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Loose Lips Sink Chicks?

After an anti-Bush barb, fans trashed and radio turned its back on the Dixie Chicks. But their CD went up the charts.

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The firestorm began on March 10, when Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines told a London audience, ”We’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” By week’s end, country stations around the U.S. had banished the group from their playlists — and then some.

In Kansas City, Mo., one set up a ”chicken toss” garbage bin for fans wanting to dispose of their CDs; another in Louisiana simply hired a tractor. Indeed, the backlash was considerable for the biggest act in the genre, who claimed the format’s No. 1 single (”Travelin’ Soldier”) and album (Home). One of the tamer messages posted by a former fan on an AOL message board boasted about flushing her Chicks albums down the toilet. (Even the commodes are bigger in Texas, it seems.)

Feeling the pressure, Maines issued a mea culpa on March 14, admitting she’d been ”disrespectful” to the Commander-in-Chief, pleading that her status as a mother of a 2-year-old son makes her sensitive to anything likely to send children home in body bags.

But her apology didn’t smooth things over for everybody. Country singer Travis Tritt, for one, making an appearance on Fox News after Maines’ retraction, still harped on her original comments, calling them ”cowardly.”

”Unless they find a way to put a neat spin on this,” says Jim Jacobs, president of Talladega, Alabama’s WTDR-FM, one of the first stations to publicly nix the Chicks, ”it’s my opinion that this woman’s killed her career.”

But all those Chicks detractors shouldn’t count their boycotts before they’re hatched. The group’s upcoming American tour is nearly sold out, and with antiwar stances a dime a dozen in the rock world, their growing pop-crossover fan base will not be quick to desert them.

Though it sold 22,000 fewer copies (for a total of 124,000) this week, Home actually moved up the pop-sales chart, from No. 6 to No. 4. Even on the country charts, where naysayers thought there would be the most attrition, ”Soldier” tumbled only from No. 1 to No. 3, with a modest 15 percent airplay erosion, according to Billboard country chart director Wade Jessen.

Paul Williams, who programs KPLX-FM in Dallas, is still cautiously spinning ”Soldier” and says reaction on the station’s request line is split 50/50 — except ”every time one of the talk-radio hosts in this town goes on the air hammering ’em, our phones light up.”

”If anything,” says Frank Callari, senior VP of artist relations for the Nashville-based Lost Highway label, ”[they are] probably gonna sell more records because people are talking about it.”