I have to confess that before I watched the movie ‘Shut Up and Sing‘ I wasn’t particularly interested in the Dixie Chicks. That’s entirely forgivable on account of the fact that country music isn’t that popular here in the UK. However after thoroughly enjoying the movie I went out and bought the bands latest CD, ‘Taking the long way’, which is actually very good.

The trailer for the movie sparked my interest last year. It was supposed to be just another music film following a band on tour, but it became much more than that when, just nine days before American and British bombs rained down on Iraq amid global condemnation, lead singer Natalie Maines said on stage in London “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.”

Maines comment was at the time met with cheers from her British audience. Millions of people had recently taken to the streets in the UK to protest Tony Blair’s insistence, against public will, to join America in invading Iraq and ridding it of weapons of mass destruction that turned out never to be there.

Back in the States country music stations stopped playing Dixie Chicks songs, radio stations held events where people could trash their Dixie Chicks records and CD’s, and people picketed the bands concerts with signs that said things like “If you support the Dixie Chicks you’re supporting traitors” and “Being ashamed of our President means being ashamed of our country”.

The President Bush’s approval rating was very hight at the time and very few public figures were willing to speak out against the the invasion of Iraq. The Dixie Chicks comments were viewed as a disrespectful and unpatriotic slap in the face of the President Bush, and the fact that the band was enjoying huge success in country music made the sin that much greater in the opinions of its base, the southern states, particularly Texas.

Of course, since Maines made that comment in 2003 the political landscape in America has dramatically changed. Support for the continuing occupation of Iraq has faded in the light of the apparent lies that the war seemed based upon, the fabrications about the war that continue to come to light, the out of control cost of the war, and the ever increasing military death toll that is well on it’s way to becoming 3500.

Movies that follow bands on tour are often only interesting to fans of the band in focus, but this movie manages to go far beyond that. In telling the personal story of the Dixie Chicks as they deal with the fallout of Maines comment, the film also captures the mood of America at the time and shows just how quickly that can change.

In the end the story goes full circle and returns to London at the start of a new tour. The final few moments of documentary (seen below) really connects you with the band members and their lasting friendship, and as Natalie Maines says the last words of the movie while standing once again on stage in London at what she calls the “scene of the crime”, you’re left smiling and very probably ready to get yourself a copy of the Dixie Chicks album which you might otherwise have never even looked at.

This is a movie that really is well worth watching, and more so given how opinions about the war have changed since the first bombs fell in Bagdad.

Shut Up and Sing
The Dixie Chicks
I will be home (A fallen soldiers story)