After declaring themselves "Not Ready to Make Nice" with fans and radio programmers who had criticized the Dixie Chicks for a jab at President Bush on the eve of the war in Iraq, the controversial trio may be paying the price at the concert box office.
Early sales of tickets have been so slow in several cities on the group's imminent Accidents & Accusations tour that the tour is being significantly revamped, resulting in the cancellation of some shows and the addition of others.
Group spokeswoman Kathy Best downplayed the changes Thursday. "The tour is not being postponed or canceled at all. There is a reshuffling of dates and as soon as rerouting is confirmed, we will be able to announce the changes.... There will be some cancellations due to rerouting and additional dates being added."
Initial sales for Chicks shows in more than 20 markets, most in 10,000- to 20,000-capacity sports arenas, are averaging 5,000 to 6,000 in major metropolitan areas and fewer in smaller markets, according to Billboard.
Because of weak presales for shows in Indianapolis (Aug. 23), Oklahoma City (Sept. 26), Memphis (Sept. 27) and Houston (Sept. 30), general sales for those shows were halted so that new dates can be arranged. The U.S. tour is slated to open July 21 in Detroit and to reach L.A. for a Sept. 14 stop at Staples Center.
The group suffered lost album sales and ticket revenues in 2003 when singer Natalie Maines told a London concert audience, "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," a widely reported off-the-cuff remark that resulted in stinging rebukes, album and concert boycotts and even death threats against the multiplatinum-selling country band.
"In today's environment, presales are a good barometer of how much heat is surrounding a given tour," Ray Waddell, who covers the concert business for Billboard, said Thursday. "Compared to their last tour and the new album's sales, this has to be considered a disappointment."
That album, "Taking the Long Way Home," is now in its second week at the top of the national sales chart, having sold nearly 800,000 copies during its first two weeks in stores. The group chose the song "Not Ready to Make Nice," a response to the controversy, as the first single, a record that country radio largely ignored.
Even so, strong album sales don't always equate with brisk business at the concert box office.
"They had to plan this tour and book it before the record was released," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, the concert industry-tracking magazine. "They had to make assumptions about their areas of strength, but once you look at where the record is actually selling, those assumptions may no longer be valid."
The revision of a tour "happens more often than most people realize," Bongiovanni said, "because it's usually on lower-profile tours than this one. U2 probably doesn't have to reroute their tours very often. But even Bruce Springsteen has a stiff every once in a while."
Waddell noted that the Dixie Chicks' tour has been the toughest sell in southern states. "It's done better in the blue-state type areas, and in Canada, than it has in the South and Midwest.
"The Chicks will tell you they're not a country act, and it appears that not a lot of country fans are lining up to buy tickets to this show," Waddell said. "If the sales were based only on quality of this record and the quality of the Dixie Chicks as performers, it should be a no-brainer home run. It's too bad there's other baggage associated with it."