The Dixie Chicks at Stage Six

Below are 3 pictures from the Chicks' Winfield era.
Click on each to see a closer view.

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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.

— Leo Eilts

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