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Dixie Chicks still paying price for war criticism

Las Vegas, May 22 (Reuters): Former country music darlings the Dixie Chicks are still paying a price for criticising the US-led war against Iraq.

The trio was snubbed at the Academy of Country Music Awards yesterday while audience members booed the very mention of the absent group’s name. The Texas musicians have been on the defensive since March, when singer Natalie Maines expressed shame in coming from the same state as US President George W. Bush. Several radio stations pulled the chart-topping group’s songs, and sales of their acclaimed new album slipped.

Instead of showing up at the glitzy Las Vegas ceremony, the three-time nominees performed a song live via satellite from Austin, Texas. They received a “pretty big negative response,” the show’s host, Reba McEntire, said backstage afterwards.

Later during the ceremony, presenter Vince Gill jokingly mumbled their names when listing the contenders for entertainer of the year. Gill, who has said people should forgive the group, said backstage that the atmosphere “wasn’t near as volatile” as it was during the Flameworthy Music Awards in Nashville last month.

The Dixie Chicks were not the only high-profile act to go home empty-handed. Country-pop crossover queens Shania Twain and Faith Hill were bested for top female vocalist by two-time winner Martina McBride.

Toby Keith, who went into the ceremony with a leading eight nominations, won just a single prize — albeit the top one, entertainer of the year. But he left the event, held for the first time in Las Vegas, before his name was called out.

Keith flaunted his brash patriotism in the chart-topping anthem Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).

Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and the trio Rascal Flatts won two prizes each.

Jackson, a six-time nominee, was honoured for album of the year (Drive) and country video (Drive [For Daddy Gene]). His career tally now stands at 11 prizes.

Chesney, long overlooked at awards shows, won the prizes for single record of the year (The Good Stuff) and top male vocalist. Chesney, who admitted that he had initially been reluctant to record The Good Stuff, a number one country hit, went into the event with five nominations.

Rascal Flatts made a clean sweep, winning for top vocal group and song of the year (I’m Movin’ On), an award that also went to its writers, Phillip White and D. Vincent Williams.

Veteran country stars Brooks & Dunn won their 17th award, for top vocal duo. The legendary Willie Nelson won just his fifth award, top vocal event for Mendocino County Line, his collaboration with Lee Ann Womack.

The top new male vocalist award went to Arkansas native Joe Nichols, a former cable system installer who nabbed three Grammy nominations earlier this year for his debut album, Man With a Memory, which he released six months ago.

Kellie Coffey, a former back-up singer for Barbra Streisand, was named top new female vocalist. Canadian sextet Emerson Drive won the prize for top new vocal duo or group.

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