Indigo Girls | Confluence of art, activism

March 24 | 7:30 p.m. | $45
Harrah’s Lake Tahoe | Stateline, Nev.

Jeremy Cowart

Thirty years after their debut, Indigo Girls are still going strong, both as musicians and advocates for human and environmental rights. These two disciplines complement each other so well that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have built their lives around them in hopes of protecting those less fortunate than themselves through music and art.

“We’re both motivated by activism and doing something good in the world,” says Ray. “We try to mix into the tapestry of people who are all connected. It’s a bigger purpose that making money or making music.”

Ray believes that art has the power to spur discussions and connections that can lead to real changes.

“I find art to be a good context and a good gathering point,” she says. “You have an event and either the art itself is saying something that is a catalyst, or it brings people together and takes the barriers down because there is focal point. It allows us access to make noise for people who get hurt and we can amplify voices from communities not being heard.” 

In partnership with Native American activist and former Green Party vice-presidential candidate Winona Duke, Indigo Girls have created a nonprofit called Honor the Earth.

“I find art to be a good context and a good gathering point. You have an event and either the art itself is saying something that is a catalyst, or it brings people together and takes the barriers down because there is focal point.” –Amy Ray

“Our mission is to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities,” reads the organization’s mission statement. “Honor the Earth develops these resources by using music, the arts, the media and Indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the Earth.”

Indigo Girls recently performed at Standing Rock, N.D., in support of the discontinuation of Dakota Access Pipeline construction. Even though their progress was halted when President Donald Trump reopened construction through an executive order and all protestors were arrested and removed, Indigo Girls found the experience to be inspiring.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” riffs Ray. “Everything people have been working on is being dismantled. I know it’s cliché, but right now I think local politics is going to be our place. We’ve got to take it back to square one. You can gut the EPA, climate change, human rights on all these things, but we can still have a sanctuary cities and clean water. It’s depressing all the things that have been undone, but we have to remember all the advances that are still being made, especially in a local way.”

Ray shared a poignant story of witnessing a group of local high school students who came to visit Standing Rock main camp as part of a field trip.

“They came to hear the speakers that were part of the American Indian Movement,” she recalls. “It was amazing try to see it through their eyes that at this point their people are making a stand. They’re gathering to see elders speak, completely rapt, listening and learning. It was a safe enough space for teacher and parents to bring their children, even though there’s all this militarized police presence and violence at the front lines against protesters. They believed in the elders and the safe space of the camp. I’ll never forget those teachers walking down that hill. This is why this needs to be more than just a pipeline protest. This is what’s going to make these kids believe their future.” 

When they’re not taking their art to the front lines, Ray and Saliers are releasing new music and continuing to collaborate with various artists from around the country. They put out their most recent album “One Lost Day” in 2015 and will be recording new music with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra this year. When they play in South Lake, Indigo Girls will be joined by singer/songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche and violinist Lyris Hung.

“What gets us excited is the input from other musicians that we meet who inspire us,” says Ray. “It’s hearing new stuff and seeing great things that develop. Our audience is really great. When we play new songs, they react in an honest way, so we can tell if it’s working or not, and it’s good to have that musical dialogue.” 

Ray and Saliers met in high school in Decatur, Ga., and continued writing their early material throughout college at Emory University in Atlanta. Although they have now been in a successful musical partnership for more than three decades, Ray says that they are great friends who love making art together.

“We’re like siblings,” says Ray. “Music was simply way to get together and hang with all of our friends. Sometimes you just get lucky.”

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