Music News & Reviews

Activism remains as important to the Indigo Girls as their music

The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray, left, and Emily Saliers, will perform Friday at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia. The show is sold out.
The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray, left, and Emily Saliers, will perform Friday at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia. The show is sold out. Vanguard Records

They’re best known as singers, songwriters and musicians, but the Grammy-winning Indigo Girls, playing a sold-out show Friday (March 17) in Olympia, are activists as much as anything.

“Activism to us is as important as music,” the duo’s Emily Saliers said in a phone interview. “They go hand in hand.”

Saliers and musical partner Amy Ray, whose three decades of albums have yield such hits as “Closer to Fine” and “Galileo,” have done many benefits, but they don’t preach to audiences.

“We don’t really want the shows to be political diatribes,” Saliers said. “We might make a joke or a social commentary between songs, but we’re there to play music, to engage people in a joyful gathering.”

The songs get the message across, speaking of politics and social justice, along with love lost and found and life on the road.

On the Girls’ most recent album, 2015’s “One Lost Day,” Ray attacks racism in “The Rise of the Black Messiah.” (“My friend, I heard you tell of slavery’s end/But have you heard of mass incarceration?”) And in 2006, the pair were featured on Pink’s “Dear Mr. President.” (“What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away?/What kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?”)

Saliers and Ray work on so many fronts — for Native American issues, the environment, LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, voter turnout, and against the death penalty — that they employ someone to help them get organized, set priorities and stay up to date.

Though they’ve been involved for decades, activism is keeping them busier than ever.

“It’s impossible not to be involved if you have any consciousness at all about what’s going on,” Saliers said.

Their next album will feature symphonic arrangements of some of their classic tunes. They’ll record next month with the Colorado University Orchestra. After that, they begin work on another album of new material, as the songwriting goes on.

Ray and Saliers write separately and then team up on arrangements, with each typically singing the songs that she wrote. Ray’s voice is rougher and her songs more hard-driving, while Saliers has a sweeter voice and is more of a storyteller.

“She’s been very heavily influenced by alternative music, and I’m more influenced by R&B and Joni Mitchell,” Saliers said. “We’re sort of yin and yang.”

Given that indie influence, it’s fitting that “One Lost Day” includes a song by Ray titled “Olympia Inn,” with the weather-appropriate lyric: “I’ll just be misty-eyed again at the Olympia Inn, and adding to that pouring rain.”

Saliers said the song was largely inspired by a bus driver they encountered in the United Kingdom, but there’s no doubt that Ray — who stopped in Olympia three years ago on a solo tour — was referring to the Olympia Inn on Capitol Way.

“Yes, it is a reference to that hotel,” she wrote in an email. “I think I wrote the song there.”

Indigo Girls

What: The Grammy-winning folk-rock duo plays a sold-out show in Olympia. Lucy Wainwright Roche opens.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (March 17).

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.

Tickets: The show is sold out, but there might be tickets available from secondary sellers.

Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org.

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