The tour, sponsored by and Country Music Television, kicks off June 1 in Winnipeg for five Canadian dates before embarking on its American leg June 9 in Seattle, Wash. and is the trio’s first as an arena headliner.

The Dixie Chicks, whose best-selling Fly picked up a Grammy for Best Country Album this year, will have industry bean-counters watching closely this time out: sales of country music were down 4.5 percent in 1999, and many favorites have opted to spend the summer at home or in smaller venues this year.

Last year’s top-grossing country performer, Shania Twain, is taking this year off, and perennial favorite Garth Brooks is sitting out the road for the second year in a row. George Strait and the husband-and-wife tandem of Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are the only major country acts expected to announce large arena tours this summer.

Country music’s market share of album sales has declined to 14.1 percent, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s 1998 Consumer Profile. That’s still second — rock is first at 25.7 percent — but country’s share has declined each year since peaking at 18.7 percent in 1993.

A lot will be riding on the Dixie Chick’s wings, and they plan to make the most of it.

The Chicks hired set designer Luc Lafortune, one of the designers of the visually stunning Cirque de Soleil to create eye-catching lighting and staging.

They’ve also embarked on an ambitious promotional onslaught with CMT including a humorous ad campaign, special television programming, a sweepstakes and a 53-foot CMT vehicle and crew accompanying the band from coast to coast.

And singer Natalie Maines has some friendly advice: “pee before you get there, because you won’t want to leave your seats between acts.”

They’re keeping mum about the specifics, but Maines promises, “From the moment you walk in the door, there will be things happening,” including instant seat upgrades and other surprises.

The tour will also benefit the World Wildlife fund, with $1 from each ticket sold going to the environmental organization that has led international efforts to protect endangered species and habitats.