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June 17 was a beautiful night for a sold-out show in New York City's Central Park.

For Emily Saliers, life as a musician doesn't get much better, especially considering that her group - Indigo Girls - shared the stage with folk icon Joan Baez.

"It's been about 10 years since we played with Joan," Saliers said via phone from Philadelphia. During the past few weeks Saliers and the other half of Indigo Girls, Amy Ray, have been on a short tour with Baez.

"Her song 'Diamonds and Rust' is one of my favorites of all time," Saliers said, adding that she used to cover it frequently.

She and Ray first met Baez during a college tour in 1991. Indigo Girls, which was still a new group at the time, was inspired not only by Baez's music but also by her activism. They formed a friendship.

"We call her our matriarch," Saliers said. "She just has a presence and wisdom about her and (a) deep understanding of issues."

On other summer dates, Indigo Girls will be the ones giving a young band a boost. The Shadowboxers is backing the duo this summer. They'll also play an opening set tonight before the Indigo Girls take the stage at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.

Saliers met a Shadowboxers member during Seder dinner at a mutual friend's home. She ended up going to see the band play at her alma mater, Emory University.

"They remind me of playing on campus and launching a music career - getting in our van, driving around and loving music so much that you'll do anything for it," Saliers said.

It's been almost three decades since Saliers and Ray started playing together in high school. But before they signed with a major label, earned a Grammy and toured the globe, they knew they'd bring more to the stage than music.

"We had been very involved in community issues and civil issues," she said. One way the band supported causes was to organize and play benefit shows. They helped support women's and children's shelters and the homeless around their native Atlanta.

As Indigo Girls grew a following, the duo expanded the scope of its efforts. Saliers and Ray helped form Honor the Earth, an Native American-led organization to address the geographic and political isolation of Native communities.

Other issues the band has touched on recently include banishing the death penalty and immigration reform. The last issue is close to Saliers' heart, since her partner is from Canada. She recently lobbied on the Hill about the issue.

"Music is so galvanizing," Saliers said. "It's a great way to bring attention to different things. It's a great way to get people involved. I can't imagine just doing music."

But, she added, the band doesn't sit on stage and preach all night. During shows, the focus is music. And at some events, that includes a full orchestra. The duo hired composers Sean O'Loughlin and Stephen Barber to arrange a group of its songs for symphonies.

"I love it," Saliers said. "It's challenging - unlike any other show experience. The first time I heard (the songs) I was blown away. It's big and grand."

And in between duo and symphony concerts this fall, the Indigo Girls will head out on its first comprehensive tour of Canada. Saliers said the group has played the country's big cities, but will focus on small towns this time.

"We'll be in a van driving from town to town just like when we first started," she said.

- ERIN McCRACKEN,
FlipSide staff

If you go

See the Indigo Girls in concert 7:30 tonight at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York. The Shadowboxers will open the show. Tickets cost $42, $46 and $50. For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.

Behind the Music

Indigo Girls have sold more than 12 million albums. The duo has received several Grammy nominations and one win, in 1990 for Best Contemporary Folk Recording. Their recording career includes three live albums, three compilations and 14 studio albums:

"Strange Fire" (1987 and re-released in 1989 as a major-label 10-song album)

"Indigo Girls" (1989)

"Nomads Indians Saints" (1990)

"Rites of Passage" (1992)

"Swamp Ophelia" (1994)

"Shaming of the Sun" (1997)

"Come on Now Social" (1999)

"Become You" (2002)

"All That We Let In" (2004)

"Despite Our Differences" (2006)

"Poseidon and the Bitter Bug" (2009)

"Holly Happy Days" (2010)

"Beauty Queen Sister" (2011)

Online

Indigo Girls: www.indigogirls.com

Honor the Earth: www.honorearth.org

The Shadowboxers: www.theshadowboxers.com

Read more celebrity interviews: www.yorkblog.com/flipside/celebrity-interviews

Read an interview with Tracy Grammer, another folk artist who toured with Baez.

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