Utah

Indigo Girls at Sundance: Amy Ray, Emily Saliers talk Utah, music

Brandi Carlile made a bold statement at her recent show in Salt Lake City.

“I’m the biggest Indigo Girls fan in the entire world,” she told her large crowd at Vivint Arena last summer, wrapping her arms tightly around Indigo Girls singers Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.

Carlile said she owes everything to the Indigo Girls. She listened to them as a teenager, learned to play the guitar while listening to their songs, traveled far and wide to see them perform and waited in line for hours to meet them. Eventually she spent some time opening up for them.

Carlile was the headliner at that Salt Lake 2022 show, but the way the crowd roared for their devotion to Ray and Saliers, and the enthusiastic way the fans sang along as the Indigo Girls had their own set and hits like “Least Complicated” and “Galileo,” you almost forgot this was Carlile’s show.

Utah really loves the Indigo Girls. And according to Ray and Saliers, whose documentary It’s Only Life After All just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s been that way for a long time.


The Indigo Girls’ long history with Utah

Just minutes before the world premiere of the documentary Indigo Girls, Saliers recalled a 1999 show at Utah State University that still makes her smile more than 20 years later.

“They were all college kids, and I’ll never forget their elation at just being at the concert with the music,” she told Deseret News on opening night of the Sundance Film Festival. “I’m exaggerating a bit, but it felt like we were the Beatles or something. It was like, ‘Wow, we’re at a music concert and this is the greatest thing ever!’”

“We’ve always had this great crowd here that’s just really nice but also super enthusiastic and super active and super engaged,” Ray added, noting that the folk-rock duo performed in Park City earlier than “there was a Skistadt was a little sleepy.”

“Salt Lake has always been a very special place to come and play,” she said.

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Amy Ray, left, and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls speak to reporters at the premiere of their documentary It’s Only Life After All at the Ray Theater in Park City on Thursday, January 19, 2023.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Saliers and Ray are also up to date with the LGBTQ community in Utah thanks to their friend Troy Williams, the CEO of Equality Utah. Her documentary premiered on Jan. 19 — the same day the Utah Senate debated SB16, “a bill banning gender-confirming surgery and imposing a moratorium on prescribing puberty blockers to minors,” the Deseret News previously reported. On Jan. 20, the Senate voted 21-7 to pass SB16 and is now headed to the Utah House of Representatives.

“We are keeping a close eye on all of the incredible work he (Williams) is doing with the Utah Legislature — particularly legislation that is either supportive of, or difficult for, trans people,” Saliers said.

“I think Salt Lake is like a microcosm of America in a way,” Ray added. “The mix of people, the issues they tackle, and the way faith and worldly things come together in both a bad way and a good way. I love it here.”

The Indigo Girls’ long history and familiarity with Utah made it all the more fitting that their documentary — a two-hour film that delves into their friendship, career and activism — premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.


The Indigo Girls go to Sundance

Ray is something of a hoarder. Thanks to her collection of tapes and videos over the years — including Ray and Salier’s jam sessions in front of the Indigo Girls when they were in high school — “It’s Only Life After All” had a wealth of footage to work with could work. Ray said she initially saved this footage for posterity and that it wasn’t her plan to turn it into a film.

But when someone like Alexandria Bombach — who previously won Best Director in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival US Documentary Competition with On Her Shoulders — is interested in telling the story of the Indigo Girls, this is no opportunity to that should be missed.

A longtime Indigo Girls fan, Bombach told Deseret News that she was drawn to the many facets of the musicians — including their music and their commitment to social and environmental justice. To tell her story, the director had thousands of hours of footage to work with. Bombach began filming in January 2019 and relied more heavily on this archive footage as the pandemic hit.

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Amy Ray, from left, director Alexandria Bombach and Emily Saliers speak to reporters at the premiere of the documentary ‘It’s Only Life After All’ on Thursday, January 19, 2023, at the Ray Theater in Park City.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

While they had specific requirements – Ray and Saliers told Bombach they didn’t want to be put on a pedestal – the musicians had no idea what to expect from the final product. When she first saw it (a rough draft), Ray said she was “blown away” by Bombach’s approach — particularly the director’s ability to highlight her personal heroes, who tend to stay under the radar and don’t typically get much attention.

“She knew exactly who to be attracted to — she could see that,” Ray said. “No one has ever done that. … I was just blown away, honestly. It’s hard to watch myself, but when I’m objectively outside of that, it’s amazing, she’s amazing as an editor and director and all the people who have worked with her.

“Actually, I was stunned.”


Music advice from the Indigo Girls

It’s Only Life After All chronicles the Indigo Girls’ rise to fame – from bonding, to their love of music in high school, to playing local clubs, to their big break and winning a Grammy.

Ray reflected on the ever-changing music industry and the unique moment that helped the Indigo Girls’ work reach a wider audience.

“Sometimes it’s really difficult to deal with the gatekeepers, and it’s a very white, male, straight, kind of mainstream thing,” she said. “And then there’s this hiatus, when we started we had a little portal where college radio and alternative radio were really big and they explored a lot and so bands like REM or Rage Against The Machine or Joan Jett would play there at the same time as Indigo Girls or Tracy Chapman and it was very awesome and creative and full. … So it’s like going through these revolutions all the time and just being lucky to hit the right portal.”

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Director Alexandria Bombach, left, and Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls speak to reporters at the premiere of their documentary film ‘It’s Only Life After All’ at the Ray Theater in Park City on Thursday, January 19, 2023.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Now, with myriad social media platforms, more musicians can spread their work — but it’s a double-edged sword, Ray and Saliers said.

“In some ways it’s easier and in some ways it’s a lot more competitive because there’s a lot of material,” Saliers said, adding that she believes emerging artists have a better chance of making their mark if they’re confident in their own style are. “For me personally, it’s all about really trying to find your own voice. As a young writer, I tried to emulate Joni Mitchell. I don’t know when I found my own voice – but it’s very liberating to find your own voice.

“So I would say do that and surround yourself with a supportive and loving community,” she continued. “There’s a lot of love and opportunity out there for all musicians and creatives, so don’t sweat it. But you have to do it for love.”

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