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True Blue: Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray talks about getting back on the streets and playing Orlando’s Frontyard Festival

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  • Photo courtesy of Indigo Girls / Facebook

Indigo Girls, the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, will be playing the Frontyard Festival in downtown Orlando this weekend, keeping to the current schedule they appear to see as the last major touring act.

If this is indeed the last hurray for the Frontyard Festival, it’s damn good news. The Indigo Girls are alternative folk heroines, one of those rare groups who can balance cult cool with Grammy nominations and political activism. The duo have been making music together since 1985 when they broke out of the fertile Athens underground. From the brooding southern Gothic (that iconic cover pose!) To Strange Fire to the reluctantly written but touching pandemic song “Long Ride” (written at the request of NPR), Indigo Girls have stayed true to themselves with a discography full of calm beauty ,

Orlando Weekly reached Ray on the phone Wednesday as she was en route to the start of the tour in South Carolina. She drives alone, which, after a year at home, she describes as a “gentle introduction” to life on the road. “I’m a private person,” she says. “So this is my admission to me, to start slowly, tornado, you know.” Ray is thoughtful but excited about touring again, a long way of life for her and Saliers. So we focused on her feelings and thoughts about this strange moment.

Indigo Girls will lead the Frontyard Festival on Saturday May 29th at 8pm. Amythyst Kiah opens. Tickets are still available through the Dr. Phillips Center available.

How are you feeling tonight and starting the tour?
I feel great. I’m glad people are coming back to this and I think we have to get out of there and start doing things. … kids need to be able to play together just for mental health … the vaccine really is key for me. After I got vaccinated, I felt a lot better.

But we’re going to have security protocols and all that stuff, so we’re careful. But it feels great to be playing music live right now, not over the internet. I am pleased.

And is this tour just for the two of you on stage?
I think our violinist comes to all the shows she wants to come to – Lyris Hung – and I think she will play those shows with us. She knows our material so well and we play so well together that we pretty much say, “Whenever you want to come along. Please come.” … It adds a lot to the show.

What will you mainly draw from for the setlist? Will it be some kind of career overview or will it focus on Look Long … Anywhere. We’ll probably play four or five songs from the new record, but we’re definitely going to hit a lot of the old stuff, I mean, we always do, we never focus. I think sometimes when we have a full band and we’ve just put out a record, we play a lot of the new record. But we don’t have a band with us.

We made a list tonight of songs that we don’t normally do. But we had to practice and make sure we knew what we were doing because it had been so long. So we made a list that we wanted to focus on, it’s songs from every record. And once we get our sea legs, we’re going to change them every night and take requests and all that jazz. But I think to start we need to know what we’re doing …

The last time you played Orlando it was at the Dr. Phillips Center and this time you are playing outside on the front lawn, which is a recap of the moment. Do you have any memories of this show or previous shows in Orlando?
I remember a lot of our shows, I remember these specifically for the venue and dressing room. We played a few different venues in Orlando and we always have a really good time and it’s a great audience for us, a super welcoming audience. But all of our masses are, we just have a large crowd like everywhere else, they are all very dedicated and you can feel the warm embrace. It will be good. Orlando is one of those places we always play in Florida. We always play Orlando because we feel like we’re getting good people and good vibes.

You’ve gone from barebones DIY tours to touring with an orchestra to now doing some sort of pandemic, which is a one-of-a-kind arc. How do you keep the perspective on it?
It’s only one day at a time for us. To be honest, that’s how we do it … I’m coming to a toll, I have to pay cash. I have a Liberty coin, let’s see if it’s mine …

You should just blow it through.
You know I do that sometimes. But if I miss the toll and they send me a message and then miss the message … I’ve definitely passed the toll a few times. The last time I did I wasn’t home for a while and then the bill came and kept getting late fees and I said, “Oh man.” But it’s a good idea to go through.

Glad that I can help. Does the performance feel any new this time?
I think it will hit me when we start, I imagine because I think we’ve been doing it for so long that a year and a half hiatus doesn’t really have to do with the innate stuff of playing. You can just get back in the saddle and you do and it all comes back somehow.

We have to practice the songs of course, and our stamina won’t be there because a lot of vocal stamina is required. It’s very different when you play live than when you just practice in your house. But we were pretty active and we did a lot of livestreaming and there was one thread … I recorded a bunch and there was only one musical thread. It’s not that everything just went away. It doesn’t feel like that crazy thing, it feels like part of the continuation of what’s going on in my life. I think if it were like five years or so it would be crazy and scary.

I am probably reconsidering but I think back to the beginning of your career and maybe you are facing a very noisy punk audience and it’s like “Oh that seems like an adversity” and now it’s like “Pandemic”. “”
Yeah, but our audience is so great that… Of course we still have shows where it’s like letting go of the glove. We play and it gets really crazy and we feel like we’re just dodging bottles or something. That still happens every now and then, it’s fine. But I think the pandemic was honestly so much bigger than worrying about whether or not you were playing a show. When people died everywhere and then India and Brazil and all the places that are still having such a hard time and then even states in our own country that are still going through really hard times and poverty rates that are so high.

We look at all this, the adversity, as anyone else who has a privilege looks at it. What can we do to help? And, wow, you know I’m grateful that you have a place to be, food, savings and all that stuff. I think it seems the least of a worry is whether or not we can get back in the saddle.

Exactly …
I think it’s true when you come back on stage and share that initial reaction and hear people sing along … I think this is going to be pretty exciting and emotional for me. I can’t imagine it so I don’t know until it happens. But I’ve talked to some other musicians who said, “Oh my god. It’s crazy to hear the answer.” And when there are bodies in the room or in the room outside, it’s just so different from anything that’s going on.

I’m relieved that we have concerts, I’m grateful for them because some people don’t yet and I don’t know, I think for us … I don’t know how long we could go without playing gigs and always feeling nor that thread in our life to music and the connection to what we do. I think this was a hiatus and it was an opportunity to get perspective, spend time with family, practice new things, think about life and do a lot of chores at home that we couldn’t do last time 10 Years. That was all for us. That was the blessed part of it. But the world is suffering and that is a sad thing.

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Janet Smith