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Indigo Girls to ‘marry music with activism’ in Columbus concert

Courtesy of Jeremy Cowart

For the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, the days of begging radio stations to play their songs are behind them.  In its 25 years of touring, the group has won a Grammy and released 14 albums, one of which went double platinum and four that went platinum.

Guitarist Emily Saliers and vocalist Amy Ray, who will be performing at the LC Pavilion this Sunday, are now using their success as the Indigo Girls to promote their environmental and political activism. 

Friends since elementary school, the women grew up singing in church choirs. Saliers said she and  Ray never foresaw their music career becoming so extensive.

“We didn’t even know it was going to be a career. All we wanted to do was keep having fun and not stagnate and just sort of get the next cool, fun gig,” Saliers said. She called it “good timing” when the group was signed to Epic Records in 1988.

It later signed to Hollywood Records in 2006, then launched its own label last year named IG Recordings.

“We were already ready to go back in the studio and it made the most sense to be independent. It’s great because we can do what we want to do whenever we want to do it,” Saliers said. “There’s no middle person. It’s nice to just run our own business.”

Ray and Saliers already had a stake in running a business prior to IG Recordings. While Ray is also founder of her own independent label, Daemon Records, Saliers has been co-owner of a restaurant called the Watershed in Atlanta, Ga., for 13 years.

Calling herself a “foodie,” Saliers said she goes to Watershed “as much as possible” when she’s back in her hometown near Atlanta.

Saliers said the restaurant uses organically grown produce making it “environmentally focused,” one of many things she and Ray advocate for in association with their music. Saliers and Ray founded Honor the Earth, a nonprofit organization that centers on indigenous environmental issues, in 1993.

“We support solar power projects, wind projects and alternatives to dirty energy, which end up being on Indian land a lot. That’s very near and dear to our hearts,” Saliers said. “The fact is we have to share the Earth and share the resources.”

The duo also recently launched a campaign called Take Action T-shirts, which raises money through T-shirt sales for groups working on immigration or immigration-related issues.

“(The T-Shirts are) designed by people in the middle of the issues and it’s to raise money and awareness for people who are working on them,” Saliers said. The next issue the campaign plans to address is anti-death penalty and its T-shirt will be designed by an inmate on death row, Saliers said.

She also said activism is important to the Indigo Girls as musicians.

 “We’re able to marry music with activism. It’s impossible to separate, for me and Amy personally, what we care about with what we write about,” Saliers said. “If we weren’t musicians, we’d be activists anyway.”

Michelle Kennedy, a fourth-year in architecture, said she thinks it’s important for musicians such as Indigo Girls to advocate for something.

“I definitely think if you are a musician people take your opinions more seriously,” Kennedy said. “(Fans) tend to trust what you want to do with your life besides your career.”

Johnny Go, owner of Johnny Go’s House O’ Music, located 1900 N. High St., said he’s not a fan of Indigo Girls incorporating activism with music.

“I would never listen to a musician about anything other than music,” he said. “They (Indigo Girls) sound like a couple of old ladies who belong in a PTA.”

Go said, however, his store got a lot of business from the band in the ‘90s. “They were huge in the ‘90s,” he said.

Melissa Elston, a 2010 Ohio State alumna and staff member at the Ohio Union, recalled often listening to the Indigo Girls in the ‘90s as well.

“I haven’t heard much of their stuff lately, but what I liked about them was that they were extremely mellow, kind of just down to earth, nothing too crazy, very organic,” she said. “They’re true people. They’re there to make music, not to be stars.”

Saliers echoed Elston’s conception of the band.

“When you come to our shows we’re not up on stage preaching politics,” Saliers said. “We’re having a good time playing music.”

Tickets are $29 in advance and available on ticketmaster.com or $32 the day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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