As half of the iconic folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, Emily Saliers has performed all over the world in her four-decade career. But there’s one dot on the map firmly at the center of her orbit: Decatur, Georgia, the small municipality near downtown Atlanta where she grew up, forged a childhood friendship with bandmate Amy Ray, attended college at Emory University, and lives today with her wife, Tristin Chipman, and daughter, Cleo, nine.
The Indigo Girls, who released their sixteenth studio album, Look Long, in 2020, still spend plenty of time on the road. Saliers and Ray are currently touring the country with violinist Lyris Hung, and in June 2023 they will be joined by their band. (Fans take note: Next year will also bring the release of a documentary on the Indigo Girls from Sundance-winning director Alexandria Bombach.) But when she’s home, it’s not uncommon to see Saliers out in her own community, strumming her guitar at fundraising gigs for the local public schools. Here, she tells G&G more about the little city she can’t quit.
What has kept you in Decatur?
So many things. My schooling was here—that grounds me. My family is in or close to Decatur—my dad, my two sisters, their husbands, their kids. We have a great community with progressive thinking, wonderful arts, the Decatur Book Festival, Amplify Decatur [music festival]…There’s good social and political work being done, a real effort at diversification and anti-racism.
How has Decatur changed over the years, and how has it stayed the same?
It still feels like a place unto itself. It has its own identity—it always has. And Decatur is not just the town square; it’s a large geographical area that’s largely diverse, and that’s always been the case. But Amy and I once received the keys to the city back when it was a sleepy little town and everyone knew the mayor. Then Eddie’s Attic and Trackside Tavern came along, and I watched the Decatur music scene grow from something very small to something nationally known.
I’m sure you have innumerable special memories set in Decatur. Can you share one?
We started the Watershed restaurant in an old beat-up garage—Chai Pani is there now. We wanted to bring farm-to-table to Decatur, and I’m pretty sure we were the first mom-and-pop that did that, so we’re proud of that history. But we started out with a retail freezer cabinet, and we didn’t know what we were doing. We’d go to these big conventions where businesses sell their wares, and we’d pick out things like turducken [laughs], and we learned a lot about what doesn’t fly in a business. Then chef Scott Peacock stayed on with us for a while and turned the whole thing around, and we became a bona fide restaurant. But there are just very funny memories of a group of young women finding their way in a community that was very patient with us. [Saliers founded Watershed with business partners in 1998. The restaurant became an Atlanta institution before closing in 2019.]
Now let’s talk about your favorite Decatur places. Where in Decatur do you like to…
Go for a stroll: Legacy Park. They’ve got the food truck Tuesdays, a great center for the arts, community activities, a beautiful green space—that’s a huge addition to Decatur life. Also the Decatur Cemetery. I used to live right across from the entrance to the park there.
You have a song, “All That We Let In,” that describes walking in the cemetery. Might that be Decatur Cemetery? That’s exactly right.
Eat out: Kimball House–that’s our number-one favorite restaurant in Decatur. We like to go to Taqueria del Sol and be bossed around. It’s probably the only place I’ll stand in a line that long. We like Leon’s Full Service; we support No. 246. I’m afraid I’m going to forget some place—oh, Sushi Avenue! That’s our daughter’s favorite restaurant.
Order in: Butter & Cream ice cream.
Wait, you can get that delivered? Yes you can. Yes, you can. I think we get more of that delivered than anything else. Decatur hates to admit this, but parking is hard, and there’s always a super long line there. But it is the best ice cream I’ve ever had, and I’ve traveled a lot.
We cannot forget about Revolution Doughnuts—they will also deliver. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but they’re my favorite doughnuts. There is one place in Florida down near 30A that sells a white cream-filled doughnut called a Vanilla Angel—but just that one doughnut is my favorite, not all of them. [Laughs.] Overall, Revolution Doughnuts is the best you can get, and they have incredible espresso.
Be artistically inspired: Definitely Eddie’s Attic. It’s such a great listening room and hasn’t changed. I mean, maybe it’s changed a little. Back in the early days, it was split: There was the listening room, and you didn’t go in there to mess around. You went in there and you were quiet, and there was always great music, whether it was an open mic night or a nationally touring artist. And in the back, there was a place where all the locals came after work and watched baseball. Local politicians went there, riffraff like me who just wanted to have a good time.
Pick up new reading material: First and foremost, Brave and Kind Bookshop. You can order any book you want, and there are so many important social issues covered. [Owner Bunnie Hilliard] does all kinds of programming. For instance, she brought in Janelle Monae, who has a new book out about Afrofuturism that’s fascinating. There’s Charis—what a treasure. It’s a feminist bookshop but has all kinds of books and some Agnes Scott [College] merchandise, and they have wonderful community programming…trans kids can come play board games and hang out. And then Little Shop of Stories near the square. For a small area, the number of world-class bookstores in Decatur is so great.
Place to entertain kids: The bowling alley, Suburban Lanes [now Comet Pub & Lanes]. That’s not in the city of Decatur; it’s greater Decatur. We like to walk around the square, and the easiest place to feed kids is Raging Burrito—the patio is awesome. Decatur Community Players is a theater group that’s been there for years, run by Shell Ramirez. Our daughter’s involved in that. It’s an absolute gift to the community, a no-pressure way for kids to learn about theater and singing.
An older hangout you still love: The Imperial pub to watch soccer.
You’re a soccer fan? Big time. We have tickets to the Atlanta United, and we’re hoping to get a [pro] women’s team.
A recent local discovery: Did I mention Butter & Cream? [Laughs.] We love, love, love Kelly’s Market. Cleo is obsessed with their King of Pops. For my wife, they have a nice wine selection. In a way it’s gourmet, but you can also just grab a breakfast sandwich. It’s a one-stop shop.