There's a moment in "Wide Open Spaces" on the Dixie Chicks' 2003 live album that gives me chills every time.
As one of the Chicks' first and biggest hits closes the show, the crowd roars, the music fades and a cacophony of cheers grows louder by the second. Lead singer Natalie Maines' voice cuts in: "You know, they said you wouldn't come. But we knew you'd come because we have the greatest fans in the whole wide world."
The album was recorded just months after Maines' comments in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- "Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas," -- led to boycotts, bans and organized burnings of the Chicks' music.
That was 13 years ago and now the Dixie Chicks are back, with a just-launched European tour and their first U.S. tour in a decade kicking off this summer. In the era of "#Saladgate," a controversy over the lack of women on country radio, 2016 may be the perfect time for the top-selling female band of all time in the United States to make a much-needed comeback.
Banning a band because they made a political statement seems almost quaint amid today's fiery political discourse, but back in 2003, the reaction to Maines' anti-war quip from the country community was swift and unforgiving. The Dixie Chicks' cover of "Landslide," which had been barreling up the charts, disappeared. Radio stations banned the band's music and groups organized CD burnings where ex-fans could bring their albums to destroy en masse.
These scenes were later captured in the 2006 documentary "Shut Up & Sing," which chronicled the controversy and its years-long fallout:
After apologizing (a move Maines later said she regretted), the Dixie Chicks made one final album, 2006's "Taking the Long Way," which earned five Grammys -- including Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year -- despite almost no support from country radio.
To this day, watching the Chicks' performance of "Not Ready to Make Nice" on the 2007 Grammys is an emotional journey. "Taking the Long Way"'s lead single includes the heart-wrenching lyric, "It's a sad, sad story when a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger."
In the 10 years since "Taking the Long Way" and its supporting Accidents and Accusations Tour, the Chicks went their separate ways. Sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison teamed up to make music as the Court Yard Hounds, while Maines went solo with a pop rock album.
The Chicks never formally called it quits, though, and in recent years made infrequent appearances as a band -- at a school benefit, a British music festival and a 2013 Canadian tour.
When the Dixie Chicks announced their 2016 tour, I got excited... then got carried away. I can't wait to welcome them back from a "Long Time Gone" in London, cry to "Cowboy Take Me Away" in Dublin and sing the ultimate female empowerment anthem, "Goodbye Earl," with my girlfriends in Pennsylvania and Virginia. (I told you I got carried away.)
Country radio may not be ready to make nice with the Dixie Chicks -- since 2003, I haven't heard a single Chicks song on my local country station -- but in an era of digital downloads and streaming services, the will of the fans may matter more than the men and women running radio (see Kacey Musgraves, one of the genre's hottest stars despite modest airplay).
So, welcome back, Natalie, Martie and Emily. We missed you. We need you. We're ready, ready, ready to run to see you in concert.