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Fans turn out, cheer Dixie Chicks as U.S. tour opens

From David Mattingly

The Dixie Chicks -- from left, Emily Robison, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire -- perform Thursday night in South Carolina.
The Dixie Chicks -- from left, Emily Robison, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire -- perform Thursday night in South Carolina.

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Facing criticism over remarks about President Bush, the Dixie Chicks begin a new tour in Greenville, South Carolina. CNN's David Mattingly reports (May 1)
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CNN's Bill Tucker reports the Dixie Chicks are taking a tough stand after being assailed for criticizing the president. (April 24)
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GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CNN) -- Opening their first concert tour in the United States since lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush, the Dixie Chicks played to a sold-out arena and thunderous applause Thursday night.

The Lone Star State-based band has been dealing with the fallout from Maines' comment about Bush and the war in Iraq. At a March 10 concert in London, less than two weeks before the start of the war, Maines said: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

Playing before a crowd of 15,000 at Greenville's Bi-Lo Center, the band waited a few songs before breaching the subject.

"They told me that you may not come, but I knew you'd come," Maines told cheering fans.

The group faced radio station boycotts of its music and organized rallies in which participants destroyed their CDs, following the London comments. There was much speculation as to how the band would be received as it kicked off the U.S. leg of its largely sold-out tour.

Seizing the moment in the spotlight as fans showered her with applause, Maines said:

"I heard some of you want to boo, that's fine, too. We believe in free speech. I'll give you 15 seconds to boo, if you want to."

But instead of boos, cheers flooded the arena.

Ahead of the concert, there were scattered protests, but all very low-key.

One poster read: "The three French hens," linking the trio to the unpopular anti-war stance taken by the French government.

Another poster said: "I love God, I love country and I love the Dixie Chicks."

"How they could say that they're ashamed that the president is from Texas -- that's crazy. That's just not right," said a man carrying an American flag.

Another local concert Thursday night -- promoted as sort of an anti-Dixie Chicks show -- also sold out its 3,100 seats.

The Marshall Tucker Band headlined a benefit concert for veterans in nearby Spartanburg. Local talk-radio personalities organized a ticket swap to that concert for Dixie Chicks ticket buyers, who wanted to boycott the show, since the Chicks' tickets are nonrefundable. About 100 ticket holders took the station up on its offer.

Maines and her fellow Dixie Chicks -- sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire -- have been alternately apologetic and defiant since the firestorm over the comments started.

On the May 2 issue of Entertainment Weekly, the three were photographed naked with epithets such as "Traitors," "Boycott," "Proud Americans" and "Dixie Sluts" printed on their bodies.

Last week the group appeared on ABC's "Primetime Thursday" for an interview with Diane Sawyer. Despite Sawyer's devil's-advocate questioning, determined to draw an on-air apology, the trio stood their ground.

"It was the wrong wording with genuine emotion and questions and concern behind it," Maines said. "[But] am I sorry that I asked questions and that I just don't follow? No."

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