Mixing sincerity and fun into great songs
Emily Saliers and Amy Ray are serious people.
They take their music seriously and they take the problems of the world seriously (there is a link on their website titled Activism).
But the Indigo Girls like to have fun too, and when they take the stage, everyone in the building is in for a good time.
The women, who met in grade school in Decatur, Ga., will help WNKU-FM celebrate its 25th anniversary in a benefit concert at Greaves Concert Hall on the Northern Kentucky University campus.
It appears to be a perfect match: a public radio station that takes the music it plays seriously teaming with performers who appreciate the value of the public airwaves.
“We are aware of (the station),” Saliers says, “because we’re true believers in good radio. The scene is pretty abysmal since the feds opened up radio stations for corporations to swoop in and buy up. You know, community and eclectic music radio focus … we love it and want to support it for everyone else, but for our own personal taste as well.”
That is a sweet sound to the folks at WNKU.
“We were looking for ways to celebrate the anniversary,” says Aaron Sharpe, the director of development and marketing. “We’ve been playing them basically from the beginning, because I think they put out their first record around the same time (the station was founded).
“(Music director) John Patrick had some passing conversations with someone tied to their organization, and it turned out that they were routing through our area in July. They’re the kind of act that’s tailor-made for Greaves Hall.”
Actually, they are the kind of act that’s tailor-made for a live performance anywhere. They released their third live album, “Staring Down the Brilliant Dream,” which comes 15 years after the classic “1200 Curfews” and almost 20 years after “Back on the Bus, Y’all.”
One of the benefits of a long, successful career is a bounty of tunes from which to choose. The other side, however, is that someone’s favorite song is certain to be skipped.
“We’re pretty fastidious about what we choose to play,” Saliers said. “We don’t want to play too many from the same album in a row … we want to make sure the show flows.
“For instance, we always play ‘Closer to Fine.’ We still enjoy playing it each night, and it’s fun because the audience will sing along.”
As if it’s not enough trouble to choose which of their own songs to play, Saliers and Ray have recorded a number of outstanding cover songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and Neil Young’s “Down by the River” on “1200 Curfews.”
“The ones we do are simply songs that we like,” Saliers says. “ ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ (from ‘Curfews’) is the Buffy St. Marie song, and she sang it with such passion that it’s important to us.
“We also enjoy doing covers with other people. On the new record, Brandi Carlile plays on (Dylan’s) ‘Don’t Think Twice’ and Michelle Malone plays on (the Rolling Stones’) ‘Wild Horses,” and the crowd will join in because they know the songs.”
No matter how many guest singers or members of the audience join in, however, the joy is watching and listening to the two girls who have been making music together for most of their lives.
“(Amy and I) started playing together in high school with no intention of making it a career or getting a record contract or winning a Grammy,” Saliers says. “But looking back, it’s been a great time. Show by show, one night at a time, it’s a great job.”
She’s serious about that.
The Indigo Girls play the Taft Theatre, Sept. 19, 2019
Watch the Indigo Girls play “Galileo”
Originally published in 2010
2010 - Review
Review: Tristate welcomes, celebrates Saliers and Ray
How do you measure success? Here’s two ways to judge the popularity of the Indigo Girls in the Tristate this week:
* When the sold-out crowd of more than 600 people in Greaves Music Hall at Northern Kentucky University knew all the words to all of the 23 songs played.
* When a few hundred folks lined Hamilton Avenue in Northside for an in-store appearance at Shake It Records.
Emily Saliers and Amy Ray returned the love both nights. The concert was a reminder of the power of two: two women, two guitars, two otherworldly voices singing more than two decades worth of solid songs for about two hours.
The visit to Shake It was almost twice as long, as the pair stayed for more than three hours after their performance to sign autographs and chat with fans.
“We let 175 people in the store,” said Darren Blase, co-owner of the shop with his brother Jim. “Then the line outside went to the end of the block and around the corner. They stayed for about three hours (after they played) signing stuff. And they were just as gracious to the last people in here as they were to the first. It was impressive.”
That was the prelude to Tuesday’s show, which was a benefit for WNKU-FM’s 25th anniversary.
Greaves is a perfect venue for the Indigo Girls; an intimate space where their literate lyrics and complicated harmonies came through crystal clear. The toughest chore of the night for the musicians was whittling the set list to 23, which forced them to ignore some requests shouted from the crowd.
But no one could argue with their choices. From “Become You” to “Sugar Tongue,” from “Land of Canaan” to “The Wood Song,” from “Virginia Woolf” to “Ozilline,” every part of the partners’ career was represented. Each song, many of which are on their live album “Staring Down the Brilliant Dream,” seemed to bring a whoop of recognition from a different part of the building, resonating with different folks for different reasons.
Kudos go to Ray’s solo version of Mark Knopfler’s “Romeo and Juliet,” first covered on “Rites of Passage” in 1992. Almost 20 years after recording it, she poured just as much passion into the love cry. It was a remarkable rendering, and brought the audience to its feet.
Even though they were preaching to longtime choir members (“We could have sold out a second show,” said Chuck Miller, the radio station’s general manager, who promised more events in the hall), Saliers and Ray took nothing for granted. They faithfully thanked everyone after every song, and chatted about their visit (“This campus is nice,” Saliers said at one point, “in an Ayn Rand kind of way.”).
More than 90 minutes after they started, the Girls were joined by Coyote Grace, the openers whose three members added to the musical and vocal mix of “Gone Again,” “Get Out the Map” and “Ozilline” before Saliers turned the singing duties over to the audience on “Galileo.”
“Y’all ready to sing?” she asked.
Absolutely. Hundreds of voices filled the room, shouting the praises of the European scientist as the professionals stood back from their microphones and smiled.
The scenario was replayed in the encore. After the five players finished “Salty South,” it was time for the fans to step up again for the Girls’ signature “Closer to Fine,” which they were thrilled to do.
It was a fine finish to the two-day love affair.
Originally published in 2010