The connection between Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of folk duo the Indigo Girls runs much deeper than a musical partnership.
The women, who are 45 and 46 respectively, went to the same elementary school in Decatur, Ga., and are friendly with each other's families. Ray said she and Saliers are like sisters.
"There's a lot of stuff you don't have to talk about because you know each other so well," she said. "At the same time, we live in different towns. We get together to practice and go on tour, but we have different social lives."
The Indigo Girls are coming to Modesto on March 26 for a performance with Coyote Grace at the State Theatre.
The women gained fame in 1989 with their self-titled Grammy-winning album featuring the hit "Closer to Fine."
All in all, they've recorded 10 major label albums, often featuring social and political commentary. They received attention for their 1997 hit, "Shame on You," which criticized efforts to stem immigration as racist. Their latest release, issued independently in 2009, is "Poseidon and the Bitter Bug."
While they've never hit the top of the pop charts, the Indigo Girls have performed steadily for two decades. Ray said the duo has been able to survive because of its constant touring and devoted fans.
"It's an honest experience," she said when asked why fans are drawn to the music. "It's pretty organic. There's this initial community created around it. They shared music with their friends."
The Indigo Girls stay connected with their fans via the Internet by posting videos and asking for their input. Their upcoming double live CD release will include photos taken by fans at different times during the group's career.
The fans promote the music better than any major label ever could, Ray said.
"They know how to do retail and radio," she said. "Those things are old. There's so many ways artists can support themselves that have nothing to do with the ways a major label understands."
The duo recorded "Poseidon and the Bitter Bug" in three weeks in a studio in Atlanta. There isn't any particular theme or focus, Ray said.
"We write separately," she said. "We don't keep tabs on what each other's writing."
In a couple of months, they are heading to Nashville to record their first Christmas CD. Ray said they want to make it a mountain music and country record, just for fun.
Later this year, Ray and Saliers perform eight dates with Sarah McLaughlin's all-female Lilith Fair tour, the same tour they performed with in back in the late 1990s. Ray recalls that the first tour was a great time for women in music. The featured artists like Paula Cole, Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks were getting a lot of radio airplay.
Then came the backlash, with some radio stations saying they wouldn't play Lilith Fair artists. Ray thinks women's music still hasn't come back to receiving the attention it should.
"It's still in a backlash phase," she said. "But it'll come back again.