Knoxville, Tenn., school cancels Indigo Girls concert

Friday, May 8, 1998

A Knoxville, Tenn., high school on Wednesday became the third to cancel a free concert by the Indigo Girls.


Principal Ed Hedgepeth of Farragut High School denied that the lesbian status of the folk duo played any part in his decision to stop the performance only hours before it was to begin. Hedgepeth said his decision came after learning that the Indigo Girls used profanity at a previous high school concert.


“I'm not sure exactly [in] what context it was used, whether it was used in an actual song or whether it was used onstage at some point in a comment,” Hedgepeth said. “I'd rather err on the side of caution when it comes to the people that we have presenting in the schools.”


But singer Amy Ray told the First Amendment Center in a written statement that school officials use the profanity excuse to cloud the fact that they canceled because she and Emily Saliers are gay.


“The profanity issue is an obvious red herring—the irony being that we have more often been accused of being too spiritual and clean,” Ray said.


This week, Ray and Saliers were scheduled to give free half-hour, students-only concerts at Farragut, Irmo High School near Columbia, S.C., Germantown High School in Germantown, Tenn., and at Franklin High School in Franklin, Tenn.


Officials at Irmo said they halted the concert there after several residents complained about the duo's sexual identity. The principal at Germantown said he canceled the show after learning that during an April 13 concert in Logansville, Ga., Ray and Saliers sang “Shame on You,” a song that contains the word “f—.”


The Indigo Girls played at Franklin High Monday without incident.


While Farragut officials also cited profanity as the reason for canceling the show there, Kanishka Biddanda, co-editor of the student newspaper, said: “It's understood by everyone that the show was canceled because the Indigo Girls are gay.”


About 50 Farragut students protested the decision, carrying signs reading “Homophobia is a Social Disease” and “Free Speech Is Dead at FHS.” Later in the day, the Indigo Girls moved their concert to a club downtown. They likewise offered a free concert Thursday in Columbia, S.C., for Irmo students.


Ray said the high school tour developed after the two singers judged a student lyric-writing contest sponsored by Scholastic Magazine. Impressed by the students' work, Ray said she and Saliers offered free, students-only concerts to six high schools during their recent tour.


The Indigo Girls didn't schedule the concerts until after school officials approved the lyrics of their songs, Ray said.


“A minority composed of homophobic, narrow-minded parents and weak-kneed principals and school boards have successfully enforced a policy of hate,” Ray said. “Our public schools should be a safe environment for an open exchange of ideas and a chance to explore one's own individuality.”


–The Associated Press contributed to this report.