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Profile: Toby Keith
Toby Keith was a participant or observer in the following events:
The cover of an April issue of Entertainment Weekly featuring nearly-nude depictions of the Dixie Chicks, all with words written on their skin used in commentaries about the band. [Source: Associated Press / Guardian]The Dixie Chicks, a modern country band from Texas, plays a concert in London. The band consists of three singers and multi-instrumentalists, Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison, and backing musicians. During the show, Maines says to the audience: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” The London Guardian, in a review of the show, reports the comments on March 12. Within days, Maines and the Dixie Chicks become the targets of intense and heavy criticism from conservative commentators and Bush supporters in the United States. Country music radio stations across the nation begin dropping their songs from their playlists, even though the Chicks currently have the top song in country music airplay, “Travelin’ Man.” Radio stations set up trash cans outside their stations for listeners to publicly discard their Dixie Chicks CDs, and some radio stations hold “disc-burning” and “disc-smashing” festivals featuring bonfires and tractors. Two radio station chains, Cox and Cumulus, ban the Chicks from being played on all the stations they own. Critics on Fox News and conservative radio shows nickname the band “the Dixie Sluts,” “Saddam’s Angels,” and other monikers. Country musician Toby Keith, a conservative and frequent guest on Fox News and radio talk shows, begins using a backdrop at his concerts featuring a photo montage putting Maines together with Saddam Hussein. Maines reluctantly accepts 24-hour security from the barrage of death threats she receives. She quickly issues an apology, saying, “Whoever holds that office [the presidency] should be treated with the utmost respect,” but the apology makes little difference to many. Indeed, the band does not back away from its position: Robison will later say: “Everybody talks about how this war was over quickly and not that many people died. Tell that to the parents of people coming home in body bags.… Natalie’s comment came from frustration that we all shared—we were apparently days away from war (see March 19, 2003) and still left with a lot of questions.” Maines will later say: “The thing is, it wasn’t even a political statement. It was a joke made to get cheers and applause and to entertain, and it did. But it didn’t entertain America.” Maines will later say the controversy starts on a right-wing message board and blog called Free Republic. Music producer and comedian Simon Renshaw, a close friend of the band members, agrees with Maines, saying: “The extreme right-wing group, for their own political reasons, are attempting to manipulate the American media, and the American media is falling for it. The Free Republic is very well organized. There’s definitely a Free Republic hit list with all of the radio stations they’re trying to affect, and they are totally focused, and the girls are going to get whacked.” Documentary maker Barbara Kopple, who is making a film about the group, will later say: “[The c]ountry music [industry] put[s] sort of their musicians in a box, and they’re expected to be very conservative in their leanings, and these were three all-American girls that nobody ever expected this from. So when Natalie made her statement, it was as if she had betrayed country music. There was a massive boycott on playing any of their music. There was this group called the Free Republic that immediately got on Web sites and blogs and everything else to make sure that their music was not shown, their CDs were trampled, and for this, they even got death threats. So they had to have bomb-sniffing dogs, they had security, and nothing could stop these women from playing.” Kopple cites one example of a very specific and credible death threat issued for a July 6, 2003 concert in Dallas, but the three band members insist on playing, and the concert goes off without incident. In April 2003, Maines says: “People think this’ll scare us and shut us up and it’s gonna do the opposite. They just served themselves a huge headache.” [Guardian, 3/12/2003; Guardian, 4/25/2003; Democracy Now!, 2/15/2007] Eventually, their CD sales begin to rebound, and in 2007, they will win five Grammy awards, an accomplishment many will see as a vindication of the Dixie Chicks’s music and their right to freedom of speech, as well as something of a repudiation of the Nashville-based country music industry. Music executive Jeff Ayeroff will note that “the artist community… was very angry at what radio did, because it was not very American.” Music executive Mike Dungan, a powerful member of the country music industry, says of the awards, “I think it says that, by and large, the creative community sees what has happened to the Dixie Chicks as unfair and unjust.” [New York Times, 2/13/2007]
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