It was more than a love of their music that was behind the Dixie Chicks' victory lap at the Grammy Awards last night.
The Texans won the three biggest awards — song, record and album of the year — for a disc in which they fought back against a country music establishment that turned its back on them following 2003 remarks critical of President Bush. They won everything — five awards in total — they were nominated for.
"I think people are using their freedom of speech here tonight with all of these awards. We get the message," singer Natalie Maines said after winning the fifth Grammy, album of the year for "Taking the Long Way Home."
Earlier, the band had drawn the first of several standing ovations for a blistering performance of the album's signature track and no-regrets anthem, "Not Ready to Make Nice."
On the eve of the Iraq war in 2003, Maines told a London audience: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." That immediately made the band targets of hate mail, boycotts and talk-radio shouters. Almost overnight, one of the most successful groups of any genre was boycotted by Nashville and disappeared from country radio.
In truth, the Dixie Chicks turned their backs on the country music industry, too. They traveled to Los Angeles to make their "Taking the Long Way Home" album with veteran rock and rap producer Rick Rubin. The result had more to do with Southern California rock than country.
The nation's mood has changed considerably since then, too, as the war has dragged on.
Maines couldn't resist the rich irony of winning the Grammy Award for best country album for its thumb-in-the-eye retort to the genre's power brokers.
"That's interesting," Maines said. "Well, to quote the great 'Simpsons': heh-heh."
"Just kidding," added Maines. "A lot of people just turned their TVs off right now. I'm very sorry for that."
Bandmate Emily Robison noted, "We wouldn't have done this album without everything we went through, so we have no regrets."
When the song "Not Ready to Make Nice" won song of the year (it later also won record of the year), she said: "I for the first time in my life, am speechless."
She quickly got over it.
Don Henley of the Eagles, who happily presented the Dixie Chicks with their album of the year award, openly rooted for them.
"I want to give a shout-out to my friends the Dixie Chicks," he said before reading the nominees." "Nice going," he added with a fist-pump.
Robison called it a strange place to be, as artists without a genre.
Later, on the verge of tears, she thanked her husband and her children for their support. "They're the ones that probably had it the hardest over the last three years, and I just wanted to recognize that we know what you went through. Thank you very much."