Students, Parents Sing Along With Indigo Girls

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers thanked about 1,600 students, teachers and parents for their support.

Editor's Note: As part of their current tour, the Indigo Girls were scheduled to perform a free, 30-minute concert Thursday for students of Irmo High School in Irmo, S.C. However, in a move that has since erupted into controversy, Principal Gerald Witt decided a week earlier to cancel the gig, bowing to pressure from parents about the group's homosexuality. About 50 students protested, walking out of class during school hours, and 10 of them were immediately suspended for their actions. As a result of the cancellation, the Indigo Girls -- Amy Ray and Emily Saliers -- rescheduled the concert for later that day at the Township Auditorium in nearby Columbia, S.C. Tickets were offered free to high-school students, teachers and administrators with valid IDs. SonicNet Music News sent Irmo student Lauren Medway, news editor of the school newspaper, The Stinger, to cover the event. Here is her report:

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- At 18, Irmo High School student Michael Songer had never seen the Indigo Girls perform live.

And when his chance finally came Thursday night, the moment was bittersweet.

"I was really disappointed that we didn't get to see them at Irmo and I was excited when they rescheduled in Columbia," said Songer. "I've never seen them before but I've heard they're really good live."

Now, he's seen it for himself.

Songer was among close to 100 teens and adults who milled outside the Township Auditorium on Thursday waiting for Amy Ray and Emily Saliers -- otherwise known as the Indigo Girls -- to take the stage for their rescheduled 4 p.m. show. A group of about 10 adult protesters huddled near the entrance with signs reading, among other things, "Sodomy Is A Sin."

While Irmo teens seemed overjoyed at the chance to see the Indigo Girls despite a cancellation of the duo's scheduled performance during a school assembly earlier that day, students at other schools were thankful for the opportunity as well.

"Irmo rocks because we all got to see [the Indigo Girls]," said Jodie Spencer, 16, from Dreher High School, who was among the close to 1,600 parents, students and other local fans attending the event. About 1,000 tickets were left unsold.

Jim Long, parent of an Irmo student, said he attended the concert because he was curious about the turnout. "I wanted to hear them and I wanted to see the support," he said. "I thought [Irmo] should have had it; [the concert] should have happened. It would have been nice, as good as this or better."

Irmo student Jason Pittman, 15, seemed more than content to have the show take place at the medium-sized Township auditorium. "Parents were worried about the influence of the Indigo Girls' sexuality on Irmo students," Pittman said. "When they did it at the Township, it gave the students who wanted to see the band a chance to see them."

At 4 p.m., the scheduled start of the show, everyone piled into the auditorium. After a brief set by a local alternative band, Danielle Howle and the Tantrums, who were joined onstage by R.E.M. bassist Michael Mills, it was time for the Indigo Girls. The lights went down and the screaming began.

Speaking through their song, Ray and Saliers burst into the lyrics "It's alright if you hate me because I'm different or because I'm gay" from "It's Alright."

They followed that with about a dozen of their hits, including their most

recent, "Shame on You" (RealAudio excerpt), which Ray said her mother had requested she sing that afternoon and which had become the subject of some of the controversy. Principals at two other schools in Tennessee who called off Indigo Girls gigs after the Irmo show was canceled cited the use of the word "fucking" in that song as reason for their decision.

The Atlanta-based Indigo Girls ended each song with their traditional "Thanks y'all" and encouraged the audience to sing along. Even students who weren't familiar with the band danced and sang to the music. "We love you!" a fan shouted, and the Indigo Girls responded in unison with "We love you, too!"

One student threw her bra to the girls twice, but both times it fell short of the stage. Another gave flowers to Ray and Saliers, and by the end of the show, the stage was adorned with colorful bouquets. "Now we know you can sing -- don't be shy," Saliers told the crowd.

During a rendition of their single "Galileo," the Indigo Girls stepped back from their mics so the audience members could lend their voices and the duo seemed impressed with the results. Fans also joined in an encore to sing the band's breakthrough hit, "Closer to Fine."

Ray and Saliers even let Howle sing part of "Closer to Fine," and during the first part of the encore, the whole group broke out into the Violent Femmes hit "Blister in the Sun." The Indigo Girls later invited Howle and her band onstage for "Second Guess."

In addition to thanking students and parents for their support, the duo also thanked the Township and the radio and print media, as well as Howle and the Tantrums. They even offered praise for the Irmo High School curriculum. "We understand Irmo has a great music program and you should be a part of it," Ray said.

After it was all over, Irmo student Ashleigh Mobe, 17, summed up the experience by saying, "It was a very inspiring concert."

For Graham Baker, 16, of Irmo, the concert was a chance to show the Indigo Girls that, for students such as himself, the duo is always welcome in his home state. "I really liked the band," he said. "[I came] to support them because they got kicked out of our school."