It’s been more than 30 years since Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Southern folk-rock duo known as the Indigo Girls, released the self-titled album that earned them a Grammy Award and propelled them into the national spotlight.
Influenced by ’60s poets, ’70s punks and then-rising Athens, Georgia, guitar-driven groups like R.E.M., the duo charmed critics with their bright harmonies and thoughtful, philosophical lyrics. But perhaps what resonated most with fans was their authenticity. Open about their sexuality (they both identify as lesbians) and the social and political causes they believe in, it’s this sort of honesty that has kept people listening — and engaged for decades.
Since the pandemic hit, Ray, 56, and Saliers, 57, have stayed in motion — even while quarantined in their respective homes.
“It’s kind of crazy to be this busy but not be on tour,” says Ray, who has been hunkered down in rural Georgia with her partner, Carrie Schrader, and their young daughter. Adds Saliers, who’s homebound in Decatur, Georgia., with her wife, Tristin, and their daughter: “For our little circle, we’re doing OK. We’ve maintained our health and most of our sanity, I’d say.”
Last year the Indigo Girls released their 16th studio album, Look Long. After the pandemic sidelined their tour, they set up livestream benefit concerts, and the response was astounding: With just two performances, the duo raised more than $500,000 for Feeding the Valley, a Georgia food bank, and Honor the Earth, the nonprofit they cofounded dedicated to Indigenous environmental justice.
In addition to the new record, Ray and Saliers recently wrote and recorded “Long Ride,” a timely track that emphasizes how strength and patience help us withstand tough times. (“Hang on, my friend, I know, I get it,” they sing in the chorus. “It’s gonna be a long ride.”)
“We combined just having fun playing live and doing it simply in a livestream — no big professional format or production at all,” Saliers says. “Our community opened up their wallets and pocketbooks and were very generous in a time of economic insecurity.” She adds, “The vibe was excellent.”
In the coming months, the Indigo Girls are planning more virtual events, including a yet-unscheduled one featuring members of their touring band who have recorded their parts from all over the world, including London, Stockholm, Seattle, Atlanta and Brooklyn.
Along with work, family has fueled both musicians. Saliers says she was energized by seeing her sisters over the holidays. “We quarantined and tested and had a really nice holiday, and that broke up the monotony of sameness,” she says. “That time together had so much more meaning, I think, than it ever has had. It really rejuvenated my spirit, and so when the new year came around, I felt quite ready to go.”
They also remain committed to making positive change. In August they gave a socially distanced performance in Florence, Alabama, where anti-racist activist group Project Say Something had been advocating for the removal of a Confederate monument. Saliers and Ray have also raised money for their road crew, which has been out of work during the pandemic.
“It’s just sad to see all the suffering,” Ray says. “I really am anxious for things to change and to get out there and do what I can to make things better.”
Guest Playlist by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls
For her AARP playlist, Amy Ray says “Awesome Women” reflects her recent listening habits.
“I find a lot of times women get left out of the conversation in people’s playlists, ’cause the things that come into your head first are often what’s repeated out there, which has all been very male,” she says.
Read about her picks here, then scroll down to listen to the playlist on Spotify.
Black Myself, performed by Our Native Daughters
“It’s just an amazing, classic song,” Ray says of this track sung by Amythyst Kiah.
Wolves, performed by Jensen McRae
“A friend of mine turned me on to this writer. She’s in her early 20s and is just so good. Such a great voice.”
High Rise, performed by H.C. McEntire
“I just love her music, and I think she made one of her best records last year — it’s called Eno Axis. When I first got this record a few months back, I listened to it constantly.”
Mary Kaye Disciple, performed by Minton Sparks
“She’s a Southern spoken-word artist who has musicians back her up, and she’s just so good. I listen to her a lot just to hear someone use language in a way that’s really interesting and real.”
Red Bird Morning, performed by S.G. Goodman
“Another Southerner,” Ray says of this Kentucky singer-songwriter whose record, Old Time Feeling, came out last year.
Good as Gold, performed by Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
“Sarah Shook is hands down one of my favorite classic country songwriters and hails from North Carolina, where a lot of my favorite musicians live and create.”
Telescopes, performed by Lindsay Fuller
“I first heard this Alabama-born songwriter on a demo 12 years ago and cold-called her to tell her how much I loved her writing. This is one of my favorite songs of hers.”
Sunday, performed by Joy Oladokun
“She’s ascendant right now, and for good reason — what a writer and singer. She gives me goosebumps. Calls Nashville home right now, and they are lucky to have her!”
Bonus track: Look Long, by the Indigo Girls
“It’s reflective. It’s not about the pandemic, but when listening back to it, I found what Emily wrote has a lot of meaning in this context, in the political climate that we’re in and everything.”
How to add playlist directly to your smartphone
Every playlist on Spotify has its own unique code, similar to a QR code. Called Spotify Codes, these bars make it easy to add a playlist to your Spotify app on your smartphone. To use, open Spotify, click on the Search field in the middle bottom of the screen. Click in the Search field and when you see the camera icon on the top right, click on that. Aim your camera at the code and it will bring up the playlist. To save the playlist, click on the heart.