The Staples Center on Friday night was brimming with babes. A veritable vortex of female energy and the vibe was good. Everybody was upbeat and excited as Pete Yorn played his opening set. Everyone, that is, except Georgia my eight-year-old who turned to me scowling and said, "I didn't come here to see some baloney band, Mommy! I want the Dixie Chicks!"
A few minutes later Yorn obliged her by wrapping it up and leaving the stage. The overhead screens treated us to a trailer for "Shut Up and Sing," Barbara Koppel's documentary about the vilification after Natalie Maines said she was ashamed W. was from Texas. It sent a thrill of pride through our anticipatory ranks. Okay country fans, you don't want the Dixie Chicks? We'll take 'em! The lights changed and the brassy strains of "Hail to the Chief" swelled as the first ladies of righteousness strutted on stage in their high-heeled ankle boots, their instruments strapped on, fully ready to rock. The lefty L.A. audience let out a high-pitched roar. Without further ado The Chicks let loose on the raucous "Ready to Run."
When the train rolls by I'm gonna be ready this time
When the boy gets that look in his eye
I'm gonna be ready this time
When my momma says I look good in white
I'm gonna be ready this time
Ready, ready, ready, ready to run.
Everyone was up on their feet, shimmying and pumping their fists. Of course, being girls, we all knew all the lyrics to all the songs, and we all sang along. At times it was hard to make out Maine's voice over the many thousands of voices singing with her. Franny, my eleven year-old who picks up lyrics seemingly by osmosis, lip-synched with the best of them. Me and Georgia brought up the rear. Doug, not a sing-alonger, admired the Bad Cat amps and the red hot licks washing over us, and basked in the female energy all around him. Behind us a group of 'tweens, (perhaps even more excited than us) bopped and chirped the words between whoops of joy.
This was our girls' first concert (well, there was a godforsaken Hilary Duff thing that I refuse to count) and the first concert Doug and I had attended together in years. Doug and I watched our newly-hatched concert fans with amazement and deep satisfaction. I never imagined this day, back in 1989 when I met my man. He was the cute guitar player I ogled on the old Raji's stage. Our early courtship played out in the local clubs of L.A.: The Gaslight, The Music Machine, Bogart's. Those places are all gone now and a new scene has cropped up as we stayed home to raise our young. So much has changed. Now people hold up their glowing cell phones instead of lighters, and the concert t-shirts cost as much as the tickets themselves used to.
We came to the D.C. party late, having been won over in June by their latest album "The Long Way Around." Of course we'd heard their anthem "Not Ready to Make Nice" on the radio, and I had at first dismissed it as over-produced agenda art. But then the album fell into our hands and after one good listen, we were hooked, cooked and booked. We threw down a wheelbarrow full of money to see this show. We not only have their albums, but the girls are rabid for the tune "I Keep My Fingernails Long So They Click When I Play the Piano," penned and sung by by Texas troubadour Joe Ely, with whom Natalie's dad, steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, has performed for many years. At any given point one of the last three Chicks albums can be found spinning in our car's CD player.
My husband, our enabler, was a proud member of the minority: Men who weren't just squiring their girlfriends, wives, daughters and sisters, but understood that being a Dixie Chicks fan in no way compromises their masculinity. Not with the kind of aggressive licks Emily thwangs out on her banjo and the way Martie masterfully saws at her fiddle and with David Grissom bringing all his heavy blues rock cred to the party as band leader. This is not about hair or outfits (though all that was SUPER cute!), but its about music -- music formed deep in the soul and borne out by hard chops and authentic drive. It's also about independence, shrugging off that which holds you back from your journey, or flies in the face of what you know to be right. These are good role models for our young ladies. Yes girls, I whispered to myself, be that way. The ex-hippie dad chaperoning the 'tween team behind us let out a long, ragged shriek as they started up "The Long Way Around" singeing my husband's ear. He leaned forward and apologized, "No problem man," said Doug, "It'll grow back."
Mid-set me and Fran made our way to the ladies room where a fast-moving line snaked out the door. Everywhere were gals in their going-out best: sparkly tops, cowgirl hats, perfumed cleavage, skinny jeans and sleek LA-meets-Nashville hair. A guy swept past us on his way to the men's room and seeing the bounty of turned-out feminine beauty and goodwill exclaimed, "Wow! Girl power!" Yes siree.
The Chicks put on a great show, but you could tell they were at the end of a long, bumpy tour and were pretty tired. At one point Natalie Maines informed us that between the three of them they have seven children, "Not that we get to see them very much." We all sympathized and loved them even more for it. I put an arm around one of my own babies as they launched into their sweetest song, "Lullaby"
They didn't have you where I come from Never knew the best was yet to come Life began when I saw your face And I hear your laugh like a serenade
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough?
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough?
Cause I'm never, never giving you up
There wasn't a dry maternal eye in the house.
Finally, it had to end. We applauded and whistled and as we did I explained the strange custom of encores to Georgia, who didn't understand the point, but yelled for more with the rest of us. Being at this gig with our big girls felt somehow like coming full-circle. We were back where we started, but with so much more to show for ourselves now. We, like the Dixie Chicks, had all taken the long way around and it just felt incredibly good.