leaving self wide open

Wide Open Spaces (song)

"Wide Open Spaces" is a country song from the Dixie Chicks, written by Susan Gibson. Appearing as the title song on the band's 1998 album Wide Open Spaces, it was released as a single in August of that year, and hit number one on the U.S. Country singles chart, spending four weeks there in November 1998. It also placed to number 41 on the U.S. Pop singles chart. It reached number one on Canada's country music chart, their first chart-topper there and presaging a long history of support for the band.

In 2001, the RIAA placed "Wide Open Spaces" at number 259 on its 365 Songs of the Century list. In 2003, CMT named it number 22 in its 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music list.


Amarillo, Texas-based Susan Gibson wrote the song's first lyrics in 1993, on her first visit back home after leaving for forestry school at the University of Montana. She left the notebook containing the lyrics at home by mistake when she returned to school; her mother found it and included it in a care package, inspiring Gibson to complete a song along the themes of leaving home. She first performed it local clubs around the University of Montana, where it was sometimes requested.

By the late 1990s, Gibson was lead singer of the alt country band The Groobees. They recorded an album, Wayside, that included "Wide Open Spaces" and which would be released in 1999. It was produced by Lloyd Maines, father of new Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines.

Lloyd Maines identified with the tale of a daughter leaving home, and thought it would match Natalie's vocal character well; he brought the song to the group, who tested it in concert a few times to a strong response. Both the Chicks and Sony Music agreed with Lloyd Maines' assessment, not only recording it but making it the title tune of the Maines-era group's first album as well.

The youthful, romantic, adventurous sense of independence featured in "Wide Open Spaces" helped key much of the group's new image; it thus became one of their signature songs and proved very popular among young teenage girls. The lyric speaks of possibilities yet undiscovered:

She needs wide open spaces,
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces —
She knows the high stakes

The lyric has been considered an exemplar of the songwriting strategy in which lines are not repeated in either the verses or chorus. The Texas, bluegrass-flavored arrangement in the recording begins with a fiddle riff, with the band soon joining in. Verses are sung by Natalie Maines by herself, with drums, fiddle, and soft guitar and piano carrying the accompaniment. Choruses feature sisters Emily Erwin and Martie Seidel backing Maines with harmony vocals, and also add a banjo line. The instrumental break features Erwin and Seidel on mandolin and fiddle respectively. The main fiddle riff then brings the recording to a close.

Emily Erwin was proud that the group's hits such as this were still able to incorporate the banjo, and instrument the Nashville establishment often frowned upon as being too hillbilly. Susan Gibson and "Wide Open Spaces" has been considered an example of the influence of the West Texas influence in country music songwriting; Gibson herself considers Amarillo to be "where the wide open spaces are. Amarillo has the most beautiful sunsets." Gibson's childhood family drives from Amarillo to Missoula, Montana also trace the song's lyric and settings.

The song gained Nashville respect, as it was named the Country Music Association Awards Single of the Year in 1999. It also won Gibson the American Songwriter Professional Country Songwriter of the Year award in early 2000, as well as a BMI award the previous year. Although the song itself was not nominated for a Grammy Award (the album was, as was its previous single, "There's Your Trouble", both of which won in their categories), it was included on the various artists 1999 Grammy Nominees compilation album.

Music video

The music video for "Wide Open Spaces" portrayed the Dixie Chicks in a Rocky Mountains setting, cavorting through wide open fields of wildflowers and the like. Interspersed were scenes of the then-all blonde Chicks on tour: in performance, backstage, and on their tour bus (the last showing the slogan "Ain't Skeerd" on the outside). The performance was filmed at West Fest, an annual event in Winter Park, Colorado where the Chicks appeared four years running. The mountain scenes were done around Winter Park as well, and included background shots of some of the Chicks exercising their trampoline talents.

This effort was directed by Thom Oliphant, and was named the Country Music Association Awards Music Video of the Year in 1999.


The commercial success of the single and album gave songwriter Gibson something of a windfall, which she celebrated by going to San Marcos, Texas and buying gifts for everyone she knew. She would later say the song was both innocent and personal for her, in the latter detailed so much that she was surprised another artist would relate to it. She would say of the song's recording by the Chicks that it was "beautiful [with] stunning musicianship and very professional production ... [a] gorgeous recording." And of the song's popularity, Gibson would say, "So much of the success of that song belongs to [the Dixie Chicks] ... but pairing that song with that group is what made 'Wide Open Spaces' what it is. It really was just a magical combination of right place, right time, right group. I'm glad it happened to me."

"Wide Open Spaces" has been a constant on the Chicks' concert tours, and indeed was the only song from Wide Open Spaces still in the set list as of the 2006 Accidents & Accusations Tour. The New York Times said that in one such 2006 performance, in light of the still-ongoing Dixie Chicks political controversy, "songs like 'Wide Open Spaces' ..., about women leaving home and striking out on their own, sounded more than ever like mission statements. Gibson also continues to perform it at her live performance outings.

The song appears on the game Karaoke Revolution Country.


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