Thursday, June 16, 2016
Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor, Maine
We all have songs that bring us right back to a particular moment in our lives. The first song I ever sang in public on my own as an adult was “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks. I performed at an open mic competition in the pub my senior year of college and thought I was going to throw up because I was so nervous. Instead, I won the competition and tickets to our annual Spring Gala. I’ll never forget how that song pushed me to find my own voice, even when it was terrifying. So, when I saw that the Dixie Chicks were going to tour after a decade-long hiatus, you’d better believe I waited by the computer and treated myself to fancy seats in the 13th row. This was a bucket list show—my first time seeing Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison live—and I couldn’t wait for June 16 to arrive. Since we had three snow days this school year, it turned out that it was my last school night of the year, but well worth my first trip to Bangor’s ENORMOUS Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion (I had no idea my hometown had such an immense concert venue!) for the show. My dad was my date, and he leaned over early in the show to say that they were really good (this is high praise from him) and that Natalie had a great singing voice (that’s really high praise from him). I had no doubt. And I agree completely—the Dixie Chicks sounded fantastic. They haven’t toured in a decade, but they didn’t miss a beat.
Backing up a tiny bit, my dad and I arrived just as Anderson East began his set. I’d seen him open for my beloved Brandi Carlile at the State Theatre in Portland in the spring of 2015. He has grit in his voice, and I liked that his band has a horn section. He played his radio hits “Devil in Me” (a song he introduced by saying it was about “fornicating with a preacher’s daughter”), “Satisfy Me,” and covered Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.” Dad leaned over and told me he sounded like Joe Cocker. I wondered if Anderson East’s girlfriend Miranda Lambert was in town, too. She’d joined him a couple of months earlier on stage for a song, but we had no such luck. He wrapped his set with another song I liked—“All I’ll Ever Need.” At some point during Anderson East’s set, one of my delightful former students and her mom came to sit in the two seats immediately next to us. Such a big venue, and yet such a small world!
A bit later, Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” started playing, and the Dixie Chicks and their band took the stage wearing black and white to bring Maine the long-awaited DCX MMXVI World Tour. Even their instruments were black and white. It was visually impressive, but then a plethora of beautiful background videos and still images filled an enormous screen behind them and made the enormous venue feel a lot more intimate. Natalie Maines opened the show by letting us know they were going to “attempt to entertain us” and that they fondly remembered playing a festival in Maine years ago and it was the first time a big crowd had known the words to their songs. At some point, she joked that she hoped we wouldn’t wait ten years to invite them back.
The Dixie Chicks played a solid 25 songs. Since they haven’t spent the last decade writing new music together, they played most of their big hits and supplemented with some covers of Prince, Bob Dylan, and Beyonce. I thought opening with “The Long Way Around” was an apt choice, and I was pleased to hear three Patty Griffin songs (y’all know wildly talented songstress Patty Griffin is a native of nearby Old Town, Maine, right?)—“Truth #2,” “Top of the World,” and “Please Don’t Let Me Die in Florida.” I was THRILLED to hear “Top of the World” live, but it would have been better if the drunk twentysomethings behind us hadn’t been shouting and taking pictures to share on Snapchat the whole song. CONCERT ETIQUETTE, people. It DOES NOT MATTER that we’re in a huge outdoor venue—you should still let people listen to the songs they came to hear in person. Pretty, pretty please. Oh! The Chicks played a Prince song, too, and it was STUNNING. “Nothing Compares 2 U” was lovely. The twentysomethings were even quiet for that one. That good.
The Chicks came back from a video interlude and sat right along the edge of the stage to play a stripped down “Travelin’ Soldier.” Getting only mildly political, the Chicks performed “Ready To Run” while we were bombarded with fast moving images of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—just to name a few. Confetti cannons spit out tons of red, white, and blue pieces of paper, and we were close enough to catch some (cheesy, but I have a piece on my fridge as a show souvenir). “Landslide” was lovely and the whole crowd sang along. We were all pretty excited to hear “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces” back-to-back. They wrapped their set with “Sin Wagon” and the crowd erupted. The Chicks came back to the stage for “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which is a triumphant comeback song. If you haven’t seen Shut Up and Sing, the 2007 documentary about the insane, life-threatening backlash the Dixie Chicks suffered after Natalie made an anti-G.W. Bush comment on stage, I highly recommend it. A decade later, and even though so much has changed, so much still hasn’t. The Chicks ended the night on a hopeful note, closing with a cover of Ben Harper’s “Better Way.” They were joined on stage by about a dozen kids playing instruments under a giant rainbow heart. It’s been ten years, and the Chicks’ message is still the same—and their devoted fans poured into an enormous venue to sing along.