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December 4, 2000

Sailers, Ray make sure their souls
get it right

By Eric Rangu

Given the great deal of respect they receive on campus, the Indigo Girls could probably drop by, sing a couple commercial jingles and be rewarded with a standing ovation.

Last Tuesday, they did much, much better than that.

Playing to crowd of 4,000 at the P.E. Center, the Indigo Girls—individually known as Amy Ray and Emily Saliers—presented a perfect mix of music and discussion as part of Emory’s Year of Reconciliation.

Anyone in the crowd expecting a laid-back, sedate evening was in for a surprise. Just seconds after taking the stage, Ray and Saliers grabbed their guitars and dove into the music, opening their seven-song, 45-minute set with one of their most popular songs, 1992’s Galileo.

People sat politely in their seats to start the night, but by the third song, Get Out the Map, several dozen, mostly students, had sneaked into the aisles to sway and dance.

After a rousing rendition of their first hit, Closer To Fine, Ray and Saliers took their seats and spent the second half of their appearance answering questions about their music, their activism and their experiences as Emory students (Ray graduated from Emory College in 1985, and Saliers in 1986).

Actually, before taking any questions, Ray discussed one of the many charities she and Saliers support—Honor the Earth. The environmental organization deals primarily with Native American issues and also addresses concerns about the dumping of nuclear and toxic waste and explores energy and waste disposal alternatives.

During the fall, Indigo Girls played several shows promoting the cause, and they appeared at Emory in exchange for a donation by the Reconciliation committee to Honor the Earth.

Not surprisingly, another topic of discussion was the personal experience of dealing with one’s sexual orientation—both Ray and Saliers are gay.

Saliers said she was just starting to come out when she graduated from Emory in 1986, but did not experience a negative reaction.

Ray said she was out—although not to everyone—as a freshman at Vanderbilt (she transferred to Emory for her sophomore year). She admitted seeing a lot of negativity there, adding that things are much different now.

“It’s so much more open now, I can’t even describe to you the difference,” Ray said. “We wouldn’t even be having this discussion when I was at Emory.”

Both Ray and Saliers lauded their alma mater for its progressive stance regarding sexual orientation. But, in general, they said more must be accomplished in the area of gay rights.

“I don’t care if you’re gay or not,” Ray said. “Embrace the idea of different types of sexuality. It’s good to be whoever you are.”

Other wide-ranging elements of the discussion included artistic outlets on campus (“we played in bars,” Saliers quipped), religious imagery in their songs, an increasing amount of sexual openness in their songs, musical inspirations and where each of them lived while they were on campus (Ray, expressing a bit of sadness, said she lived in the dearly departed, University Apartments complex, the same place her parents lived when they were Emory students).

Perhaps the most personal confession came from Saliers, who discussed her relationship with the church (her father, Don, is an Emory theology professor). While she said her church experience was positive, she did not agree with many church positions (not only Methodist, but other faiths), such as the mandate that gays cannot be ordained ministers. She also credited many people inside church hierarchies who are trying to make reforms from within.

She also addressed the issue in song, performing the religion-themed Philosophy of Loss, a hidden track on the Indigo Girls’ latest CD Come On Now Social. It was the only solo of the night.

To close out the evening, the duo played one more song, Least Complicated, which, as many encores do, turned into a crowd sing-a-long.

Tickets to the show, which were free, were plentiful, but they disappeared quickly. The faculty/staff allotment of 740 tickets was gone in two days. Tickets for undergraduate and graduate students, which numbered 1,430 and 1,380, respectively, were snatched up in two and a half days. Oxford College and Emory alumni also received ticket allotments. At the door, the roughly 300 remaining tickets were handed out.

Don Saliers, Parker Professor of Theology, was one of four speakers who briefly took the stage before the show. The last time he and his daughter shared a stage at Emory, he said, was for her graduation.

Not only was Saliers in attendance as a parent, but he came as a respectful and loyal fan, too. “To make great music is one thing,” he said. “But to weave conviction and passion into their music that is rare. In fact, it’s ‘Closer To Fine,’ I’d say.”


Back to Emory Report Dec. 4, 2000