Indigo Girls at Lewis Ginter

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When I first heard the Indigo Girls sing Closer to Fine, in 1989, I ran out and bought the CD right away. I didn’t regret it, as there are many other great songs on the CD as well.

If you read my earlier post today about Eddie From Ohio, then you know that back then (OK, not quite back in 1989) I was extremely selective about what made it on to my MP3 player. Three songs from the CD Indigo Girls (by the Indigo Girls) made it on to the MP3: Closer to Fine, Secure Yourself and Prince of Darkness. I still listen to all three regularly.

Unfortunately, we’ve never gotten to see them live. In a major irony, our favorite group for the past two years is Girlyman. It turns out, unbeknownst to us at the time we discovered Girlyman, they used to regularly open for the Indigo Girls. Cool! We rectified that oversight last night at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in an outdoor concert.

Even though we both love the few songs of theirs that we know well, we really didn’t know what to expect from this type of show, both musically and audience-wise. Given our disappointment in seeing both the Proclaimers and Blues Traveler, both on the basis of just a few loved songs as well, there was at least a touch of nervousness.

Not to worry fans, the Indigo Girls were/are awesome, and their show is also different than expected given the type of shows we typically attend.

On the very off chance that you don’t know anything about the Indigo Girls, they are two amazing singer songwriters. Standing left-to-right on the stage:

Amy Ray sings and plays guitar, mandolin and harmonica. Amy writes amazing songs, sings beautifully, plays all of her instruments with energy (mostly a very driving rhythm style, not much lead) and harmonizes angelically with Emily.

Amy Guitar Harmonica

Amy Guitar Harmonica

Amy Mandolin

Amy Mandolin

Emily Saliers sings and plays guitar and banjo. Emily writes amazing songs, sings beautifully (with a broader range than Amy, as Emily hits some incredibly high notes, with wonderful clarity). Emily plays the guitar in many styles, from driving rhythm to fantastic finger picking, to high-quality leads, to a slide on one number as well.

Emily Guitar

Emily Guitar

Emily Banjo

Emily Banjo

Each of them could easily be a solo superstar, both in terms of their songwriting and their vocal and instrumental ability. But, like with Girlyman, the magic happens when they come together. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts (in both groups), and they are starting with pretty darn high quality parts/ingredients to begin with!

Indigo Girls

Indigo Girls

In addition to their typical brilliant blending of voices in harmony, last night they added a third person on the stage for the majority of the numbers.

Julie Wolf played electric keyboards, accordion and sang. Julie is excellent on the keyboards. She sang on roughly 1/2 of the numbers for at least a few phrases in support of Amy and Emily, and she was wonderful. The three voices worked perfectly together.

Julie Wolf Keyboards

Julie Wolf Keyboards

Julie Wolf Accordion

Julie Wolf Accordion

The Indigo Girls put out a new CD a few months ago called Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. They played roughly 1/2 of the CD last night. I really liked it a lot.

Their fans knew even their newest stuff cold. Quite a number of people sitting near us (we were in the third row) were singing out loud during every song. But, when the Girls started playing their more classic hits (not that we knew those either), significantly more people starting singing along out loud (without a request from the stage to do so).

In the bigger hits, during at least one verse (and of course during the chorus), Emily would invite the crowd to sing the verse instead of them, and the crowd obliged by belting it out at the top of their lungs.

When requested from the stage, it’s a very cool experience to hear the audience get to experience a sing-a-long with their heroes. When they are singing along with Amy and Emily at other times, it could have been distracting at best, and wildly annoying at worst. Amazingly, it was neither, as I was quite impressed with the quality of the voices of those who sat around us, and it all just worked!

They closed the set with Closer to Fine, which was beyond awesome, with the entire crowd screaming along for most of the song. They brought on the opening act (not the full band, just the star) to sing that song with them. It was wonderful (I’ll cover him shortly).

For the encore, which most of the crowd stood for, they did two numbers, closing the show with Galileo, which the crowd had been screaming for all night long. The opening act came out to join them for part of the encore as well!

So, I said above that the show was different, unexpected. Here are the two main things:

  • Very little banter. In fact, very little talking at all, though what little there was, was very warm. In fact, while Emily named Amy, and formally introduced Julie Wolf, no one returned the favor. Emily’s name wasn’t mentioned even once the entire evening!
  • They never used the same instrument on consecutive numbers! Their roadie, Sully, brought two replacement instruments up on the stage to hand to Amy and Emily after each number. That’s beyond incredible (and performed smoothly every time) because it meant that the Indigo Girls didn’t spend one second tuning between songs, as Sully clearly tuned off stage before handing the instruments to the Girls.

I’ve never been to a show where the performers don’t end up killing some serious time tuning. In the case of Girlyman, it’s an opportunity for some of the best banter you can imagine, so they turn it into a positive. For the Indigo Girls, you simply get that much more amazing music crammed into the evening, because they sang and played their hearts out for 100 minutes. Bravo!

On to the opening act, Matt Nathanson. We’ve only recently discovered Matt. One of our favorite groups is Sugarland. Sugarland is in heavy rotation on our iPod in the car. Lois can’t get enough of quite a number of their songs. On their Love on the Inside CD, the last song is called Come On Get Higher. As I’ve said many times, Lois cares who wrote the song, and in this case, it’s Matt Nathanson.

Sugarland’s cover of Come On Get Higher is fantastic, and we love listening to it over and over. But, it also made us go out and buy one of Matt’s CDs (before we had a clue we would get to see him live), called Some Mad Hope.

The fact that he was opening for the Indigo Girls last night was a super bonus for us, because we would have happily gone to see him headline somewhere. We would not have been disappointed.

Matt Nathanson

Matt Nathanson

He was awesome. He sings incredibly well, and plays the guitar well with a terrific energy. He writes great songs, often irreverent and tongue-in-cheek.

He’s incredibly funny, bantering aggressively (but cleverly as well) with the crowd throughout the show. Many people in the crowd knew all of his songs, and the two women in front of us actually came to see him, not the Indigo Girls, though they ended up hanging around and thoroughly enjoying the Girls as well.

Matt was supported by three other people on stage. Left-to-right:

Aaron Tap played guitar, electric keyboards and sang harmony with Matt. He’s an excellent guitarist, and sings wonderfully well with Matt (his voice is quite high, surprisingly so). He’s the only one who sang with Matt.

Aaron Tap

Aaron Tap

John Thomasson played the upright bass. Given the up-tempo sound, and power of the band, it was a little surprising to see an upright bass rather than an electric one, but John played it magnificently either way. Great bass lines all night long.

John Thomasson

John Thomasson

Konrad Meissner played the drums extremely well throughout the set.

Konrad Meissner

Konrad Meissner

They were on stage for roughly 45 minutes, and we would have been delighted to listen to them for hours longer. As I noted above, Matt (not the rest of the band) joined the Indigo Girls for Closer to Fine, and for part of the encore as well. That was a ton of fun too.

Matt Nathanson and Amy Ray

Matt Nathanson and Amy Ray

It was a magical evening, that we hope to relive as soon as we can. Unfortunately, it will be repeated in our home town in Central Park this coming Tuesday, but we’ll still be in Virginia, so we’ll miss it!

First a blessing, and then a few complaints, to round out our story.

Rain was called for throughout the evening, and it looked extremely threatening as we got on line. Amazingly, after perhaps three drops, it stopped, and the rain held off until we were driving back to Fredericksburg. Thank you!

As gorgeous as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is, and as wonderful as the show was, they could stand to improve some things, especially as compared to Innsbrook After Hours from the night before.

Update: I was contacted by both Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Haymaker Productions (who put on the show). Both were examples of superb customer service, and both made me feel that they are professionals who care about making each event as good as possible! Good answers to my specific points, not just “sorry, but please come again…”. Thanks to both organizations for taking the time!

Original complaints below, unedited, but I felt that the caveat above was important to insert before you get to the complaints!

First, they said that the gates would open at 5:30pm. They didn’t open until 5:50pm. Standing in the hot sun, for an indeterminate amount of time (yes, the sun came out after the few drops of rain stopped), is simply unpleasant.

Waiting on Line

Waiting on Line

To compound that anxiety, the web site said that Matt Nathanson would be on stage at 6pm. We all wanted to eat first, so by 5:50, it was looking and feeling dicey. In the end, the show didn’t start until 6:30pm, so we had plenty of time to eat, but even that was unexpected, since the show was called for 6pm.

Now the food. It was quite tasty, so after the fact, no complaints. But, dramatically less choice than the night before, and nothing that could easily be eaten in one hand (like a sandwich, burger, etc.). So, they should have a broader offering next time. Also, a salad for $6 felt like a rip-off, but otherwise, while a tad on the expensive side, it ended up doing the job nicely.

Only two more complaints! We had Gold Circle Seating (near the stage), which we paid a premium for. Lois called in advance, and we were told that even with this premium seating area, we needed to bring our own chairs. Fine, no problem. So, we dragged three heavy folding chairs and one bulky plastic one.

Of course, the information was wrong. The Gold Circle Seating supplied the seats. We looked like idiots holding our chairs. We ended up placing them on the side, and they got used by four strangers (at least someone benefitted from our schlepping!). Thankfully, they were all intact at the end of the show, and we got to schlep them back to the car, nice!

Last complaint. The ground was sopping wet (fine, no one can control that). But, after the show, over a thousand people were tramping through the soggy grass with practically no light whatsoever. It was a disaster in the making. At least no one near us fell over, potentially causing a major problem, and I’m hopeful that it didn’t happen to others that we were unaware of either.

After the show, we headed back to our friends’ house to pick up our car, and then hit the road back to the hotel in Fredericksburg. A fantastic two days in Richmond, with the better show capping it off last night!