Contemporary folk rock singer-songwriter of the legendary Indigo Girls duo
Amy Ray Band
830 E. Burnside St.
Portland, OR, 97214
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
Amy Ray Band
A lot of artists defy categorization. Some do so because they are tirelessly searching for the place they fit, while others are constantly chasing trends. Some, though, are genuinely exploring and expressing their myriad influences. Amy Ray belongs in the latter group. Pulling from every direction — Patty Griffin to Patti Smith, Big Star to Bon Iver — Ray's music might best be described as folk-rock, though even that would be a tough sell, depending on the song.
Ray's musical beginnings trace back to her high school days in Atlanta, Georgia, when she and Emily Saliers formed the duo that would become the Indigo Girls. Their story started in 1981 with a basement tape called “Tuesday's Children” and went on to include a deal with Epic Records in 1988, a Grammy in 1990, and nearly 20 albums over more than 30 years. Rooted in shared passions for harmony and justice, the Indigo Girls have forged a career that combines artistry and activism to push against every boundary and box anyone tries to put them in. As activists, they have supported as many great causes as they can, from LGBTQ+ rights to voter registration, going so far as to co-found an environmental justice organization, Honor the Earth, with Winona LaDuke in 1993. As artists, they have dipped their toes into a similar multitude of waters — folk, rock, country, pop, and more — but the resulting releases are always pure Indigo. Ray's six solo sets — and three live albums — have charted even wider seas, from the political punk of 2001's Stag to the feminist Americana of 2018's Holler. Each effort seems to lean into her influences in different ways, whether it's the Allman Brothers or the Carter Family. One album finds the Butchies on full blast, another features Alison Brown on bluegrass banjo. Both Stag and its follow-up, Prom (2005), found Ray addressing societal woes, ranging from the dangers of homophobia to the machismo of rock & roll, all while channeling her inner Replacements into a Southern punk sound that she has called "subversiveness with a smile." Ray softened her sonic stance a bit for her next two efforts, 2008's Didn't It Feel Kinder and 2012's Lung of Love, both of which felt closer in tone to her work with Indigo Girls, confronting cultural issues alongside personal ones.
In retrospect, it's easy to see how songs like Lung of Love's “Bird in the Hand” and “The Rock Is My Foundation” served as signposts of what was to come next for Ray. With Goodnight Tender in 2014, she recorded in Asheville, North Carolina, and stepped squarely into the country music that has been a part of everything she's done. But it's not the kind of country heard on the radio; it's the country music culled from folk, bluegrass, gospel, and Southern rock, going so far as to title a tune after Duane Allman.
For 2018's Holler, Ray recorded, once again, with her Carolina country kin, adding horns and strings to all but split the musical distance between Kinder and Tender to create a soulful, country tinged, gospel-infused Americana sound. More cohesively than her prior releases, Holler encompasses and imparts all the disparate aspects of Ray's influences in a singular offering. Ray's vast artistic inspirations are matched only by the deep peer admiration that is reflected in her albums' guest appearances, which have included Vince Gill, Brandi Carlile, Justin Vernon, Jim James, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Phil Cook, and others. That kind of good will is something only built from a lifetime of good deeds and great music. While she partnered with Compass Records to issue Holler, Ray's home base is Daemon Records, the not-for-profit label she founded in 1990 to support grassroots artists, including Kristen Hall, Rose Polenzani, Girlyman, John Trudell, Gerard McHugh, the Rock-A Teens, and others. With Daemon, as with everything, Ray aimed to give something back to the community from which she has gotten so much.
Solo or duo, with a band or an orchestra, together and apart, both Ray and Saliers pour themselves into every performance, and their audiences still soak up every ounce of that generosity, spilling their own hearts and souls out as they sing along to every song. Theirs isn't a fanbase; it's a family.
Becky Warren's sophomore album, Undesirable, is about humanity. Distilling the stories of a group of homeless and formerly homeless entrepreneurs in her home base of Nashville, Warren relays the essence of the human experience, and shines a spotlight on the relatable, common ties that bind us together, regardless of our demographic.
Following the success of her first solo album, War Surplus, the gritty love story of an Iraq War vet and his girlfriend partly inspired by Warren's own life, many asked her, "How the hell do you plan to follow that up?" After the album earned her a Veterans Day feature on NPR's All Things Considered, a regular opening slot with The Indigo Girls, and an A rating from the dean of American rock critics himself, Robert Christgau, Warren admits that even she sometimes worried she wouldn't be able to make a second record she was as happy with. With this new and inspired set of compelling, catchy, guitar-driven songs in the spirit of heartland rock n’ roll masters like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, Undesirable puts those worries to rest.
"The rewarding thing for me about the response to my last album," Warren says, "was that it gave me a chance to write about veterans—a group of people who are often seen as somehow different or 'other'—in ways that showed listeners that their struggles and lives are actually really similar." So when Warren started planning her second project, she looked around for another group of people who seemed "othered,” and right away she thought of one of her favorite things about Nashville: The Contributor, Nashville's street paper, which is sold around town by homeless and formerly homeless vendors. The vendors buy the paper from the non-profit that produces it, and then sell it for a profit. Warren went to a few "paper releases,” the weekly event where vendors can buy the new issue for the first time, but quickly realized that the best way to learn people's stories was to approach vendors as they were selling, introduce herself, and ask to talk with them while they sold the paper.
In less talented hands, the result might have been political, didactic, depressing. But for the protagonists of Warren's songs, homelessness is never a defining characteristic. Instead, they're people who are mourning loss, ditching bad relationships, striving against ruthless odds, falling in love—in other words, completely human. "I actually thought there would be a fair amount of overlap with subjects I already knew well from writing about a veteran with PTSD—mental health, substance abuse—but I learned after just a couple interviews that those were complete misconceptions," Warren admits. "To make a living selling The Contributor, you have to get up every day, no matter the weather, take a long bus ride, and stand outside for hours making a real connection with your customers, like any good salesperson. You have to be incredibly hardworking, with an unshakable belief in yourself to make it work."
Supporting Warren on Undesirable is an impressive musical cast led by producer/guitarist Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive, Rodney Crowell, Kelsey Waldon), including Warren's longtime bassist Jeremy Middleton (also of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen) and her friend and musical mentor, Indigo Girl Amy Ray, whose vocals make the blistering first track, "We're All We Got", a standout, and an anthem for the people portrayed on Undesirable, who've been dealt a tough hand but are determined to play it and win.