On March 10, 2003, while performing in London, the singer of the Dixie Chicks Natalie Maines said something that received cheers from the English crowd: ““Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” And yet this single sentence would haunt her and her band mates for the next three years, and probably still does haunt them to this day.
At first blush, it doesn’t seem like that big of a statement. It’s certainly not the worst thing that an entertainer has said about Dubya. However, coming from the Dixie Chicks—a group that was deemed about as all-American as possible—it was nothing short of anathema.
Within weeks, Maines and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison began experiencing a massive boycott from what had once been their core audience. Fans began destroying CDs, stations refused to play their music, corporate sponsors threatened to pull their support, and perhaps most shocking of all, began receiving death threats.
Shut Up & Sing captures this tumultuous time in the Dixie Chicks’ lives, chronicling both the intense criticism that they weathered as well as the intense loyalty shared by the trio, who respond to the threats with a raucous blend of fear, incredulity, stubbornness, and even laughter.
The documentary begins in 2003, as the Chicks are preparing for their latest tour. One of the most successful recording acts in recent history, having successfully bridged the gap between worlds of pop and country music, they’re literally on the top of the world. As they begin preparations for the tour, tensions in Iraq are mounting and war seems imminent.
When Maines says her infamous statement, it’s obvious from the footage that it’s partly in jest, that Maines is clearly not intending it as a political slam. And yet, in those halcyon days when Bush’s approval ratings were at their highest, and the United States’ involvement in Iraq seemed to be on sure footing, the statement was seen as incredibly un-patriotic, if not traitorous.
Although Shut Up & Sing attempts to capture the overall sentiment that was rising against the Chicks, from former fans protesting their concerts, from country music radio DJs decrying their records, and from talking heads like Bill O’Reilly (who said the Chicks should be “slapped around” for their comments), it’s primarily concerned with the three girls as they attempt to soldier on.