Review: The Chicks are fearlessly political in world tour


Armita Mirkarimi ’25 reviews The Chicks 2023 Tour after seeing them in concert in Gilford, New Hampshire.

by Armita Mirkarimi
| 8/11/23 2:10am


I went to see The Chicks so I could sing “Wide Open Spaces” at the top of my lungs. I wanted to jump up and down to Martie Maguire’s fiddle and let Natalie Maines’s voice wash over me. But, instead, I was confronted by music as a language of resistance.

On Aug. 5, the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion venue in Gilford, New Hampshire was filled with women spanning from Generation X to Generation Z. Light-up cowgirl hats peppered the lawn as the sun set. Mothers held the hands of their young daughters as they waited in the long merchandise line for the band’s “Goodbye Earl” and “Sin Wagon” t-shirts. The humid New Hampshire summer breeze breathed on my neck as I waited for the opener — Wild Rivers — to play the only song of theirs I knew, “Thinkin’ Bout Love.” 

The Chicks, formerly known as the Dixie Chicks, have long been a voice of defiance in country music to me. Their feminist anthem, “Goodbye Earl,” blasted from the speakers during my carpools throughout high school, and the fast-building bridge of “Not Ready to Make Nice” aided me through every breakup and falling out. The trio gave me musical language to express the hopes, dreams and despairs of growing up. 

Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Strayer, the three members of The Chicks, have not put out music since 2006 — a nearly 14-year hiatus — following heavy criticism in 2003 for speaking out against the war in Iraq. According to The Gazette, Maines, the trio’s lead singer, directly called out then President George Bush in front of their London audience. 

“We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas,” Maines said. 

Their CDs were burned by the public and the trio received numerous death threats in the aftermath of Maines’s comment. In 2020, the country band made their return to music with their album, “Gaslighter.” They also changed their name from The Dixie Chicks to The Chicks. According to NPR, the band committed to the change in order to “distance” themselves from a name associated with the Confederacy.  

The trio opened the show with “Gaslighter,” which also begins their album of the same name. The first verse of the song is sung without instrumental accompaniment, so I was blessed with a three-part harmony of the opening lyrics, “Gaslighter, denier, doing anything to get your [sic] further / Gasligher, big timer, repeating all the mistakes of your father.” 

The mother-daughter pairs in the audience screamed these two verses into each other’s faces as cartoonish men with masks on backdropped The Chicks. Throughout the concert, the digital visuals behind the group competed for my attention. The graphics started as surreal and absurd, and a projected countdown jumping from the number seven to nine to 83 preceded every song. 

The setlist was a mix of old fan favorites — “Cowboy Take Me Away, ” “Not Ready to Make Nice” and “Wide Open Spaces” — and their newer hits on the “Gaslighter” album like “Texas Man” and “Tights on My Boat.” Maines’s crisp vocals accompanied Maguire’s fiddle and Strayer’s banjo. 

The group’s older songs like “Not Ready to Make Nice” were more theatrical than their more recent tracks. A piercing red light swept the stage as Maines screamed, “I’m not ready to back down,” and she controlled her voice up and down the octave as she approached the climax of the song. The band contrasted these bigger numbers with their intimate cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” As the song began, the digital backdrop faded. The stage was physically bare. All I could hold onto was Maguire’s guitar, Maines’s voice and Strayer’s banjo. 

Following their hiatus, the new Chicks are particularly political. It is clear from their show that the group not only aspires to entertain but to empower marginalized communities. Halfway through the concert, Maines said that the Chicks celebrate Pride Month 365 days a year. The band followed the statement with a rendition of Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus’s “Rainbowland.” Unicorns and rainbows populated the visual background as the lyrics, “I won’t give up, I’ll sleep a wink, It’s the only thought I think, you know where I stand, I believe we can start living in a Rainbowland,” were projected on the screen. 

After “Rainbowland,” the trio played one of their newer songs, “March March.” While video footage from the Selma to Montgomery marches started playing on the digital background, drum beats could be felt beneath our feet. The footage was then dispersed by visuals of the 2020 George Floyd protests. The lyrics of “March March” are especially poignant: “March, march to my own drum / Yeah, I’m an army of one.” 

The song references the many mass shootings of the past decade (“Print yourself a weapon and take it to the gun range. Ah, cut the [sic], you ain’t goin’ to the gun range”),” climate change: (“Temperatures are risin’, cities are sinking” and bodily autonomy (“Tell the ol’ boys in the white bread lobby what they can and can’t do with their bodies”). 

“March March” ends with a one minute and 53 second instrumental interlude. During that time, The Chicks stepped away from the center of the stage as the digital backdrop projected hundreds of names of Black Americans impacted by police brutality. The names started with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and ended with Emmett Till. 

The audience shifted from linked arms, skipping to Maguire’s fiddle, to still bodies, glued to the screen. One minute we were screaming the lyrics to “Ready to Run” and the next, we were reminded of the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality in the country. 

This is the distinct power of The Chicks. They remind me of my longing for adventure and the intense need to explode in moments of rage. The Chicks permit me to feel through all of my emotions, no matter how scary. The trio also highlights mass social movements in America. They force their audience to retreat from the bubble of “Wide Open Spaces” and face the injustices which take place in our communities. 

After the concert, I found myself questioning if a concert is the right time to wrestle with social justice issues. But where else are we to learn to “March to our own drum” if not through song? I think of the 13-year-old ahead of me in line for the bathroom after the concert. She probably bounced up and down to “Cowboy Take Me Away” and froze in time during “March March.” The Chicks created this dual experience. Their musical genius does not lie in their tight harmonies or complicated riffs; The Chicks sell out shows after their hiatus because they are musically unapologetic. Their concert was fearless in both fiddle and belief. 

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