LOS ANGELES — A slate of first-rate country artists let their music speak for them in one of four Concerts for Artists Rights Tuesday night (Feb. 26) at the Universal Amphitheatre. Emmylou Harris (with Buddy and Julie Miller), Trisha Yearwood , Dwight Yoakam , Patty Griffin and the Dixie Chicks combined for a show long on performance and short on rhetoric.
Since ending their Fly tour in 2000, the Dixie Chicks have appeared infrequently in concert. The group announced plans to take a year off and in the interim have become embroiled in suits and countersuits with their record company, Sony Music.
Their West Coast fans welcomed them back warmly. “Hi,” said lead singer Natalie Maines after the headlining group launched their set with “Some Days You Gotta Dance” and “There’s Your Trouble.” “It’s good to see that y’all are still with us after a year and a half.”
During a set lasting around 50 minutes, the Chicks played songs from the two albums they have released on Sony. They also welcomed Earl Scruggs and Jerry Douglas to the stage for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and Sheryl Crow, with police escort, made her way from another of the four concerts to join them for “Mississippi,” a Bob Dylan song.
Maines dressed in ‘70s era clothing including a loose-fitting tunic, wide belt, billed soul hat and patterned bell-bottom pants. Cohorts Emily Robison and Martie MaGuire wore brightly colored skirts.
To an audience hungry for new music from the group, Maines explained that the Texas-based trio has been in the studio with her producer father, “the world-famous Lloyd Maines,” making an album of bluegrass and acoustic music. “Now we have to find a nice label to put it out,” she mused.
The rust showed occasionally. “Wide Open Spaces” got off to a rocky start, prompting Maines to stop and restart the song. But the encore, “Goodbye Earl,” which ended at midnight, capped the show with the sassy, aggressive, tuneful style that has made the group massive favorites and powerful spokeswomen for the causes they adopt.
Yearwood also did a 50-minute set. She reminisced more than once about playing the Universal Amphitheatre in 1991, at the start of her career, and told the audience that she first met duet partner Don Henley and major influence Linda Ronstadt at the venue.
The audience received her warmly, cheering wildly, especially for “She’s in Love With the Boy,” set-opener “Perfect Love” and “An American Girl (XXX’s and OOO’s).” “Love Alone,” with a drum loop, was marred by an insistent popping that sounded like Fourth of July fireworks or, as Yearwood joked, gunshots.
“We should do this every night before the Grammys,” she said as the crowd’s applause washed over her in waves. “That way, you don’t care if you win or lose.”
Yoakam’s introduction described him as a “recently independent recording artist,” which must mean that he has parted ways with his longtime record label, Reprise. Guitarist Pete Anderson, fiddler and backing vocalist Scott Joss, keyboardist Skip Edwards and other members of the Yoakam band delivered his trademark twang on numbers such as “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose,” “Little Sister” and “Fast as You.”
Griffin started the evening quietly, playing two songs with guitarist Doug Lancio.
Harris followed immediately, singing first with only Buddy Miller accompanying her on guitar. Her set included “Love Hurts” and songs from her Grammy-winning album, Red Dirt Girl. Julie Miller added harmonies on several songs including the gospel number “The Other Side of Life.” Harris explained that she performed the song regularly on the recently completed Down From the Mountain tour.
Harris finished her set by inviting Griffin back to the stage. To the crowd’s delight, Robison and MaGuire also came out to sing harmonies and, in MaGuire’s case, play violin on Griffin’s “Mary.”
The country acts played to a capacity crowd of 6,200, who paid from $45 to $125 per ticket, so a substantial sum was raised to support lobbying efforts in California and on the federal level on behalf of artists’ rights.
Other concerts Tuesday night –- at the Wiltern Theatre, The Forum and Long Beach Arena -– featured Beck, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, The Eagles, Billy Joel, John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks, Crow, No Doubt, the Offspring, Weezer and others.
“We’re just talking about leveling the playing field a little bit, that’s all,” Harris said in one of the few moments in which artists on the bill addressed the evening’s purpose directly.
Yoakam echoed her sentiments. “We’re not trying to start a fight or nothing, just trying to level the playing field, as Emmylou said.”