There are a number of strong female voices making music these days - Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morissette, for example - but the prototype for this musical trend has to be Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls. Given to acoustic folk but willing to stretch their repertoire into the mainstream, this duo has been nurturing a huge fan base (and selling a ton of tickets) for nearly two decades.
Since they began playing together in high school, the Atlanta-based duo has worked at making their music a part of a larger theme, celebrating the environment and exhorting their fans to cherish the Earth. The grass-roots nature of their music, combined with their fans' willingness to follow them around and buy tickets to several shows per tour, puts Indigo Girls in the same niche as the Grateful Dead and Phish. Amy and Emily's songs, however, show the greatest dedication to their multiple causes of any national recording act.
What makes this artistic freedom possible is the hands-on approach that Amy and Emily take to the recording industry. They are in charge of the artwork for their albums, and they have fostered enough room to work that they are, essentially, independents who happen to be signed to a major label, Epic Records.
The result of their unique relationship with the label has been a succession of highly praised, hot-selling CDs, beginning with their self-titled Epic debut, which won the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording. They followed up this success quickly, releasing Strange Fire at the end of 1989, and Nomads Indians Saints in September of 1990.
Their nine-month schedule of album releases led to the June, 1991 appearance of Back on the Bus, Y'all, and then they slowed this superhuman pace a bit, releasing Rites of Passage nearly a full year later in May, 1992.
Established as a major touring and recording act, Indigo Girls took a bit of time to work on their activism and support causes dear to them. Among their projects is Daemon Records, a not-for-profit record label that Amy Ray founded in 1990. Run by musicians, this label provides opportunities for a large number of independent artists to deliver their music to the public.
On the environmental side, Indigo Girls work closely with Honor the Earth, an organization dedicated to funding Native initiatives for environmental protection. Other interests include gun control, women's issues and fighting homophobia. Clearly, the lyrics that Indigo Girls sing are not a posture designed to keep their fans happy; very few major musical acts roll up their sleeves and take part in the causes they espouse on their recordings to the degree that Amy and Emily do.
Recent albums, including 2004's All That We Let In, continue to delight fans and critics, as well as sell in huge numbers. The fans at their sold-out shows know the duo's musical history, but they don't listen just for the tried-and-true songs; the new material is as crisp and intense as the songs that gave them their reputation, and everyone who buys tickets knows that a new song is a treat, not a reason to go for food. Whether Indigo Girls are appearing as a duo or with their full band, the result is an intimate performance for friends.