Photo: Daniel Mendoza/The Recording Academy
Amy Ray Talks New Indigo Girls Music & Achieving Equality In The Music Industry | Newport Folk 2019
Amy Ray has a long history with Newport Folk Festival. In addition to attending the fest with her family as a kid, the singer and solo artist played Newport a number of times with her GRAMMY-winning contemporary folk band, Indigo Girls, in the '90s.
Nowadays, Ray has six solo albums under her belt, including her most recent release, 2018's Holler, and she's playing Newport for the first time under her own name. The revered artist sat down with the Recording Academy on-site at Newport to talk about her admiration for the fest, new Indigo Girls music out early next year, what it was like to meet Bob Dylan at the GRAMMYs and what we have left to do in terms of achieving true equality in the music industry.
Is this your first Newport?
Yeah, with Indigo Girls I played here about 10 times, probably, in the '90s.
Is it first with the Amy Ray Band, though?
Yeah, yeah. First time. We're green.
What makes this festival special for you?
Just being around all the other artists, honestly, the community vibe, meeting new people, and doing collaborations. It's a very engaging event so you leave feeling inspired by writers that you meet and people that maybe have been around forever.
For me, because we played back in the '90s so much, The Indigo Girls did. We did a long stretch of probably like eight years in a row at one point. Some of the older people that are here working security and crew, I knew them from then and that's cool to me. So, there's a continuation and a thread. I like that. It's all volunteers and there's a lot of people working here that are young 18 year olds, all the way to people that are in their 70s.
It's kind of a family environment.
Yeah, my family used to always come here with me, my mom and dad and my siblings. Last time I was here, my dad was alive and he's not alive anymore and it's cool to remember him and how he was very into music. It was always great to be here with them.
You mentioned meeting other artists and collaborators, and one thing that struck me about about your latest solo album, Holler, was that you had a lot of great guests.
I got lucky, to be honest. Well, my band is great. We had Kofi Burbridge from Tedeschi Trucks, who is passed away now, but he came in and played keys for the record and was part of the band for a couple of weeks. He's a good friend and that was a treasure to have had that experience with him. Now he's gone, but he was a great man.
Alison Brown came in and played banjo. She's a virtuoso. I had the Wood Brothers, Vince Gill, Brandi Carlile, Ruth May Harris, Justin Vernon, Phil Cook. People did me favors. I just can't believe they would be willing to [do that] kind of thing.
It's been 30 years since the Indigos won their first GRAMMY. What do you remember about that moment for you to be recognized in that way?
We were so excited. Honestly, just being at the GRAMMYs was enough for us. Winning was like icing on the cake, but just getting to go. I met Bob Dylan. I met Flava Flav. I was sitting next to, I think, Patrick Stewart. Jean Luc Picard was sitting behind me. I was like, "This is crazy." Judy Collins was there. I was sitting at a table and I had on this hat, and Judy Collins had a similar hat on. Dylan leaned over and goes, "Judy, is that you?" I'll never forget that because I was like, "No. My name's Amy. I'm in a band called the Indigo Girls." He just goes, "Oh, yeah. Okay." And he walked away.
What's next for you in your band? You've got six solo albums now. Are you working on new music?
Indigo Girls are getting ready to put a record out in January or February. We have a record coming out that we're just about to finish mixing and master. My band and I, at this point, we've got like five more shows to play and then I'll go do some stuff with Indigos and I'll just go back and forth kind of between the two.
We just had The Highwomen in here and we were talking about gender equality in music. You've been playing in this industry for a long time, and I'm just curious if you're up for talking about what changes you've seen happen, and maybe what's left to be done in terms of achieving equality in the music industry.
There's a lot left to be done. There's a lot of progress though. Just this festival this, like Newport this year. It's probably 50% women performers. That's a big deal. That's not happening at Bonnaroo and Coachella and all these other festivals, and it needs to happen everywhere.
I think Brandy's doing a good job of pushing that and generally, she's doing a lot of different projects right now that push that agenda in a good way. That's important. I think we've come a long way, and I think people coming up, they have no concept of that kind of intolerance. They are going to be... We just need the old people to die off, honestly. Even me. We need to go away. I just mean the people that have old ideas, who are the gatekeepers still, some of them. They need to get out of the way for all the new people that have great ideas and are doing great things. There's still a lot of great old timers that were always open-minded that are good mentors and we need to honor them. There's a lot of work to do still. We still have a lot of racism to deal with. I think sexism and homophobia are one thing. I think racism is even harder. That's my feeling about it.