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Twenty years after country music canceled the Chicks, they have no regrets: ‘It set us free’

The Chicks' Emily Strayer, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire.
The Chicks’ Emily Strayer, left, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire.
(Kim Maguire)
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When the Chicks aren’t working, the three members keep a group text going to stay in touch about band matters and about one another’s families — and to trade jokes, “the more inappropriate the better,” says lead singer Natalie Maines.

If people could read what they write, the 48-year-old adds with a laugh, “we’d be canceled 10 times over already.”

This summer, the Grammy-winning pop-country trio — which also includes sisters Martie Maguire, 53, and Emily Strayer, 50 — are on the road, touring behind their most recent studio album, 2020’s Jack Antonoff-produced “Gaslighter,” which addressed Maines’ messy divorce from actor Adrian Pasdar in brutally specific songs set on her boat and at the Hollywood Bowl. (Though the Chicks formed in Dallas, these days Maines lives in Los Angeles, Maguire in Austin and Strayer in San Antonio.)

First on the itinerary: a six-night residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas set to kick off Wednesday. It’s a long way from the tiny bluegrass gigs the group — then known as the Dixie Chicks — started out playing before blowing up with 1998’s “Wide Open Spaces” and its 1999 follow-up, “Fly,” both of which have sold more than 10 million copies; it wasn’t long after that that the Chicks were famously booted from country radio after Maines told an audience in England that they were ashamed to share a home state with President George W. Bush.

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Between rehearsals at Planet Hollywood, the women gathered on Zoom to discuss the new show, their history of cancellation and the state of the Chicks’ next LP.

Whose Vegas shows have you seen?
Maines: I’ve seen Wayne Newton. I saw Siegfried & Roy. Tom Jones. I think Martie threw her bra at Tom Jones.

Maguire: That makes me sound really old.

You’re talking about the real Vegas OGs.
Strayer: I think it’s different for artists now. It used to be you’d come here toward the end of your career and stay until you went away. I don’t know if I’d want to be here for months on end.

Maguire: Our mom’s coming for five days. I told her she couldn’t stay that long, and she was like, “I’ll just read my book for my book club.”

From Beck to Keith Richards to, of course, Willie, the performances at this weekend’s tribute concert ranged from heartbreaking to side-splitting to just plain brilliant.

May 1, 2023

“Gaslighter” came out at the beginning of the pandemic — not exactly an opportune time to draw a bunch of attention. Do you think it got its due?
Maines: Our fans love it. They know every word to that album at the shows. We got used to not being played on the radio and stuff like that a long time ago.

Natalie, you really went into detail in the songs about the end of your marriage. What’s it been like to get some distance and look back at that?
Maines: The thing that I always contemplate is that my kids have to live with this. I knew that when we wrote it and when we put it out. But as artists, that’s what we do. It’s part of the therapy and it’s part of the survival. Kids are doing good, but ask me in 20 years. I might regret it.

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Maguire: You know Natalie’s son Slade is in the band? Sometimes I’ll look over at him like, What’s he thinking? He’s played this album so many times. What a trouper.

What do your other children think of the Chicks?
Maines: My kids like our music. They’re not like, “Oh, Mom’s a dork.”

Strayer: My 18-year-old just informed me that it’s not cool to listen to the radio. I guess we were ahead of the curve not being on there.

Maguire: Austin radio is cool. But yeah — keep San Antonio lame.

How do the cities of Texas rank in terms of coolness?
Maines: Austin’s the coolest for sure.

Strayer: San Antonio’s definitely the lamest, but that’s why I like it.

The Chicks (then the Dixie Chicks) with Dennis Franz at the 42nd Grammy Awards, Feb. 23, 2000.
(Scott Gries / Getty Images)

For years you’ve sung Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” which Stevie Nicks is on tour now performing as a tribute to the late Christine McVie. Are there Chicks songs whose meanings have changed for you over time?
Maguire:Cowboy Take Me Away” was written about Emily’s ex-husband, and I doubt any of us think about him during that song.

Strayer: “Gaslighter” we wrote more as a relationship song, but it definitely got very political very fast. It became the word of the year [in 2022].

Maines: I don’t feel the same way singing “Not Ready to Make Nice” as before. I used to feel that s—, and for probably a lot longer than I should have. Now it’s just a song.

Strayer: I almost feel like we’ve given that song to our fans. When they’re singing it, you know they’re singing about something they went through.

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The Chicks' Natalie Maines performs onstage
The Chicks’ Natalie Maines performs in 2017.
(Don Arnold / WireImage via Getty Images)

You’re taking Maren Morris out as an opening act this year. Did the fallout from her feud with Jason Aldean remind you of the blowback to your criticism of President Bush during the Iraq War?
Strayer: I’m not familiar with what happened between the two of them.

Maines: Didn’t his wife go on social media and start putting down trans people?

She criticized the parents of kids seeking gender-affirming care.
Maines: Just disgusting stuff. I love how outspoken Maren was on that. It’s just another example of what’s going on in this country on every level. Florida, Tennessee, Texas — it’s just ridiculous. Whether it’s abortion or gay rights — everybody has to have something to hate, somebody to put down.

Do you feel like the Bush incident, which took place 20 years ago, is still a defining episode in the Chicks’ story?
Maines: It’s defining in the way it set us free. It got us out of this box of country music, which we never wanted to be in and never felt like that’s who we were. We didn’t have to do any of that bulls— anymore. It wasn’t like, “Oh, country music, please take us back.” It was middle fingers: “Bye!”

The title of Robinson’s new album, ‘Gasms,’ created a stir online and even with his family. Says Smokey: ‘A gasm is any good feeling you might have.’

April 27, 2023

Anything to report on new music?
Maines: We usually do one thing at a time, and right now it’s touring. We have an album we know we want to make after the tour that hopefully we’ll jump into with Jack. It’s more of a conceptual album. We don’t have a label right now, so we’re trying to figure out what we’re gonna do.

Have you been playing new songs in rehearsals?
Maines: Not originals. Covers.

Strayer: We always play some Patty Griffin. We did a James Taylor song the other day that we ended up throwing in the show.

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Maines: And we’re doing a Miley/Dolly song.

Long shows seem to be in right now. Taylor Swift’s doing nearly 3½ hours, same for Bruce Springsteen. But in Vegas —
Maguire: We’re not allowed to play over two hours.

Gotta get people back into the casino.
Maines: I can only think of one person I would want to watch for 3½ hours.

Who’s that?
Maines: Beyoncé.

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