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Indigo Girls bring community closer to fine with Schaefer set

Pruett Norris
Indigo Girls fans applaud as the band leaves the stage before the encore of their Schaefer Center performance on April 12. Violinist Lyris Hung, left, leads the way, followed by band frontmen Amy Ray, center, and Emily Saliers, right.

The Ojibwe singer-songwriter Annie Humphrey opened for Indigo Girls at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts on April 12 with a spare set. With three chairs, a keyboard and a drum set, Humphrey and her bandmates –– Bon Iver’s Sean Carey on drums and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker –– set the evening’s tone as loving, community-oriented and angry. 

Humphrey, a Native American woman with decades of experience touring and performing, used her platform to remind the audience to connect with each other, suggesting that every member of the packed Schaefer auditorium should turn to their neighbor and say hello before beginning her set. 

Humphrey also sought to bring attention to her heritage.

Her songs were filled with love for the earth and her family while simultaneously condemning the violence against Native American women. Two songs Humphrey wrote for her grandchildren, for instance, were followed by an Ojibwe healing song accompanied by Humphrey’s daughter dancing. The goal was not to entertain the audience with Native American spectacle, Humphrey noted into the microphone. Instead, she sought to provide her audience with a genuine healing experience.

Humphrey was the perfect choice to open for Indigo Girls, the folk-rock duo frontlined by Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Ray and Saliers have been on the frontlines of social justice issues since the ‘80s, when the two publicly came out, and their lyrics often address contemporary issues like racial and gender discrimination in addition to the heartbreak ballads that made them famous.

Between songs like “Shame On You,” “Least Complicated” and “Get Out the Map,” Saliers would talk to the audience. 

Her commentary included notes of activism, like when she reminded the theater that “Learning about what’s going on in Native lands is important. For all of us.

There were also a few wry political statements.  “The future of politics is probably in the hands of women. Wise women,” she said. “Here’s a song about some of that.”

Other comments were witty remarks about the generational gap between Indigo Girls and Gen Z. In one exchange, Saliers told the audience about new slang Ray had shared with her.

“There’s this word the young people are using that she taught me… ‘get’? It means ‘yes,’” Saliers said.

“You mean ‘bet’?” Ray replied.

Saliers groaned at the audience’s friendly laughter, saying, “I’m never gonna hear the end of that one.”

Despite making jokes about the older nature of their audience, the duo wasn’t far off base. Over the course of the show, more and more older women gathered toward the front of the Schaefer Center stage to dance and sway to the music. 

Even in the balcony, fans were happy to share their longstanding connection to Indigo Girls.

Indigo Girls fans Carol Shirley, left, and Deanne Lambillotte, right, orchestrated a trip all the way from Charlotte for the concert on April 12. Friends for years and fans even longer, they happily embraced after the show. (Pruett Norris)

Deanne Lambillotte, a Boone resident who brought her Charlotte-based friend, Carol Shirley, to the show, has been seeing Indigo Girls for 30 years. Her love for the band has never wavered. 

Between quiet absorptions of each of the duo’s songs, Lambillotte said that she continued coming to Indigo Girls shows because of how she felt reflected in their music. She could relate to their lyrics and attitudes, and best of all, their powerful messaging, which Lambillotte said hasn’t dimmed at all across three decades. In fact, she said, it might be even more relevant today.

Shirley agreed with seeing themselves reflected onstage. Like Saliers and Ray, she and Lambillotte had been close friends for years. Whenever the two spend a weekend together, they joke about being platonic soul mates. Indigo Girls was just one common ground between them that included thrifting trips, a shared sense of humor and comfortable stays in cramped family cabins.

However, before their other thoughtful answers, Lambillotte and Shirley gave the perfect explanation for why they felt seen by the Indigo Girls. “We’re super lesbians,” they joked.

Sitting behind Lambillotte, who preferred to quietly soak in each song, another woman proudly sang along to every song in the Indigo Girls set. Even further back in the balcony, another fan shouted reminders to Saliers and Ray that the audience loved them. On the ground level, another fan alerted the rest of the auditorium to an exciting fact: April 12 was Ray’s birthday.

Rather than celebrating herself, however, Ray would rather focus on the music and the message. Saliers had to lean into the mic and tell the audience her bandmate heard them. 

That didn’t stop the other member of the band, producer and violinist Lyris Hung, from tossing a “Happy Birthday Song” riff into her extraordinary violin solo.

Getting older didn’t seem to have much impact on the quality of the Indigo Girls performance, nor on their musical ability. Saliers and Ray swapped out instruments after virtually every song, rotating through guitars, a mandolin, an electric banjo and a harmonica with ease. Their voices were strong and beautiful as ever. That stood for their message, too.

The last song of the night before the encore was “Closer to Fine,” their 1989 hit single which was prominently featured in the 2023 film “Barbie.”

Humphrey rejoined Saliers, Ray and Hung onstage for “Closer to Fine.” Despite a joke Humphrey made earlier in the night about the audience’s assumed age –– “If you’re here to see Amy and Emily, I’m guessing you aren’t spring chickens.” –– when “Closer to Fine” began to play, an outside listener wouldn’t have a hope at guessing the ages in that auditorium. Voices young and old alike confidently harmonized to the chorus, bringing home the show’s final reminder. 

Together, Indigo Girls’ music tells us, we’re much closer to fine.

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About the Contributor
Pruett Norris
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
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