All-Inclusive Dixie Chicks: Site History
It goes back to 1996, and the Spring issue of the Chick Chat newsletter. Along with Laura Lynch's farewell and Natalie Maines' welcome, it included the Chicks' first venture into cyberspace -- an email address, and a web page.
The Chicks' First Web SiteThe first Dixie Chicks site was a small affair, intended to introduce the Chicks to the world. The site, decorated in George Toomer's distinctive "Nightingales o' the Prairie" style, the Pages included a short bio, tour dates, and some sound samples.
The site was hosted by Austin-based Quadralay Corporation, which portrayed quite a different look then from the look it sports now. That link will now take you to a slick, corporate online publishing site... but in 1996, Quadralay was just another startup trying to find a niche in a business that nobody really understood. One of their endeavours was to sponsor sites for a handful of worthy Austin causes, and one of their beneficiaries was the Dixie Chicks.
The sound samples page may have been the most interesting. It does not include any samples from the group's first release, Thank Heavens For Dale Evans, saying "A clip is on the way!" (emphasis theirs). The only song sampled from Little Ol' Cowgirl is the nice but totally non-commericial "Irish Medley". Does this choice of selections have something to do with legal wrangling surrounding Robin Lynn Macy's departure shortly after Little Ol' Cowgirl's release? There may be no way to know.
The page also includes cover scans of Thank Heavens For Dale Evans and Little Ol' Cowgirl, but only a wagon wheel Dixie Chicks logo for Shouldn't A Told You That. This may have been due to the difficulty of getting a good scan of the dark-colored CD cover, though, and not any legal issues.
The URL changed as Quadralay reworked their focus. The Austin Music section of the site was eventually spun off to its own domain, austinlinks.com, but updates became less and less frequent. When the Dixie Chicks decided to put together a web site with their new look in 1997, Quadralay removed the links to the Dixie Chicks pages on their site... but they didn't delete it altogether. It moved to this URL: http://www.austinlinks.com/Music/trash/dixiechicks.html -- the Trash folder.
Finally, by mid-1999, the austinlinks.com server stopped working altogether, as Quadralay evolved from a startup looking for direction into a corporate entity with an image to project. The Quadralay site carries no hints of its former residents, the Dixie Chicks.
Fortunately, I saved a copy of the site before it drifted into oblivion. Click the link below to see what the Dixie Chicks' web presence looked like before they hit the big time. These files were downloaded in October 1998, and the only changes from the originals are in the directory references and the "mirror site" header.
A new direction... and a dead endIn late 1997, the Dixie Chicks' major-label debut, "I Can Love You Better", was getting airplay and was about to crack the Billboard Top 40. The Chicks' style had evolved from western frills to Shania-style spandex. By this time, George Toomer was no longer associated with the group, and the Quadralay/austinlinks.com site didn't match their new look.
While on the road in Reno, Nevada, the Chicks met with a web designer named Phil Casella. Casella's Associated Communications Internet featured web site design and hosting, in addition to dialup connectivity, and was the host of local country station KATM 103, Cat Country. Somehow -- possibly through the radio station -- the Chicks and Casella decided to create dixiechicks.com, and on December 17, 1997, Casella registered the domain with InterNIC (aka Network Solutions.
Casella even put together some pictures of the group, their Reno concert, and the radio station. See the Pictures page to see them.
Then, the Chicks hit big. "I Can Love You Better" hit the top 40, and suddenly nobody would return Casella's calls. Sony Nashville put together a basic, cookie-cutter site for the Chicks on their own server, and dixiechicks.com finally disintegrated into a one-line message: "This Directory Is Not Public".
While the domain languished, 'net interest grew. In February 1998, then 13-year-old fan Nici Larson created the UnOfficial Dixie Chicks Site, the group's first fan site. It even caught the Chicks' interest -- for details, see the Office Manager note announcing that the Chicks' fan club was disbanding. Nici's site spawned an active mailing list that quickly became the primary source for up-to-date information on Dixie Chicks happenings.
dixiechicks.com remained silent... but we'll pick up Phil Casella's story again shortly.
An "Old Chicks" fan gets fed upWhen "There's Your Trouble" hit #1, the Dixie Chicks' popularity started to soar. Everyone wanted to interview them, and as always, they were always available and accessible. But some disturbing trends started to emerge. Sony's "official" timeline implied that it was just Emily and Martie on the street corner in Dallas in 1989, conveniently forgetting original lead singers and gifted instrumentalists Laura Lynch and Robin Lynn Macy. In interviews, Natalie started talking as though she'd been with the group all along. Hardly anyone even mentioned the Chicks' three strong independently produced albums, and if they did, they omitted one or more that weren't readily available for purchase.
The final straw was the article that tried to give a brief overview of the group's history... they added three current members plus two former members and decided that there must have been five original Dixie Chicks singing on the street corner. Nobody had the straight story, and the Chicks and their handlers showed no interest in setting things straight. So on August 19, 1998, I took the task upon myself.
"The Unofficial All-Inclusive Dixie Chicks Page" started out at just that -- a page of info about the group, hosted on my free ISP space. It didn't take long, though, for the page to blossom into several pages, with the centerpiece being a complete discography of the Dixie Chicks. Then, I found out just how little I knew! Stories started coming in. Real Dixie Chicks old-timers like Jay Rury found the site and told me about their own days with the Chicks before they were famous -- even before they were a group.
Thanks to Dallas' CD Warehouse stores (online at CDBargains.com), I was able to grab CD copies of the rapidly disappearing indie releases -- I'd previously only had them on cassette. And with the magic of the .mp3 format, I was able to create sound samples of the pre-Sony releases, as a way to let the group's new fans know where that amazing, unique sound came from. I was so proud of my site, I sent a note about it to the Chicks' email address, which was still active at that time.
Oops!In November, 1998, as the title track from Wide Open Spaces was enjoying its four-week run at the top of the charts, I got a note by certified mail... not from the Dixie Chicks, but from their lawyers:
Dear Mr. Brooks:Someone in the Dixie Chicks' management had decided that the old sound was something to be feared, something that they "hope never surfaces", as one of the Chicks said to Entertainment Weekly that year. But if the group's handlers had hoped the group's history under the rug, their plan blew up in their faces.
From the December 10, 1998 Dallas Observer:
Despite [attorney John] Beiter and [Dixie Chicks manager Simon] Renshaw's legal arguments against Brooks' site, the cease-and-desist letter appears to be part of a broader strategy -- constructed by the band, its management, and its label, Sony Music subsidiary Monument Records -- to rewrite history, mostly with an eraser, and Brooks' Web site is just caught in the middle.You'll find the complete Cease And Desist letter, my response, and links to the Dallas Observer article and more on the Cease And Desist page.
I removed the sound samples, but the site remained... the focus of the site was always the stories and the history, not flashy multimedia. I also removed "Unofficial" from the site's name... it had become rather obvious that the site was in no way sanctioned by the Dixie Chicks or their management. And the buzz started to grow...
Back to RenoJust as a Nashville attorney was sending me a nasty letter, I was sending a note to the then-unknown owner of dixiechicks.com, hoping to find out if it had been swiped by an unscrupulous domain squatter.
Phil Casella wrote back, and told me the story detailed earlier. He was even kind enough to send me the pictures of the Chicks in Reno featured on the Pictures Page. But as late as January 7, 1999, he was holding out for the Dixie Chicks to come through on their committments. You see, registering a domain name like dixiechicks.com is not free... and it was time to pay the piper.
From: Phil CasellaThat decision took about five seconds to make... and on January 13, 1999, dixiechicks.com became the new home of The All-Inclusive Dixie Chicks Page. Casella let me include a counter on the page... and on the first day, the page that had been "Directory is not public" for a year received 900 hits on the basis of its domain name alone.
That rate of hits stayed steady, then increased as portals and indexes took note of the new resident at the choice domain. Yahoo! noticed, and changed my link even without my asking. But I wouldn't have asked, because I knew one thing was for sure... dixiechicks.com was not my property. Casella needed to recoup his investment, and I was his lightning rod.
But for two months, the skies were clear and sunny. Hits per day rose to 1400 as the search engines indexed the site's content and the portals took note.
The first clouds appeared on the horizon on March 3, 1999. This exchange took place on Whitney's Dixie Chicks message board:
"Mark":Of course, I sent a note right away to "Terry" asking how exactly does he know that there will be changes... and of course, I never got a response. I also asked Casella what was going on... his reply was that "I think I will eventually have to give the Chicks their name... but I will stall the process for as long as possible."
That turned out to be one week. On March 10, Phil Casella sent me a copy of the InterNIC domain ownership change notification that transferred ownership to the Dixie Chicks, with manager Simon Renshaw as the Billing Contact. On March 11, dixiechicks.com became a pointer to a "403 - Access Forbidden" page at Nashville ISP Telalink. 1400 visitors a day got... nothing.
A Site RebornFortunately, the site was still available at the dallas.net ISP address, but firewalls prevented me from keeping it updated... and ISP addresses have always been notoriously slippery. I put out feelers to several potential third-party hosts, from Mike Hays' TwangCast.com to Cyber-Country.com and Roughstock.com... I even discussed it with Bill Hartzer, then the owner of dixie-chicks.com.
But the site was rescued from long-URL oblivion by Ken Hohoff, owner of a small but high-quality provider of ISDN and ADSL connection services to small office/home office subscribers in Chicago's western suburbs. Ken, a "New Chicks" fan who fell in love with the "Old Chicks" sound, gave the site a solid and reliable home on his Mixed Signal Solutions server (http://www.mixedsignal.net/).
I dedicated the reborn site "to the memory of dixiechicks.com which was the address of this site from 1/13/1999 through 3/10/1999, with thanks to the 68570 fans of the Dixie Chicks (old and new) who stopped by to visit."
Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks finally put something together at dixiechicks.com. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a "multimedia experience"... which to me means, "takes too long to download, hit the back button." It was unveiled on 8/31 to coincide with the Chicks' fifth CD, Fly, and the site immediately became overloaded and inaccessible. Reports on the mailing list indicate that there's nothing on the site that you couldn't have learned on the fan pages.
Out of the frying pan...One September day, a note came across the Dixie Chicks mailing list:
Date: Wed, 08 Sep 1999 15:50:04 -0700A little research work showed that the site in question was dixie-chicks.com, with a dash, and digging a little deeper (for technical details, click here) revealed that it was actually the domain's owner who sent the note to the list. Hey, there's nothing wrong with self-promotion -- if you don't promote yourself, who will?
On the darker side, though, the site's eBay listing was not exclusively targeted at Dixie Chicks fans. As any surfer knows, "Chicks" is a keyword that is more likely to be associated with the word "Naked" than with the word "Dixie", and the eBay listing suggested that dixie-chicks.com might make a good so-called "adult" site. Here's the original description text (and you may be able to use this link to view it for yourself):
The Dixie Chicks country music group are one of the hottest bands on Country Radio! We've spent hours building quality traffic to this site, and now want to get out of the "internet business".A sound business judgement... but I and others did not agree with Hartzer's decision to change the site to an adult site pointer during the auction. Yikes! Worse still, he spammed the 'net indexes with duplicate pages with names like index1.html, index2.html, and the like. Again, a sound choice with revenue-enhancing potential... but completely inappropriate for a domain name easily entered by the Chicks' underage fans.
Bidding started low... my bid of $10 actually stood for a while. But Ken Hohhof, whose servers host my site, pointed out to prospective bidders on the mailing list that transferring domain ownership involves more than just changing the admin contacts at Network Solutions -- you've got to pay the us$70 2-year registration as well. That cut back on the amateur bids.
But as the bidding deadline approached, the professionals took over. In the end, it was a bidding war between two netizens with great credentials. One was Katie Pruett, midday DJ and webmistress at Dallas' Young Country 105.3. The other was Vincent Chhabra, webmaster of the online prescription purchase sites RxLeader.com and RxClinic.com.
In an ironic twist that could only happen on the Internet, both Vincent and Katie had the same goal. They wanted to buy dixie-chicks.com and make it the home of The All-Inclusive Dixie Chicks Page. After their bids were processed, Katie was the winner... but the competitive bidding may have raised the final price by as much as us$150. Being ladies and gentlemen, though, neither one complained... please visit their sites and say "hi!"
It is important to note that as soon as bidding was over, Bill Hartzer deleted all the adult content from the site and changed the index page to automatically send visitors to the Young Country web page. But I'm still trying to get those spam pages removed from the search engines (grumble, grumble).
... And into the fire!On October 18, 1999, domain servers around the world started directing dixie-chicks.com to The All-Inclusive Dixie Chicks Page! While this didn't generate the instant hit blizzard of dixiechicks.com (no dash), it's still great to have my own domain name. And this time, it's all mine -- Katie saw to that, and did it on her own without any compensation by the radio station. The Dallas - Fort Worth metroplex is truly blessed to have a person like Katie Pruett in its midst. Thank you, Katie!
But no thanks to Network Solutions. Formerly known as "The InterNIC", they were the original domain name registrar for the Internet -- the only game in town. When the US and international governing bodies mandated competition in the domain registration market, Network Solutions responded by positioning themselves to serve high-end deep-pocket clients like Microsoft and Pepsi -- customers who think nothing of paying $200 or more for fast service.
Obviously, paying several hundred dollars extra was not an option. So for months after the auction, the owner of record of dixie-chicks.com remained Bill Hartzer. for months, calls and letters to Network Solutions went unanswered. Finally, in July 2000, we found out the problem -- the "company name" field on one piece of paperwork was blank. The intricate levels of high security designed to prevent some hacker from hijacking aol.com (again).
So I went to the competition! A site like mine has no reason to fear a hacker attack for the same reason thieves don't steal Yugos -- what's the point? Domain Direct, a branch of the well-known TuCows software house, is one of the new breed of discount domain registrars. For a much better price, you get faster service and better end-user site control and update features. If you're apple.com and you want PGP encryption for all your domain change requests, go to Network Solutions. If you're putting up a page dedicated to your favorite country group, make it easy on yourself and go to Domain Direct.
Full disclosure: I'm in the Domain Direct affiliate program, so I get a cut off of purchases just like I do from CDnow. If that rubs you the wrong way, feel free to type "domaindirect.com" -- but why not support this site and click my link?
What's next?At this writing, All-Inclusive is two years old -- and has grown beyond my wildest imaginations. What lies in store in the future? Nobody knows! Will the Lawyers get involved? If they do, I'll be sure to keep the members of my Update Announcement List informed. Sign up today! (No spam, I promise!)
The All-Inclusive Dixie Chicks Page
Last update: 08/17/2000 by Robert Brooks