VH1’s Save the Music Foundation threw a private party last night on the posh grounds of the William Hill Estate Winery in Napa, California. The guests of honor? Donors, sponsors (including Ashford University) and two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, who appeared with their other band, the Court Yard Hounds. Performing in front of a seated and reserved crowd in the vineyard’s garden, the Hounds held court, running through songs from both of their albums and bantering with the audience in between.
“They asked us to tell some stories between the songs,” said Emily Robison, perhaps referencing another music channel institution: VH1 Storytellers. But the clear emphasis of the evening was on the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on restoring and supporting music programs in public schools. Since forming in 1997, the VH1 Save the Music Foundation has helped more than 2.3 million students gain access to instruments and music education. “The bottom line is that music is important” Robison’s sister and bandmate, Martie Maguire, told the audience. “But I’m preaching to the choir.”
For Robison and Maguire – who founded the Dixie Chicks in 1989 and, since 2010, have shifted their attention to the Court Yard Hounds – Save the Music hits close to home. Music was a central part of their upbringing: they grew up listening to their parents’ vinyl collection, and learned to play instruments at an early age. They credit their career success to the early start they enjoyed in childhood. With children of their own now, the sisters are making damn sure that music is a part of their education.
“The arts is what makes a culture a culture,” Robison told Rolling Stone. “If you take that away because of money or funding, it just doesn’t make us better people. Save the Music has been around for awhile and sometimes these initiatives kind of peter out, but it’s been so strong and so supported. I was amazed to find out that almost $50 million dollars has been raised, and instruments put in hands. So when they called us to play this event, before we even knew anything about it, we said yes, we’ll do it.” The band isn’t currently touring and they flew to Napa just to participate.
The sisters played a stripped-down, bare-bones set that included songs from new album Amelita and a first for the intimate audience: a version of the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away,” which received the most enthusiastic response of the evening. “They asked us to do a cover, so we decided to cover ourselves,” Robison explained to the crowd. “Is that OK?” Indeed it was.
Earlier, Robison said the sisters were enjoying the freedom of striking out with a new band, shedding all the expectations, logistics and enormity of everything that performing as part of the massively successful Dixie Chicks operation entails. “We call it the mothership,” says Maguire of the Chicks, who haven’t broken up – they’re just on leave. “We like to touch it every once in awhile.”