Iconic queer musicians team with DSO for an evening of classical and folk music


Indigo Girls Amy Ray, left, and Emily Saliers are excited to explore Dallas’ Arts District when they partner with the Dallas Symphony for a concert this week.

For many artists, reinvention comes in the form of a new look, a new album or maybe even a newly leaked sex tape. Lesbian folk-rock icons Indigo Girls — the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers — are raising the bar for their makeover and crowd-pleasing harmonies a different way, by expanding their duo into a band of more than 60 musicians.

The Girls will take to the stage at the Meyerson Symphony Center Wednesday to perform with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The occasion marks their second symphony show ever and one of only a handful in the U.S.
We talked to Ray about the exciting new sound and other adventures happening with the duo.

— Jef Tingley

Dallas Voice: You’ve played Dallas before but never in our fancy new Arts District. What are you expecting?  Amy Ray: I’ve watched Dallas change over years, and I love the new Arts District and things going on there. We’ve only performed with a symphony once so far [in Chattanooga], but the show we did was a mixture of die-hard Indigo fans who had traveled from all over and people who had never heard of us. But that’s what’s great about music: It brings new people to the fold. And for this show, it brings symphonic music to people’s attention and makes people aware of other kinds of music.

So, how do you transform from folk into a full-fledged symphonic performance?  The process began when we hired two wonderful arrangers that created scores for symphonies. From there, we listened to mock-ups and gave comments to create a musical piece. Then we got synthesizer arrangements to practice with. There’s lots and lots of practice on our end. We only spend the afternoon with the symphony. They have the music and they sight read and learn it right then.

That’s a lot of trust. How does it work out?  It really worked out well. We are very nervous about it because it’s a completely different experience and very challenging. To really do it right, you have to be aware of what is going on around you and understand how a symphony works and how a conductor works. I get a lot of panic about it, but I have a lot of fun.

What hits can fans expect?  It’s a mixture. It’s 20 songs — or 19; I can’t remember — that span our whole career. We picked songs that we had always wanted to hear with an orchestra, and we purposefully picked songs from every record.

Aside from your music, you’re known for your activism. How do you find your causes?  We work continuously with Native American environmental activists on issues like sustainable energy, cultural sustainability and language recovery and to shut down projects that have endangered public health.

But we also help with local causes. When the economy was in the pits a few years ago, all of our fans brought food. It was just a team effort. When things would come up, like Hurricane Katrina, we worked to get musicians back into housing and bring culture back to New Orleans. We work with LGBT groups. It really runs the gambit, but lots of local, community-based groups. We get contacted from all over, but we try to partner locally and help where we can.

Speaking of LGBT groups, were you part of the It Gets Better campaign?  I did not personally do one. Honestly, I felt mixed about whether celebrities should do those or whether people should be encouraging each other. I wanted it to be of the people.

Have you heard any It Gets Better stories inspired by your music?  Oh yeah, a lot of young activists come to us and say, “you know I was feeling horrible and I heard this music and it engaged me in this process.” There are a lot of people who help each other in this process who are unsung heroes, so I don’t want to focus on anything we do.

I feel like it’s important to support new projects because of the suicide rate in the queer youth community. I wrote a song in response to It Gets Better called “Give It A Go” on a solo record called Lung Of Love — it’s a punk song. I wrote a song for Matthew Shepard and I wrote one called “Let It Ring” in support of gay rights marches. There’s lots of inspiration from the queer community for the activism that came before us and that still needs to be done.

True or false: You chose the band’s name out of the dictionary Yes [laughs]. I know, not very exciting. Had I known that we would have it 30 years later, I dunno. We were so young and the name just felt good, but I know sometimes we think it’s corny. You know what I am saying. I think sometimes having the word girls can hurt you because people are so sexist. But, um, you have your name and it just becomes part of who you are. You just have to love it or leave it.


Indigo Girls with the Dallas Symphony
Orchestra at the Meyerson Symphony
Center, 2301 Flora St. Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. $30–$80. DallasSymphony.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 24, 2012.