05/02/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Kicking off the American leg of their concert tour in traditionally conservative Greenville, S.C., the Dixie Chicks -- still stinging from singer Natalie Maines's jab at President Bush two months ago -- headed off their critics at the pass Thursday night by letting their detractors have their say.
"We have a plan for this," Maines, 28, declared on stage after the band's first set, reports the Associated Press. "If you're here to boo, we welcome that. We're going to give you 15 seconds to do that."
Maines then counted to three. And the 15,000-strong, sold-out crowd erupted into ... cheers.
The AP said not a boo could be heard. Then the Chicks sang "Long Time Gone."
The controversy began March 10, on the eve of the war in Iraq, when Maines told a London audience "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
Maines subsequently apologized, but not before sales of the group's CD "Home" had plunged and radio listeners called for airplay boycotts.
In interviews, the Chicks also said their lives and their families had been threatened, and there was certainly some question as to how the Texas trio, who had been appearing overseas, would be greeted in American concert arenas.
Outside Greenville's Bi-Lo Center, reports AP, there were protesters on hand before the main event Thursday. Their signs carried such slogans as "The three French hens" and "Nothing Dixie about these Chicks."
All told, says AP, the protestors numbered about 15.