Dixie Chicks Struggle to Fill Seats

reports that the country music trio Dixie Chicks is having trouble filling seats at concerts as it continues to take heat for criticism of President Bush.

While early ticket purchases for their first major tour in three years are generally robust in Northeastern cities, initial sales have fallen short of expectations in numerous markets, especially in the Midwest and South, forcing some dates to be scrubbed.

Who would have thought that the biggest country music fans would be in Boston and New York?

By contrast, the group's latest album, "Taking the Long Way," opened atop the U.S. pop charts last week, selling 526,000 copies during its first seven days and remaining No. 1 in its second week to notch one of the year's strongest debuts.

But with many country music stations denying the Chicks airplay, box office business is off to a slow start in places where the group has sold out in the past, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert industry magazine Pollstar.

The problem is red states.

"Basically, they're having to rethink the entire tour at this point," Bongiovanni told Reuters. "Clearly their problems seem to be strongest in the red states," he said, referring to those areas carried by Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

A key factor in tepid sales was the continuing backlash against the Dixie Chicks by many country music stations over the anti-Bush remarks of lead singer Natalie Maines in 2003.

Publicists for the band declined to comment, as did officials for AEG, one of the companies promoting the tour.

Lead singer Natlie Maines recently could have patched things up, but instead chose to inflame the situation.

Maines sparked an uproar when she declared during a London concert in March 2003 that the band was embarrassed to come from the same state -- Texas -- as the president. She fanned flames anew by retracting an earlier apology for "disrespecting the office of the president," telling Time magazine in a recent interview: "I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel he is owed any respect whatsoever."

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