism and free speech. Some critics -- even in Nashville -- thought the industry had overreacted.

The daily newspaper The Tennessean said the reaction had "gone beyond its traditional support of America and the armed forces and begun to cultivate an atmosphere that's intolerant of dissent from the Bush administration's strategies in the war on terror."

Rabble-rousing songs by country singers Toby Keith and Darryl Worley became smash hits after Sept. 11, and the country radio-station boycotts led some to believe country music was "drawing ideological lines."

"If you were just casually listening to country radio in the last year, you would think it was the music of Republicans," Beverly Keel, country music journalist and Middle Tennessee State University associate professor told The Tennessean. "That's (been) reinforced with the way the Dixie Chicks have been treated."

The Grammys have also secured the Dixies Chicks' place as female musicians -- another reflection of America's readiness to embrace a softer tone.

"It's not just the political situation," said Steven A. Miller, professor of broadcast journalism at Rutgers University. "It's an award for doing a fantastic job on a great album. These three women are extremely talented and have broken barriers in other ways."

"In an era where the general assumption still is that men are the primary musicians on albums even with women in the lead, these three women play all of the instruments on this album even when they aren't the one behind the keyboard," he said.

Miller said he believes Maines' diatribe against Bush was "much ado about nothing," played out mostly in the country music world. But, he said, the controversy fueled a more ominous fear of dissent in America.

"It was part of the overall reaction to any protest against the war," said Miller, "and it reflected the chasm that existed and still exists within the political opinions in the United States. Toby Keith took it upon himself to be the personal spokesperson for the pro-war country music faction."

"Much of the controversy can be seen in the nominated documentary 'Shut Up and Sing,'" added Miller. "Whether right or wrong or left or right or whatever side you believe in, the hallmark of this country is the freedom of speech and the First Amendment. The Dixie Chicks were just exercising their constitutional right to speak out."

Only time will tell if this war of words is over and whether Nashville can celebrate the Grammy attention given to the Dixie Chicks. Despite past bad blood, even country music enthusiasts may be coming around.

Tammy Genovese, CEO of the Country Music Awards, congratulated the Dixie Chicks in a collective announcement about all the winners. But one official who did not want to be named was more emphatic in his praise of the former pariahs.

"The Dixie Chicks have won so many awards, including Entertainer of the Year," he said. "We are happy to have them even though they have been polarizing in the country music community. As far as we're concerned, we are really proud of them."

Jelena Skopelja contributed to this story.

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