For a few hours, time and events stood still. The world shrunk down to a sprawling outdoor amphitheater atop a plateau above the Columbia River on a muggy Saturday evening, where maybe 20,000 people gathered to share music, enthusiasm and a rollicking good time.
The Chicks, the popular trio of multitalented women musicians formerly know as the Dixie Chicks, filled the Gorge entertainment venue with a high-energy concert backed by a tight, boisterous band. We were there to celebrate Jacqui’s 70th birthday, but it was a night when age didn’t really matter — only the unmatchable experience of live music in wide open spaces. It’s been quite a while since we ventured to the Gorge, or to any concert quite like it.
We were in the sixth row, close enough to catch the performers’ facial expressions and appreciate how hard they were working. It was, to be sure, a bit loud — but then, they were also playing to the people picnicking on the grass a hundred yards or more up the hill. I’m pretty sure everyone got their money’s worth.
It was like a party where everyone was the featured guest. We got into conversations with people all around us, from many places representing many lifestyles. They are had one thing in common: an appreciation for the music. It’s possible that a few of them, including the friendly young woman who kept yelling about the performances at the hearing-impaired side of my head, were a bit overly-appreciative of the available beverages. But hey, it was that kind of evening, and I just nodded and smiled as if I knew exactly what she was trying to communicate.
It took some doing to get there. We drove down from the valley in morning, checked into our motel room in Vantage for a few hours of rest, then headed to the Gorge along with about a zillion other cars creeping toward the parking lots. Then there was the long walk to our seats, past many food, drink and merchandise opportunities and a vast array of port-a-potties. Once we found our seats, we were pretty much in place for the next four-plus hours. For that span, all matters outside of the venue seemed to fall away. It was a brief respite shared with people who came for the same experience.
It’s not that there were no reminders of the issues and conflicts that would face us when we exited the Gorge’s gates and returned to the awaiting real world. Many of the Chicks’ songs are politically charged and achingly honest, one of the things that continues to make them popular across a broad age and gender spectrum. While the Chicks have a huge, devoted following of women (they are the best-selling female band of all time), there were a lot of men in the audience who were into the music, me among them. Some of them appeared to be even older than I am.
Lead singer Natalie Maines wore a shirt with the words “It’s my body” sequined across the front. Many of the huge graphic images splashed behind the performers were evocative of times, events and personalities that have stirred controversy and conflict over many decades. The Chicks are not shy about using their art form to address these things head-on. Listen to “March March” for a sampler.
The group is remembered by many for Maines’ critical comments in 2003 about then-president George W. Bush during a concert in England. The country-western world that had loved the Dixie Chicks, and seemingly the entire right wing universe of gaslighters, suddenly exploded in a psychotic rage against them, their music, their very existence. God forbid you should say something unflattering about the president. Oh, wait — these were the same people who a few years later went on a prolonged, unhinged, racist tirade against Barack Obama. So, as the Chicks say in one of their songs, “There’s your trouble.”
I think much of the venom hurled at the Chicks was attributable to three things: They are women. They are strong women. And they are women who don’t take crap from anyone. The group suffered because of the backlash, but as another of their big hits asserted, they weren’t ready to make nice or back down. After a hiatus from performing, they were back in full roar for their most recent tour, which concluded at the Gorge.
When it was over and we trudged back to our car for the return trip to our motel, we eased back into the real world. We checked our phones and emails, and caught up on the news. Not much changed in our absence, except perhaps for the worse. But for one evening, the Gorge was the top of the world.