Femme band 'Taking the Long Way' to country stations

Country radio has pretty much ignored the first two singles from the Dixie Chicks’ “Taking the Long Way.” First album from the Chicks since their George W. Bush brouhaha in 2003 was released Tuesday.

First single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which directly addresses the Bush situation, cracked the top 30 in its inaugural week but quickly dropped; the second single fared worse.

Texas newspapers have been reporting that country radio programmers in the home state of the Chicks and Bush have been reluctant to add the tune due to statements from the Chicks’ Natalie Maines and a belief that the tracks fit in more with the adult contemporary format.

A veteran Midwest radio personality said the situation in Kansas City, Mo., is typical: The three country stations are pretty much uninterested in the band, a point reinforced when one received negative feedback after testing the new singles. In Kansas City, only the two AC stations play Dixie Chicks, and the tracks they play are the hits that put the band on the map in 1999.

“Taking the Long Way” will debut at No. 1 next week nevertheless. Sales projections, which started below 300,000, now are topping 400,000, and big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy reportedly were selling out of their on-hand stock.

And radio is more than happy to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to sponsoring Dixie Chicks concerts, 20 of which go on sale June 3.

The Dixie Chicks campaigns for “Taking the Long Way,” not to mention the musicmaking, are going after an audience different from the one on which they built their career. For starters, Rick Rubin produced the album, and the band’s songwriting partners were culled from the rock world: Sheryl Crow, Neil Finn, Pete Yorn, the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. Backing musicians included Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Bonnie Raitt, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and John Mayer.

Columbia Records’ promotional effort behind the album looks more like the treatment a major pop act would receive (e.g., the band’s on the cover of Time magazine) rather than anyone making their living in Nashville.

Their song “Lullabye” was featured in Monday’s episode of NBC’s “Medium”; that same night the Chicks appeared on “Late Show With David Letterman.”

And today they kicked off the ABC “Good Morning America” concert series in New York.

Indeed, the adult contemporary format is where a number of country acts are finding a second home.

Rascal Flatts, which has sold 1.5 million copies of disc “Me and My Gang” since its release April 4, is the latest to try to cross over to the adult contemporary field. “What Hurts the Most” is attempting to join songs from country acts such as Keith Urban, LeAnn Rimes and Faith Hill currently in the top 10 on Radio & Records’ national AC airplay list.

The Chicks’ tour of 43 North American venues opens July 21 in Detroit and ends Nov. 11 in Tacoma, Wash. Radio sponsorship is coming from a wide swath of formats — Hot AC, Air America, Adult Album Alternative, Jack-FM and, in many cities, country.

Promoters are not allowing any single station to get presenting credit for a show, so in many cases multiple stations are involved in promoting the local show. Austin, Texas, for example, has several sponsors; in Dallas, one country station is in and another is out; and in Houston, there isn’t a country station involved in the concert promotion.

The list of who’s in and who’s out has no clear line in the sand — there’s no station group that has said “no” to the Dixie Chicks.

And in Fargo, N.D., there seems to be no controversy at all: Five stations that play country music are involved in promoting their Aug. 26 concert.

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