Entertainment Marketers of the Year
Simon Renshaw, Dixie Chicks
CEO, STRATEGIC ARTIST MANAGEMENT
As country fans deserted in droves, manager swapped blue state venues and helped get group on controversial EW cover.
"We went from entertainment to politics overnight," says Mr. Renshaw, 49, CEO of Strategic Artist Management. The group got swept up in the debate about the war, and as the tour went on, there were vehement protests and even death threats.
Filming the repurcussions
Soon after, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple began shooting "Shut Up and Sing" as the Chicks grappled with their image and started recording "Taking the Long Way," leading with the first single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," the group's defiant message about refusing to give in to their detractors.
"They told me I was no longer managing a musical brand but a cultural icon," Mr. Renshaw says. "It was exciting and scary. We were figuring it out as we went along. It became very clear early on that [free speech] was a major issue around the whole incident and that the free-speech implications were of major import."
Mr. Renshaw drummed up support for the Dixie Chicks by touring them in liberal-leaning areas such as Canada and Australia. Country-music-resistant urban America took to the Chicks, and Mr. Renshaw scheduled stops in New York, Boston, Chicago and other blue-state cities, where they found a whole new audience for their music.
Making the right call
The film was timed to come out before the Grammy Awards, and a controversial Entertainment Weekly cover, for which the Dixie Chicks posed naked, their bodies tattooed with slogans such as "free speech," came out the day after an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America."
The Dixie Chicks came up with the cover idea, Mr. Renshaw says. "The magazine loved it, the label hated it, publicists were scared shitless," he says. "It was an uphill fight. I was convinced from the moment they came up with it that it was a classic, and history proved me right."
The Chicks emerged triumphant, nabbing five Grammy Awards, including record of the year for "Not Ready to Make Nice" and album of the year for "Taking the Long Way." They also received a standing ovation from the audience.