Who’s never left home? Who’s never struck out? An ode to the Dixie Chicks

“Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about?
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own,
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone?”
–Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces”

Sometimes a song can serve as an anthem or a guiding light. The Dixie Chicks were (are) that way for me.

In reality, the band’s four albums were released over the course of eight years. But I think of them now as a soundtrack to my college experience, as though they stacked upon each other to represent each class of the traditional four-year education.

The Dixie Chicks always take me back to the decisions and risks of early adulthood. Moving from my parents’ house in Jacksonville, Florida, to Dorman Hall, 177 miles away in Tallahassee, wasn’t a risk by most measures. I had a full scholarship, so I knew how my bills would be paid. Mom and Dad pledged another $300 a month for food and gas. I was on their cell phone plan.

But I didn’t know who I would meet when I arrived, besides the girl I’d soon call my roommate, a girl with whom I’d discussed matching comforters, a microwave and a shared disinterest in a television. I didn’t know who I would become.

I’m not certain now whether it’s reality or my memory rewriting history to fit a narrative, but I believe the Dixie Chicks must have been my companions on that two-and-a-half hour drive. I assume “Wide Open Spaces” was a declaration for many 18-year-old women who set their sights on new faces in the late ’90s. It was our anthem of independence.

The Dixie Chicks remained with us throughout college. My best friend and I belted out “There’s Your Trouble” with men in mind. The band’s second album, “Fly,” was released weeks into freshman year, and “Cowboy Take Me Away” became the anthem for love we hoped to find. We choreographed a line dance to “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” unaware that we’d be the only karaoke contest entrants to sing country instead of rap. It didn’t matter; the truth is, some days you do have to dance. The crowd loved us, even if the judges didn’t.

Coming to you live from atop a double decker bus: American tourists! 🙌🏻 #londonbaby

A photo posted by Carla Jean Whitley (@inkstainedlife) on

“‘Cause when the world doesn’t make no sense
And you’re feeling just a little too tense
Gotta loosen up those chains and dance”
–Dixie Chicks, “Some Days You Gotta Dance”

I gave away Dixie Chicks tickets my sophomore year. I don’t remember how I came into them, but it was a street team-esque set up. If you volunteered before the show, your admission was free.

Passing on those tickets remains one of my great regrets.

But I had regrets yet to come. That’s surely typical of decisions made at 19 and 20. At that age, I was convinced I should leave college and set out for the great unknown as soon as possible.

But I couldn’t do it without the Dixie Chicks to send me on my way.

The band’s third release, “Home,” was the only Chicks album that didn’t immediately grab me. There were tracks that did; “Long Time Gone” and “Truth No. 2” had instant appeal.

And as I prepared to leave my college town, just three years after enrolling, another song grabbed me. I know it first as a Dixie Chicks song–my lack of back catalog knowledge is embarrassing–but whether it’s the Chicks or Stevie Nicks singing, “Landslide” brings me back to the transition between college’s adulthood incubator and the rest of my life.

“Well I’m afraid of changing ’cause I built my world around you
But time makes you bolder, children get older
I’m getting older, too”
–Fleetwood Mac, “Landslide”

Through jobs and moves, cross-country road trips and existential crises, the Dixie Chicks’ music has carried me. Each album feels as fresh now as it did on release. I’d argue some songs even improve as I age.

But I still hadn’t seen the band live. The comments that sent them into a tailspin before the United States declared war in 2003 significantly reduced future opportunities. The band toured in favor support of its fourth, and, to date, final, album, but they didn’t come my way. I thought my dance had ended.

But 15 years after I gave up my chance to see the Dixie Chicks, they announced a European tour–and I decided to go.

I had never visited Europe. That, too, was one of my great regrets; if I had a college do-over, I would’ve stuck around for a fourth year and studied abroad. When I bought a pair of tickets for the band’s Birmingham, England, show, I still wasn’t sure I’d see the other side of the pond. But I could always sell the tickets if I had to. How do you put a price on a dream, anyway?

Somehow the pieces fell into place. Thanks to a friend’s Sky Miles and careful AirBNB selections, I traveled overseas with my college roommates for less than $700 each. For them, the trip was about more than a concert. And OK, it was for me, too. But the show was at the heart of my trip.

From Birmingham, Alabama, to Birmingham, UK #dixiechicksbham #londonbaby #theotherbham

A photo posted by Carla Jean Whitley (@inkstainedlife) on

The Dixie Chicks are still as high-energy and spirited as they ever were. It’s as though a decade, births, divorces and public outcry never occurred. Well, as far as their stage presences is concerned, anyway; were it not for the backlash to Natalie’s George Bush comments, some of their best material wouldn’t exist.

It was funny to see them in the country where the incident occurred. I looked around the 15,000-seat arena and wondered how the scene compared to that 2003 performance int he more intimate Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Was the crowd as reserved then as the people gathered in Birmingham? Or did the room ripple with energy?

The quiet Birmingham crowd didn’t stop us from singing every word. When “Ready to Run” was accompanied by a video mocking the U.S. presidential candidates, we joked to the Brits seated beside us that we were on our “Ready to Run” research trip. Later, when we finally rose from our seats for “Wide Open Spaces” and danced to “Sin Wagon,” one of those seemingly reserved Brits leapt to her feet as well.

I’ll see the band again this weekend, and if the North American tour had been announced sooner, I may never have made it to Europe. The trip unwound my two greatest regrets. It was a dream 15 years in the making, even if I took a round-about route.

“Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me I can still be found
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around”
–Dixie Chicks, “The Long Way Around”

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