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NOT CRYING FOUL DIXIE CHICKS' WINGS STILL UNCLIPPED EVEN WITH LESS AIRPLAY, LOSS OF FANS.

Byline: Sandra Barrera Staff Writer

There was no mention of the Dixie Chicks at Monday night's Country Music Association's awards show.

``They were a nonissue,'' says Scott Lindy, director of country music programming for Sirius Satellite Radio. Lindy laments the fact that the Chicks were overlooked, because he really likes their new album, ``Taking the Long Way,'' which he calls ``some of the best country music they've put out.''

But the radio establishment, with some exceptions, won't touch the progressive country album. And it's not because they're still mad about the off-the-cuff remark Natalie Maines made about President Bush on a London stage early in the Iraq war -- the launching pad for the new documentary ``Shut Up & Sing'' opening nationwide Friday.

(In case you don't remember what Maines said, it was: ``Just so you know, we're ashamed President Bush is from Texas.'')

Radio's beef is over the Chicks -- namely Maines -- bashing country music radio and its fans in the three years since.

``I don't give a flying fig what Natalie Maines said about President Bush -- that girl would be annoying and loud at the school Christmas program -- but we feel insulted by what has been a common thread in numerous interviews and articles,'' says Stephanie Wetz, a 38-year-old former Chicks fan from Paris, Texas. ``That country music fans just aren't savvy enough.''

So, will the documentary bring back fans or just stir up bad sentiments?

It's a question Emily Robison can't answer just yet.

The banjo-playing Chick is on the phone from New York on a recent October morning on break from the Accidents and Accusations tour (coming to the Staples Center on Nov. 24) to talk about the controversy, chronicled in the new documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple.

Based on three years of footage, the documentary follows the rise and fall of the Chicks, who are still in the process of rebuilding a career that took off in 1998 with ``Wide Open Spaces.''

That album sold more than 12 million copies and paved the way for another pair of multiplatinum smashes. But that was then.

Sales of the new album are just over 1 million.

``We're nowhere near where we would've been, sales-wise, if we had radio airplay and all the rest,'' Robison says. ``We're playing to crowds half the size. So yeah, our career definitely took a hit.''

While the group initially issued an apology to the president, country music radio and fans were not willing to forgive.

``Country music fans have a lot of pride and are some of the most patriotic people I know,'' says Doug Harwell, a 32-year-old former Navy officer who up until a few weeks ago was spinning music at Cowboy Country in Long Beach and now DJs only private parties and weddings. ``When the Dixie Chicks went overseas and talked bad about this country's president, it was like they were bad-mouthing this country.''

Prolonged fallout

Stations boycotted the Chicks' music, outraged fans trashed their CDs at public demonstrations, and, in one case, a death threat was made against Maines.

``Natalie always thought nothing she could say would ever have any interest. Little did she know,'' Kopple says.

All of it plays out in the documentary as the Chicks are hearing and seeing it for the first time. That includes Maines' reaction to President Bush telling Tom Brokaw, ``The Dixie Chicks shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out.''

Robison doesn't apologize for the expletive Maines hurls at the president, which led to NBC and The CW not running ads on the film. And from watching the documentary, you sense that if Martie Maguire, Robison's sister, were on the phone, talking about Maines' comments, her response would be the same.

Sisters stand together

``Emily says in the film, `We're a sisterhood, and we are together through the good, the bad and the ugly,' '' Kopple says. ``They wanted this film to be as real as it could possibly be ... and they didn't censor anything. They were totally open.''

But she says the film isn't about just politics.

``For me, it's ultimately about integrity and about in believing who you are even if it makes you extremely unpopular,'' Kopple says. ``Even if it means uprooting and re-examining your identity, an identity that you've had for so long.''

The Chicks were at the pinnacle of their career when they got the rug pulled out from under them. They were invited to sing ``The Star-Spangled Banner'' at the Super Bowl even as they prepared for their Lipton Tea-sponsored Top of the World tour.

Even before this time, Kopple had approached the Chicks about doing a documentary, but they declined.

But the fallout from Maines' comment four months later changed the group's mind. After meeting with several filmmakers, the Chicks decided to go with Kopple, who won Oscars for the documentaries ``Harlan County U.S.A.'' and ``American Dream.''

Seeking objectivity

``I think she was interested in making sure that we felt like the story was told accurately,'' Robison says. ``But we didn't want to have our hands in it. We wanted it to be told from a third party, or else, to the public, it might be perceived as propaganda or some sort of promotional piece, as opposed to OK, this is what happened at this point and time in our history and in America's history.''

But not everyone wants to relive that history.

``The story is pretty much over, frankly,'' says Wade Jessen, director for country charts for Billboard magazine and country editor for Radio and Records. ``When they started to market this new album, there was a lot of salty language about country music and country radio and country fans. They spoke up loudly about what their intentions were, and I think country music and country radio was happy to oblige.''

But Robison says she's OK with that.

``We feel like we gained so much more, personally and interpersonally, from what happened,'' she says. ``None of us would ever regret what Natalie said.''

Sandra Barrera, (818) 713-3728

sandra.barrera@dailynews.com

THE DIXIE CHICKS

Where: Staples Center, 1111 s. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 24.

Tickets: $49.50 to $85. (213) 480-3232 or www.ticketmaster.com.

CAPTION(S):

6 photos

Photo:

(1) Maines and her fellow Dixie Chicks stand by their controversial comments about President Bush, despite a continued loss of popularity and widespread criticism.

Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

(2 -- cover) Dixie Chicks

TAKIN' IT ON THE CHIN

(3) EMILY ROBISON

(4) NATALIE MAINES

(5) MARTIE MAGUIRE

(6) no caption (``Shut Up & Sing'')
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 8, 2006
Words:1104
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