At the end of the day, the closest experience I can relate to an Indigo Girls concert is church camp. Except the best, most awesome kind of church camp that’s over too soon and where you didn’t really get to know anyone but felt like you got to know everyone. The kind where you find yourself drawn closer to a very personal God whose presence and rules are not dictated by some preacher or some charismatic singer, but rather by the swirl of overwhelming feelings generated by positive energy, a sense of one-ness surging through the crowd.
The career arc of the Indigo Girls began very much like that of the Avetts. Their early albums wrestle frequently with the collision of religion and everyday life, and it’s done in a way that is neither proselytizing nor urgent. It is the faith of songwriters committed to the marriage of beliefs rather than catching a new wave, of women who know that, for most of us, theology is an Iron Man triatholon, not a sprint. Their frequent use of Biblical imagery and references won the hearts of many young church-goin’ Christians.
While I would love for Amy Ray’s and Emily Saliers’ sexuality not to matter, it unfortunately does. They were “out” before out was cool, and long before their beloved Southland (in the Springtime) was ready to believe people could simultaneously be gay AND bound for glory. (For the historians amongst our readership, the South finally became comfortable with “gay Christians” in 2045.)
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Indigo Girls’ sexuality hindered their path to greater success. They’re better songwriters, lyrically and musically, than the Avett Brothers, but IG’s fan base continues to exist on a different societal fringe than the Avetts. One could argue that the very thing that made them Christian outcasts of a sort also guaranteed that they would maintain their musical integrity.
No matter how desperately some Christians desperately pretend they’re persecuted and despised in 21st Century America, they’re very much in the lap of luxury. When I start getting notices of alumni and friends who killed themselves because they were ashamed of their Christianity, then maybe I’ll begin to believe they’re on the early stages of a path to anywhere near the continent of persecution and separation known all too well by, amongst others, those in the LGBT community. But I digress.
Those of us who believe, but whose belief allows us to recognize our blessings as well as the dangers of the Christian Bully Pulpit, can still cling to these Girls. A young Episcopal minister friend of mine wrote me the other day, talking about how important the Indigo Girls were to her teens and twenties, spiritually. “Lately I’m hearing everything on IG albums anew, including Kid Fears. And Prince of Darkness,” she texted me the day after I attended the Indigo Girls concert in town.
The church camp vibe, when it works, creates an ecstatic feeling of fleeting imperviousness. It’s the feel of being shielded from the dangers and risks of a wild and volatile world, if only for a short while. It’s the feeling that an entire group of people standing together and singing contain the spiritual wattage of a lighthouse. Such has been, in my experience, the power of an Indigo Girls concert.
No offense to Trent, but the Indigo Girls get me closer to God.