Don’t Dixie Chick Me – Local Rhythms

This appeared in the Claremont Eagle Times, April 27, with a slightly different headline.

Performers should keep their politics to themselves – so says Arnold Schwarzenegger, or was it Ronald Reagan? Actually, it might have been Ron Silver describing his response to a Toby Keith/Ted Nugent concert.

Seriously, it’s hard to imagine the musical world without an opinion about world events. Remember that country singer who, right around the start of the Iraq war, torched a controversy by criticizing it? Recently, that same artist released a song and video, which unapologetically revisited those issues.

Really, Merle Haggard should learn his place. Not only that, the song, “Let’s Rebuild America First,” sounds a lot like his current touring mate Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.”

The next songwriter in the crosshairs of the “shut up and sing” crowd will likely be Neil Young, whose new record, “Living With War,” begins streaming on his website tomorrow. The album, with songs like “Let’s Impeach the President,” should get a certain element’s blood boiling.

Neil Young isn’t an easy target, though. The author of “Ohio” also made “Let’s Roll,” a tribute to the heroes of United Flight 93, in the wake of 9/11. That’s bound to confuse the zealots over in Amen Corner.

Those jingoistic cries are strangely faint these days, however. Given the number of claims, dismissed as stupid three years ago, that turned out to be true, their absence of bluster isn’t exactly shocking.

If Clear Channel blackballs the Dixie Chicks’ new record (admit it, you thought it was them, not Haggard, who I was talking about earlier), they’ll do it quietly, with little fanfare. The Chicks’ song about their 2003 media gang rape in the wake of lead singer Natalie Maines’ anti-Bush remarks to an English audience is an emerging hit. “Not Ready to Make Nice,” with over 2,000 fan reviews, has a four star rating on iTunes.

It’s hard out there for a Prez – but that’s not my point.

It bothers me that artists on one side of the political spectrum face resentment when they refuse to surrender their First Amendment rights. What’s worse, their detractors see no contradiction in drafting quarterbacks, second-rate actors and trust fund babies as candidates to actually run the country.


What’s great about rock and roll is also what’s great about America – anyone can step up to the microphone and sing whatever moves them. We’re free to listen or look away.

Here are a few worth listening to:

Thursday: Colin McCaffrey, Canoe Club – With an exceptionally soothing voice and an easy songwriting style, it’s a mystery why McCaffrey hasn’t broken out to a bigger audience. His 2003 release, “Make Your Way Home,” is a roots bluegrass gem. Canoe Club recently announced some menu fine tuning, so if you haven’t been in a while, here’s your excuse.

Friday: Stonewall, Royal Flush – The new home for rock in Springfield has moved from four band Sundays to two band Fridays or Saturdays. My favorite power trio has had a lot of success there. They haven’t made a record yet, so the only want to appreciate their music is live. It’s also the best way, as it turns out. Look for Stonewall in Claremont early June.

Saturday: Punk Rock Show, Canaan Speedway – This is a 3-band show led by Jonee Earthquake Band from Manchester, who remind me of the Buzzcocks or the Damned – full frontal fun. The Rosens and Redlight America, both from the local area, round out the show. It’s a benefit for both the Upper Valley Haven and the Mascoma High Class of 2008.

Sunday: Damone, Webster Underground – I wish this band was playing closer than Hartford, but I have to recommend them anyway. If you miss the chance to see Damone in a gritty club, you’ll be sorry. This is one of the punchiest rock bands to come around in a long time, a Boston-based powerhouse that sounds like Suzi Quattro, AC/DC and the Cars thrown in a blender.

Tuesday: Irish Sessions, Salt Hill – Dave Loney and friends continue this weekly tradition. If you haven’t experienced it, makes plans for an early dinner and pint. The music is always a surprise – there’s no telling who will join Dave to play, or what exactly will result. That’s the best part.

Finally: Fans of comedy should check out Hullabaloo in Claremont tomorrow for some good stand-up. Also Friday, Ingrid’s Ruse plays at the Windham. Reports of the Windham’s imminent demise are premature, according to Fort Apache’s Gary Smith. The Bellows Falls establishment will have shows at least through June, maybe even July, he says. With the likely sale of the Windham Hotel property, however, music lovers should make a point of enjoying a performance there while they can. Sadly, it’s just a matter of time before one of the area’s premiere venues closes for good.

by Michael Witthaus

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