Unexpected Connections: Indigo Girls’ Biggest Fan and “Mariner Moonlighting”

For a theater with a storied history as long as The Music Hall’s, there are still stories that strike us and inspire us. When our historian and production manager, Zhana Morris got an email from a young cadet, his story was so unexpected, she knew he had to visit! 

Ben Doehler, a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute, does not fit the usual Indigo Girls demographic…But his favorite song is their “Mariner Moonlighting,” which was written after Amy Ray went on a tour of the Historic Theater. Ben even has the first two lines of the song written on the inside of his class ring and Amy wrote all of the lyrics on his guitar! When he stopped by, he did just as Amy did: performed on stage and toured the theater up to the rafters.  

How did you get involved in music and the Army?
When I was four years old, my mom was listening to Linda Perry, and I remember hearing the music and looking at my mom,  thinking, “I want to do that someday.”  She’s playing guitar and writing her own songs, and that was something I wanted to do. I’ve always had a big drive for music and community service. I really wanted to try and pursue music right from the get-go but it’s very saturated and not easy to do, so I thought I’d have a foundation first. The Army offered to pay for my school if I was an officer for five years, so I thought I could go to a good school like Virginia Military Institute and do service for my country—I couldn’t pass that up. I think of it as five years to work on my music. 

Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls has been a huge influence, politically and musically, and I’ve been listening to her talk and play, and there is something very special about her music—it cuts to you, it’s passionate. 

When did you first hear “Mariner Moonlighting”? Why were you drawn to that song? 
The first time I heard “Mariner Moonlighting,” I was outside hauling wood [we lived on a farm] and I had all this music playing on shuffle. I heard the first few notes of the song and thought “this is weird” until the vocals started and I just dropped everything I was holding. I thought “This is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in my entire life”—that was four or five years ago. It’s just the perfect template for a song. 

I think it’s the most beautiful song I ever heard. And coming here, I definitely see what Amy was feeling because I’ve been in some pretty nice theaters but this is absolutely beautiful. I can’t believe I just played on the stage that Amy played on. 

How did you find out it was about The Music Hall and what inspired you to visit? 
When I met Amy, I asked her about it, what is it this song was about, and what it means. She said it was about a music hall up in New Hampshire, and that she was given a tour up in the rafters. She said she imagined a sailor looking at the audience, feeling alone, and like the cupids were mocking him. She wrote it from his perspective. That, without even really knowing, resonating with me. I thought “I want to go to that theater. Someday I want to play it on that stage.” I guess it happened a lot sooner than I thought! I’m just awestruck. [Editor’s Note: The guy can sing!] 

How many times have you met/ seen the Indigo Girls?
Four or five. I do my best to see them whenever I can. I figure if I’m deployed within the next couple of years, who knows when I’ll see them again. So I jump at every chance I can. Their shows are always great. Amy in particular, she’s been incredibly kind to me. Now, I’ll wait outside her show with all of these older women, and she will see me in the crowd and shout “Ben!” It’s kind of cool. I really look up to her and someday I hope to work with her.