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Thank Heavens For Dale Evans (1990)
Chick Chat Archive
The Dixie Chicks touched the hearts of their fans wherever they went -- and they still do. Several of the new fan pages detail how sweet and open the ladies are to their fans -- staying until the last fan gets an autograph.
This page is for stories by the Chicks' original fans, and how they were captivated by the music and artistry before Sony catapulted them into the national limelight. If you saw the Dixie Chicks before I Can Love You Better became a surprise hit, please send me your story! I won't reprint any personal information without permission, so let me know how you would like to be credited -- anonymously, or by name, city, and/or email or URL.
Send those stories to dc at dixie dash chicks dot com, and relive the history of the Dixie Chicks!
Telling this may tell my age but, it will also tell the Chicks ages too! Many, many years ago, when Em and Martie were still Martha and Emily, the Erwin sisters, Kid Chicks, back then, they took an annual scholastic reprieve (skipped school) to attend the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Their friends, brother and sister, Sharon and Troy Gilcrist, were also about the same ages and all four shared an almost obsessive fascination of Bluegrass Music. Troy learned to flat-pick the guitar before he was really big enough to reach all the way around the monstrous instrument, Sharon knew as many mandolin chops as about anyone attending the festival, Martha started out on a little tiny violin but by this time was playing a full size and playing very, very well and Emily was grabbing every instrument not already taken by the other kids, such as bass, rhythm guitar, banjo and dobro.
The instruments may have all been "oversize" but the talent and determination, coupled with an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm and lots and lots and lots of support from their parents, made these young musicians viable for success. This success could easily have been realized in any field, from science, mathematics, whatever they might have chosen, because of their intellectual abilities, educational background and the solid value foundations laid by their parents.
I watched them grow and mature, I watched them get better and better. I watched them begin to win contests and achieve.
Sid Gilcrist, father of siblings Sharon and Troy, when asked how he knew the kids would excel at their music and stick to it at such an early age, simply replied, "I don't know." Somehow he did know and the music industry is certainly glad he did. "I just drive the bus," he pointed out.
What kinds of support were offered by the parents of these young future stars? There always seemed to be money for music lessons, a place and time for them to practice, enough encouragement to go around, costumes and special clothes, transportation to and from a zillion places in any kind of weather, occasional overseers, (that's where my husband and I come in) willing to stay up all hours at the hottest picking sessions to see the kids safely back in their motor home by the early am,) trust in the kids and most of all, unconditional love. Simple, right?
After listening and watching intently as they were allowed to "jam" with greats like Mark O'Connor and others, the kids stole licks, rearranged some for their own use and began to create their own styles and sound. Sharon, Troy, Emily and Martha became "Bluenight Express" and their professional careers were launched. For about five years they practiced, performed, took more lessons, practiced, kept going to the Winfield, Kansas Festival, practiced and found they really liked what they were doing and people liked them. That is a nice combination.
They began to branch out and try their new wings. While still working on their music, Troy and Sharon graduated from college. Emily and Martha teamed up with Robin Macy and the Dixie Chicks were born.
I'll never forget the night I was privy to the brand new Chicks and their attitudes on what might or might not happen with the group. "We think it might do well." Martha pointed out, "I can tell you one thing," Robin said determinedly,"it's (they weren't even thinking in terms of "we" yet,) going to be a "Hot" band." All Emily had to say was, "I give it 6 months and if we aren't making money by then, I'm out of here."
So young, so unsure of what the future might hold; we are so glad they followed their hearts and their talents and most importantly, their dreams.
They are no longer kid Chicks, they are award winning musicians and vocalists. We are proud to know them and hope their career and dreams last a lifetime.
Director, Patsy Montana Museum and Festival
What a beautiful story of the earliest days! I had hoped at some point to build a page to detail the history of "Blue Night Express" -- anyone who would like to contribute is invited to drop me a line (dc at dixie dash chicks dot com).
Way back in 1985 and 1986, I had Robin Macy as my 6th grade math teacher at St Mark's School of Texas. On several occasions, we students were treated to her bluegrass stylings - along with her first band "Danger in the Air". A few years later I saw her down at the Hoffbrau Steakhouse playing with the Dixie Chicks.
Since she left St Mark's I have run into her on numerous occasions (Border's, Denny's, etc...) and heard her as a DJ on KERA 90.1.
Also of note...I was at CD World (used CD store) browsing a few years back when I found a copy of "Dale Evans" in the used rack...and it was signed by all four original Chicks!
Thought you might like to know!
PS-Is there any way I could find a copy of "Home on the Radar Range" and "The Flip Side" in any form? I didn't even know they released that until today.
I'd love to find a copy of the 1991 45rpm single myself... see the Discography for more information. But as you noted, you never know what you'll find at a Dallas-area used CD store!
Back in June of 1987 my wife and I were on vacation in Branson Mo. We went to the Silver Dollar City amusement park and happened to be there during an event I believe that was called Mountain People Music Festival. There were various Blue Grass type bands positioned at various places around the park. We both remember quite distinctly listening to 2 girls and 1 guy (all young/girls very beautiful) play for at least 2 hours. Then when the Dixie Chicks started making local TV news my wife and I both recognized Emily Erwin as the girl we had seen in Branson. Of course we have never confirmed this. I sent an email to the firstname.lastname@example.org site with this story but have not heard back from them. Do you have any contacts that might help cure our curiosity?
I didn't have anything to help Andy... but he found what he needed:
After I sent you that email I continued to read your page and stumbled across the name of the Bluegrass band Blue Night Express which the Erwin girls were integral members of. When I read that it was instantaneous recall; that was who we saw in Branson back in 1987. So I saw the Dixie Chicks before they were the Dixie Chicks. Who was the young man with them?
What a facinating story from before the Dixie Chicks were formed -- and before Branson became Las Vegas East! I believe the folks with Emily and Martie would have been Troy and Sharon Gilchrist -- see the letter above from Jane Frost.
I am one of those lucky folks who got to see and hear the Chicks when they WERE a bluegrass band and even before they were the "Chicks". I had two early experiences.
May 1988 - Bluebonnet Bluegrass Festival, Waller Texas
I was one of the many folks who were impressed by a group of young talented bluegrasser's, The Blue Moon Quartet (at least that was the name that I remember) from the Dallas / Ft. Worth area. I especially remember the young blond who played Bass on the Friday night show (played as a trio; the bass player couldn't get there in time) and then played a VERY nice banjo on Saturday's sets. I was new to bluegrass music then, but was excited to see more young people playing it.
July 1990 - Overton Bluegrass Festival, Overton Texas
By 1990, I was a total bluegrass fanatic. I was in Overton Texas, a small East Texas town which was having it's second annual bluegrass festival. My friend and the promoter, Don Eaves, had told me he had a surprise for us. The surprise was the Dixie Chicks!!! The crowd went wild for them! Don still gets requests from "old timers" who regularly attend the festival, now going into its eleventh year to "bring back them girls". The special treat for me was that I got to jam after the evening show with Laura. She was staying with friends of ours and I got to spend some time talking "over the kitchen table" with her about music and bass-playing. My wife still gets jealous when I mention the weekend.
I have followed them since that time. Robin has recently married (so I hear from the bluegrass underground), but I haven't heard any rumors about what Laura is up to.
Like several of your other contributors, I truly miss them as a Bluegrass group. I understand that it's nearly impossible to make a living playing bluegrass music. Heck, it's hard to make expenses even when you're doing it for fun. It's sad that bluegrass loses the best of the young musicians to other, more lucrative style of music. These girls have a real talent for touching the people they play for, and it may be hard for people who are just discovering them to believe, but they used to be so much MORE in touch with their audiences as acoustic musicians. Much of what they have gets lost in the "Country Music Machine" production of their music and their personalities. I wish them well, but I haven't followed their new success as country stars. I don't think they'll miss my $16 for a new CD from time to time. I'm surely glad I spent the $$$ to get the first recordings (CD's and 45's, all autographed), though.
I have an even earlier sighting than West End street corners. When Robin Macy was still a teacher at St. Mark's school in Dallas, she played with a country band called "Danger in the Air". During a show at Uncle Calvin's Coffeehouse inside North Park Presbyterian Church (in the old church building across Park from the mall), Danger in the Air members brought some of their music lesson students up on stage to play with the band. At one point, high school sisters Martie and Emily (and their younger brother on guitar) played with Robin and the band backing them. I think the trio even played at Uncle Calvins on their own before Laura Lynch joined them. There were also some shows that included either Laura's or Robin's sister (who was also backing one of the Mandrell sisters).
I first saw the Dixie Chicks in the Washington, DC area at the old Birchmere club. It was Emily's 17th birthday, and Martie still had red hair. I went with a whole bunch of folks who were Dallas natives relocated to DC, and we loved the cowgirl outfits and the down-home friendliness. Laura yodelled on "I wanna be a cowgirl sweetheart," and Robin broke everybody's heart on "Thunderheads." I still listen to my worn out "Thank Heavens for Dale Evans" cassette.
I cherish the memories of seeing the Chicks back in those days. I don't even relate that band to the three glamour girls I see now on the TV. I'm happy for Martie and Emily - they are both extremely talented - but the cowgirl nature of the original band was what really moved me.
My husband and I discovered the Dixie Chicks in 1989 in an Italian restaurant off of McKinney Avenue (of all places) in Dallas, Texas. First, I've got to say that we are not country music fans but we knew these young ladies (still in high school at the time) were incredible musicians -- beautiful voices and a superb violin player. They sat down at our table at one of their breaks. They were extremely friendly and pretty humble about their musical gifts. My husband and I agreed that one day they were going to make it big - they had the talent and the look to go with it. We moved to Ohio a year later and missed listening to them play - we bought one of their tapes at the restaurant and wore it out from frequent play.
I heard them again only a few months ago (remember, I'm not a country music fan) when our nanny, Donna, was playing a CD at our house. Donna has introduced my children to the world of country musicians such as Garth Brooks and we're always teasing her about it. She knew the story of the Dixie Chicks as I told her it's the only country music I've ever liked. When I asked her the name of the group on the CD, she screamed, "It's the Dixie Chicks."
Having grown up in a family of musicians, I am thrilled these young ladies made it BIG - they've earned all of the success.
I knew the the Dixie Chicks before "I Can Love You Better". Matter of fact, I sang with them one time or two. Actually with Martie and Emily, Natalie had not joined their group yet. I was 5 or 6 years old and I was singing at Fairview Farms in Plano, TX and next to sing were two young ladies (martie and emily). After they sang they said that I was a really good singer and they wanted to sing with me so we got a song together and sang. I have a video tape somewhere. I am sure that they remember me.
thanx 4 reading.
I was directed to your Dixie Chicks page through a list server that I'm on formed by fans of the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS. It is there I first met Robin Macy (who at the time was playing with James McKinney's band "Danger in the Air") and Laura (who along with Dave Peters and my Fiddle player, Marvin Gruenbaum, spent a season in Japan playing as the "Texas Rangers"). In the early eighties, the Irwin sisters used to come to Winfield with their family along with the likes of Troy and Sharon Gilchrist, Andy Owen and some other great Texas pickers.
It was with some surprise, then, when these four gorgeous women, who I knew separately, showed up together at our campsite, "Stage Six," and announced that they had formed a band. They had about six songs worked up, and played them for us under the big tent which serves as the common area of our campground. Laura played my bass, which was too tall for her, and we have a picture of her standing on an egg crate while they performed for us that afternoon.
When Bob Redford, the festival promoter, came by the next afternoon and mentioned that he had an open stage slot if we had someone we wanted to put on, I suggested the Dixie Chicks. When I told the girls that I had scheduled them on a stage, Laura promptly threw up. When it finally came time to play, she was so nervous that my brother and I agreed to go on with them and play guitar and bass so that they could concentrate on their singing. To my knowledge, that was their first appearance as a band in a festival setting.
The Chicks played two years at Winfield. I hired them to play here in Kansas City on two occasions, and they used to stay at my home because they couldn't afford hotel rooms. Robin left the band shortly after one of these visits, with many regrets, but no doubts. It was an agonizing decision for her. In my opinion, she was the glue that held the original four-piece band together and molded their distinctive sound. Those who never saw the original four-piece configuration missed the incredible blend of not three, but four angelic voices performing some incredibly complex vocalizations against an acoustic background. After Robin's departure, Laura took over the vocal lead, and they added an electric guitar, electric bass and drums. Their last appearance in Winfield was in this configuration.
I have stayed in touch with all of the members to the best of my ability, although it's a little more difficult to get through to Martie and Emily these days. (By the way, some people may not know that there's a Karaoke video which features Martie on it. I about fell out of my chair the first time I saw that at a local bar.) We have mutual friends in Texas who keep me informed about their welfare.
Like many of the people who knew them during the early days of the band and before, we are very proud of our little sisters, but view their recent success with some regret. The Bluegrass community, where they cut their teeth and polished their instrumental skills, no longer has access to their sparkling performances, and we miss them. A friend of mine has a daughter named Kelly who posed for pictures with the four original Chicks in those early days. When she recently took her photos to school to share with her classmates, who had only just discovered the band, she was essentially told that it was a fake picture, because it wasn't the "real" Dixie Chicks. I asked Kelly (who is now twelve) if that hurt her feelings, and she said "no," that the girls in her school were just idiots.
Laura has married and lives in West Texas, the last I heard. Robin and her husband Mark live in an arboretum in Kansas, and remain close friends of ours. In fact, they attended my Festival here in Kansas City on Mother's Day Weekend, where Robin served as MC for the Ricky Skaggs appearance.
Just thought you might enjoy a few comments from somebody who was there when they were on their way up.
SANTA FE TRAILS PRODUCTIONS, INC.
Hi. I have been to your page and I think it is great. Yes, I have met Robin and Laura. Every time I met Emily and Martie they were there. I just didn't mention it because the people who are fans now seem like they do not care about pre-Natalie. I loved the Chicks when the four of them were together. I will have to find my pictures that I have. But if I am in any I will not let you post them because the 80's didn't go well with me. LOL I never mention it much about jamming with them because I don't want to brag and plus some people do not understand how festivals and bluegrass events are and wouldn't believe it. If I have some pics without myself in them I will be more than happy to scan them for you. I will have to look in my teen years box of all my things I have saved. LOL I save everything.
I haven't been around the Chicks since Natalie has joined. I have seen one show but I didn't try to get to them because I would have been embarrassed if they didn't remember me and I went up to them and said, hey, remember me? I wouldn't want them to think I was doing it just because they are big now. Anyway, I am sorry to ramble but yeah I will help you and I have some friends who also jammed with the Chicks also at the convention. Let me know what I can do.
I believe it was 1989 or 1990. I first saw the Dixie Chicks perform at the Cactus Cafe in the UT Austin Student Union building. I heard of them from my partner, who was good friends with Martie and Emily's older sister. We went to hear them play on a tiny stage in the Cactus Cafe. I fell in love with them immediately! I then saw them perform at the Waterloo Ice House, which is pretty much a burger house in Austin. I remember meeting Martie, Emily and Laura while they were waiting out in their van just outside Waterloo.
I loved their bluegrass sound. They were just as much fun to watch perform as they were to listen to. Laura provided a lot of comic relief for the girls who seemed so serious and shy. It's nice to see that they've come so far and that they smile more on stage! I haven't seen them in years; I've been to a couple of their family holiday parties in Dallas.
Congrats, Dixie Chicks! You've made the big time!
I'd also like to know what Laura's up to, so if you have any info, that'd be great.
Laura is happily married to a rancher and is living the cowgirl life outside of Weatherford.
Great site. Shame they have to reject a great past. Saw them here in Nashville a few years back, when they were all still together, at a bluegrass bar. Brought back memories of first seeing them at Fatso's in Arlington in 89 or 90, and Danger in the Hair at that coffee house. They were the only bluegrass we could find in DFW during that time.
Then, saw them here when they had just switched to country - dancing around like a Hee Haw act - no thanks!
Actually, it's Danger in the Air, but I think Robin would appreciate the name "Danger in the Hair" nearly as much! The coffee house would be Uncle Calvin's Coffeehouse at Northpark Presbyterian Church.
I'm sure this recollection probably isn't good enough to publish on your site... but I thought you might be interested to hear it anyway.
I don't remember very clearly the first time I saw the Dixie Chicks. (of course they weren't called that at the time) The two sisters in the group, Emily and Martie, both went to my school, Greenhill, in Dallas. Of course, they're a lot older than me, and they graduated a year or two before I started kindergarten there in '87.
Anyway, the first time I heard them was when they played at the school auction one night. I wish I could tell you more about my first impressions of them, but I was only 6 or 7 years old at the time. Also, Emily and Martie's mom teaches English at Greenhill, and I had her as a teacher one year.
Of course it's good enough! Lots of kids in the Dallas area -- mine included -- grew up with the Dixie Chicks. Thanks for the great story! -rb
I found your Dixie Chicks site to be interesting and informative. I had thought that girls had faded away after hearing that Robin left for Domestic Science Club (that first EP is awesome; haven't heard the full-length yet -- will those be added to the site?) and that Laura had left.
When I saw them the first time, it was after Thank Heavens had come out and they were getting alot of airplay on bluegrass radio in DC on WAMU. They were even interviewed on the air during this period. I remember seeing a rip-roarin' version of I Know You Rider made famous by The Seldom Scene and The Grateful Dead, among others. With the guitar, fiddle, banjo and bass line-up, they were definitely a bluegrass band. Sure, they did some western songs and some folk numbers but they were done bluegrass-style.
After Robin left and Little Ol' Cowgirl came out I saw them again (or maybe I saw them in between as well - I believe that Mathew Benjamin toured with them before Robin left?) and with the drummer and electric guitarist, they were definitely not a bluegrass band any more. That's when I stopped listening as well.
I heard There's Your Trouble on the radio the other day and even saw the video(!) recently. It's catchy, I guess, but it's not the same. I'm glad they are doing well but they are not doing it for me any more. I liked 'em when they were bluegrass but I'm afraid I agree with the Microsoft guy that they got "country-cloned" or whatever he said.
I think the only thing your site is missing is the confident statement that the DC were a (proud) bluegrass band when they started out and that the first album is a (really good) bluegrass album. Sure Martie is an award-winning fiddler -- those were bluegrass awards she won! BTW, in additon to the first to CDs, I also own the Christmas 45 and a DC coloring book, autographed by Laura, Martie and Emily so I figure those are kinda rare.
Who is writing their material these days? They did alot of covers in the early days (I can't believe I'm referring to the early 90s as the early days!) and Robin and Laura were writing stuff as well. I don't remember Martie or Emily writing anything. I guess they have a backing band these days as well? Is Matthew Benjamin still playing with them? It would be nice also if your site included info on what Laura and Robin are doing these days. Were there any interim cowgirls before Natalie showed up?
Thank you very much for your detailed note! I can answer some of the questions...
Peter sent a follow-up note with some more info:
I guess the girls going country is no different than what Vince Gill, Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs have done, as far as starting out in bluegrass and then going mainstream country. The first album Thanks Heavens is very accessible whatever you call it. Some of the versions of folk-and-other-type songs they do are similar in style to what Alison Krauss has been doing (Alison Krauss has covered Shawn Colvin and even Little Feat!).
The only other DC memory I can some up with is the time they played at The Kennedy Center's "Texas Festival" with Jerry Jeff Walker et al. I didn't catch 'em then but a friend of mine did, referring to them as "the all-babe bluegrass band". While I am totally into the sex appeal angle that Dixie Chicks have and have had, I first became interested after hearing them on the radio, so I had no idea what they looked like.
The only other thing I can think of (it's all coming back now) is the last time I saw them (post-Robin) and Jimmy Fortune of The Statler Brothers was at the show. He asked me to take a picture of him with DC and I obliged (with his camera). I had been trying to get one of the Erwin sisters to autograph my coloring book while she was busy talking with a girl from her softball team back home. Needless to say, the softball teammate got all the face time!
I also tried to urge Martie to make an all-fiddle-tune album. We'll see if that ever happens!
Don't count on it, at least while the current trio is together. I wish that Martie (and the other Chicks) would get together with country fiddle legend Charlie Daniels for a fiddlin' extravaganza. Imagine Charlie Daniels and Martie Seidel playing "The Devil Went Down To Georgia!" It would be Country Nirvana.
I honestly can't remember if it was 1990 or 1991, but the first time I saw the Dixie Chicks was at Richland Community College in Dallas. They were playing in the cafeteria there. I had heard of them before a few times but did not know any of their music. I remember stopping and watching them for a few minutes before class.
Hi Robert! I've just spend a short while looking at your Dixie Chicks web site. I'll have to go back again when I have more time to explore it all!! I want to thank you for preserving the history of the Dixie Chicks. I've been a fan since 1990 and own all 4 Dixie Chicks albums (Wide Open Spaces was a Christmas gift - I was having a hard time allowing myself to buy it since I wasn't totally in agreement with the new Shania image). It has bothered me every time I've seen the 'new chicks' in an interview and Natalie is telling how they named the band (as if she were there at that time), and they all make it seem as though Robin and Laura never existed.
Don't get me wrong - I really like Wide Open Spaces, but I don't like how they've handled the transition to this new band they have become.
I'm sorry to hear about your problems with their lawyers - that all seems stupid to me. Those first three albums are the reason I am a fan now. I have a lot of respect for Martie and Emily as musicians because of those albums!! It's too bad they can't appreciate their expericences from the 'early days' and realize there are people out there who really like the 'old chicks'.
For the record, Laura is my favorite Chick!!!!
Thanks again for all of the great Dixie Chicks info!!!
Hi, I saw your page wanting stories of seeing the Dixie Chicks before they were famous, and so here's mine:
I went to middle school at St. Mark's, when Robin Macy taught there, and the group was pretty well known around the school at the time (late 1990 or so). I got really into them right after they released Thank Heavens For Dale Evans, because my 7th grade history teacher got Robin and Laura (the Erwin sisters couldn't make it) to perform some of their songs in our class one day! I don't remember exactly what they played, but soon afterward, I saw the full band play at a synagogue picnic (and I saved the accompanying catalog with their photo in it), and it was a great concert.
After that, I lost my interest in them (and all other things country) for several years, when I got into "alternative" rock, and didn't really rediscover them until this year, and it was definitely a surprise to see them get famous like that so long after I knew them. Thing is, though, during that long period, I ended up transferring and attending high school at Greenhill (another school in Dallas), where both of the Erwins went, and their mom (her name is Mrs. Barbara Trask) was my 11th grade English teacher!
Actually, just thinking about it, I probably have several other early pictures of the group - I know I have my old middle school yearbooks with pictures of Robin in it, and I think I also have Martie's and Emily's high school yearbook pictures as well (I have brothers who went to their school at around the same time they did). So, I guess I'll find out about that too once I go home in May.
Hi Robert! I just got through voting for your chicks page on CountryNow. Good luck to you! I also just finished visiting 38 other chicks pages, and you are by far the best.
I have all four of the chicks' CD's. I love the old chicks and the new chicks. I have been trying to find out what happened to Robin & Laura, as I would love to follow their careers as well. It's funny that just now I was able to find out from you page about Robin-I was at a bluegrass festival in the early 90's here in Florida and I taped a very talented group called Danger In The Air! I never made the connection until now. Thank you!
Is she still with them? Are they still together, and are they still on the bluegrass circuit? (Sorry for so many questions, but you seem to be the only one who knows anything) Where is Laura these days? Can you tell me why Robin and Laura left the chicks? I appreciate anything you can or will tell me.
The story is that Robin Lynn Macy left over "creative differences" (see the Autumn 1992 issue of the Chick Chat), and that Laura's 1995 departure was as much her choice as it was the other Chicks' -- although Laura may not have been aware of some behind-the-scenes machinations that were unfolding at the time.
Laura Lynch married a rancher and is living the cowgirl life on a ranch outside of Fort Worth, Texas. Look for a page on Laura's post-Chicks life soon!