During the Dixie Chicks’ commercial peak, they were the target of intense acrimony and ostracism after lead vocalist Natalie Maines made critical remarks of President George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. As such, the jingoistic boy’s club that was the ’00s country music industry blackballed them and kept their music from the airwaves (see, we thought other nations were jealous of our freedom, so society punished political dissension; that way, there’d be no freedoms to be jealous of).
This tumultuous episode has become the country outfit’s legacy, and wrongfully so. Long before the Dixie Chicks became the country-pop powerhouse we know today, they were a bluegrass band playing Poor David’s Pub and dwelling in the trenches of Dallas’ country music scene. Before Maines joined the band, they were a quartet consisting of Martie and Emily Erwin and former members Laura Lynch and Robin Macy. The latter was one of the band’s co-founders, and while it’s natural to see that as a bragging right, it’s nothing more than a footnote of Macy’s past.
Macy left the band in 1992 and continued her career with her bluegrass purity intact, and in the years since, she has not once left the trenches. She formed projects such as The Blue Plate Special and Domestic Science Club and played in Big Twang while teaching in rural Wichita, Kansas, where she now resides.
Macy will return to Dallas this Saturday, Sept. 28, as her newer project, the Cherokee Maidens, plays Poor David’s Pub. It’s not often artists return to their old stomping grounds, so when the occasion arises, it’s only fair to pay it forward to an institution that has provided so much.
“I moved to Dallas in ’81, and I was a big fan of B.W. Stevenson,” explains Macy. “I went to see him at Poor David’s Pub. I was 22 years old.”
While, yes, Macy did technically see B.W. Stevenson live, it’s probably not entirely accurate to say she was in attendance. She couldn’t afford to pay the cover, so she stood outside the venue in the rain, umbrella in hand, and watched the set through the open entrance. Since this experience, she continued to patronize the venue, and successfully made her way indoors to see acts such as Tony Rice, Bill Monroe and Nanci Griffith.
“I remember Lucinda Williams playing at Poor David’s Pub when she was living in a trailer court in Austin,” recalls Macy. “I’m so grateful to Poor David’s Pub because [owner David Card] had an ear for the song and the songwriter back when everybody was looking toward the George Straits. Everybody was starting to really buy into bubblegum country whereas David Card always celebrated the songwriter.”
Clearly, trends and commercial success are inconsequential to Macy. Perhaps she would have been launched to the stratosphere had she decided against leaving the Dixie Chicks, but that would have also entailed a creative compromise. Plus, being affixed to a genre as devoid of mainstream appeal as bluegrass means you can see through all the ephemera, so there’s no sense in even reflecting on the “ifs” of such a scenario.
As Macy so aptly put it, “Roots matter.”
No, mainstream success and stylistic progression are not bad, but a true artist appreciates their genre’s foundational acts and never forgets where they come from. When you make it big, you occasionally have to be reminded of the latter. When you’re playing clubs and working day jobs, you’re reminded of it every day.
Despite the arduous grind, Macy is exactly where she wants to be in life. She’s a bona fide artist whose craft always takes precedence, and she is paying it forward to a place that celebrated that quality early on. Her former bandmates would have to make their way down from the top to do such a thing, but as for her, she will only have to make her way down from Kansas.