Flashback Friday: Lilith Fair

A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile…

Well, sort of. It hasn’t been quite that long since music made me smile. I actually really enjoy music. It’s the concert experience that doesn’t make me smile all that much anymore. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point concerts became little more than soulless money sucks.

Actually, I do know when it happened, at least for me: Madonna’s Drowned World Tour back in 2001. What a dismal first (and only) Madonna concert! Plunging a clogged toilet is a more satisfying (and interactive) experience than this concert was.

But there are still lots of musicians on tour who put on exemplary concerts. For example, regardless of what you think of her or her music, Tori Amos is always going to be worth the price of admission. She is bizarre in the most wonderful ways, and her playlists always include music from her entire career, even sometimes going all the way back to her Y Kant Tori Read days.

And then there’s Sarah McLachlan, possibly one of the loveliest music imports that Canada has been kind enough to share with us. Her voice is beautiful, her smile is enchanting, and her concerts are always a joy to attend. It’s been a while since McLachlan was at the top of the popular music game, but she continues to release new music and continues to be involved in the music scene.

[She also continues to make Loba feel guilty on a regular basis with those soul-crushingly sad ASPCA commercials that make Loba want to run out to the nearest shelter and adopt EVERYTHING THERE. Seriously, I’m not allowed to watch these commercials anymore, because by the end, I’m looking for my car keys while sob-singing along with “Angel.”]

McLachlan is also the driving force behind Lilith Fair. Quick history herstory of this event: Back in 1996, when McLachlan was literally everywhere, she decided that it was ridiculous and completely misogynistic that concert promoters refused to place more than one female artist on a ticket at a time. The boys were being allowed to play together at venues like Lolapalooza…why couldn’t the girls be allowed to do the same thing?

So that summer, she paired up with equally hot-at-the-time musician Paula Cole (who has apparently gone the way of those mysterious cowboys she was looking for back then) as well as a few other female artists, and they all played several venues together around Canada and, I think, the United States.

These concerts were enough of a success to prove to McLachlan’s promoters at Nettwerk that there might actually be something to this all-girl line-up thing after all. So they teamed up with some marketing folk in New York and Lilith Fair was born.

[Loba Fun Fact: No, the concert is not named after Frasier’s ex-wife. Lilith is believed by some religious sects to have been Adam’s first wife, who subsequently left Adam after hearing too many times, “Baby, bring me a beer…and what’s for dinner? I’m starving!” Of course, she is demonized by the patriarchal religious texts in which she does appear. Then again, so is Eve…]

The original Lilith Fair played every summer from 1997 through 1999, and it was amazing. Almost every active female performer from the music world, big names and small alike, wanted to be a part of this annual event: McLachlan (of course), Sheryl Crow, Paula Cole, Jewel, Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne, Queen Latifah, Lisa Loeb, the Dixie Chicks, Shawn Colvin, Missy Elliott, Bonnie Raitt, the Pretenders, Mary Chapin Carpenter, the Indigo Girls, Meredith Brooks, Natalie Merchant, Erykah Badu, Luscious Jackson, Liz Phair, Juliana Hatfield, Nelly Furtado…the list just went on and on. If you want to see all the performers, check out the Wikipedia page on Lilith Fair.

I only went to the 1999 Lilith Fair, but I remember having a hella great time. The concert started in the early afternoon and didn’t wind down until around midnight. We had lawn seats, which were perfectly priced for recent college graduates treading the waters of a final summer of freedom before diving into the deep, dark waters of “Big Girl” employment. Of course, one cannot enjoy an outdoor concert unless it rains…and it poured for most of that afternoon. I think it took almost an entire week for my sneakers to finally dry after that day!

I also remember that the line-up was amazing. It was my first time seeing several of the singers I loved: Sarah, the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow…of course, I did have to suffer through the Indigo Girls, but it was worth it.

[Yeah, I hate the Indigo Girls. Deal with it.]

It was a great day, a great concert, and a great experience, getting to see an entire venue packed with all variety of concertgoers from all ethnicities, genders, religions, sexualities, socioeconomic status, etc., gathered together by a commonly shared love of really awesome music. I’ve heard lots of disparaging comments about Lilith Fair throughout the years, especially when it was at its most popular, but you know what? It was epic in many ways, least of which in how it was able to bring together so many disparate people without conflict, at least for the duration of the day of performances.

Another thing that was great about that 1999 event? I won this:

This is a Takamine electric acoustic guitar, black finish with mother-of-pearl trim. It was supposedly played by Sarah McLachlan at one of the Lilith Fair stops. She then signed the guitar, as you can see in the photo, and donated it to some upstart Dot Com whose name I can’t even remember now, as one of the prizes for their “Sweet Sounds of Summer” contest (yes, I can remember the name of the contest, but I can’t remember the name of the company).

Honestly? I entered the contest because I wanted a signed copy of Sheryl Crow’s newest CD. I had no delusions of actually winning anything, however, let alone the first prize. I feel a little guilty that this beautiful guitar is stuck with unmusical me, sitting in its pretty case for the past decade…brought out only when people want to see it or when I want to photograph it for geeky reasons. Then again, would a musically inclined person actually play this guitar if they owned it? I think not. So I don’t feel that guilty. Plus, one day this puppy is going to be worth a fortune, and I’m going to sell it and buy Rhode Island and turn it into my own geek Utopia. And I shall rule with fairness and geekiness. And Beverly Crusher will be our queen.

Fast forward 11 years to the summer of 2010. McLachlan’s first new studio album release in seven years, Laws of Illusion, came out in June of this year. She was coming out of a divorce, primed with new music, and ready to jump back into the musical deep…so what better way than to revive Lilith Fair?

To be honest, the 2010 Lilith Fair was a pale comparison to its earlier iterations. The list of names was much shorter, several of the “big names” dropped out for various reasons, and in the end, ticket sales were poor enough that several of the scheduled events were canceled.

That being said, we went to the D.C. Lilith Fair this past Tuesday, and it was a mostly enjoyable time. The heat made everything a little wilty, but it’s been that way all summer, so nothing we haven’t been dealing with already. I did feel a little over-saturated by all the marketing this time: Chevrolet wanted me to win one of their cars, and Luna wanted to give me their super-sweet energy bars, and Degree wanted me to wear their deodorant and their body mist, and Style magazine wanted me to know how much they love Lilith Fair, and prophets know I now have enough free feminine care products to carry me through to menopause.

Then there was the line-up. You know the adage, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old”? I think that could also be changed to “If it’s too unknown, you’re too old.” I barely knew any of the secondary stage acts. Corrin who? Missy what? Nneka? Butterfly? Is that really your name?

[Okay, I actually did know who Butterfly Boucher was, but that’s because she toured with McLachlan back in 2005. She’s pretty cool and I really like saying her name. Butterfly Boucher (prononuced like “Bau-ch?r”). Say it. Out loud. NOW.]

I guess that’s the point, though: to introduce us to these new and rising singers, and several were very enjoyable…but a lot of them started to sound alike after a while. And that was when I knew I was too old. That and when I caught myself saying of Ke$ha, “I’m actually okay with her not being at this Lilith Fair. She looks like you’d need a dose of penicillin after seeing her in concert.”


Of course, the main stage was the big draw of the day anyway. And “Big Girl” employment means no more lawn seats. We traded in our soggy sneakers and picnic blankets for six rows away from the stage. Mmm. Favorite non-Sarah act? The Court Yard Hounds, which is basically the Dixie Chicks minus Natalie Maines. Sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire decided that they were ready to go back to recording, but Maines was still enjoying her time out of the limelight. So the sisters formed the Court Yard Hounds, with the promise of returning to the Dixie Chicks once Maines is ready to go.

I’ve always loved Emily and Martie. Last time I saw the Dixie Chicks in concert, I wrote this of their instrumental prowess:

Emily is to a banjo like Hendrix lighting guitars and Martie could beat the Devil and Johnny both down in Georgia any time on her fiddle.

That’s one of the reasons I did love country music for so long: I love the bluegrassy frenzy of banjo and fiddle. I can’t explain it. I just like it. Plus, look at how country awesome they look!

Needless to say, their performance at Lilith Fair convinced me to buy their CD, so apparently I am quite susceptible to marketing. And my love of country music is apparently returning.

Oh, and of course, McLachlan was delightful as the final act to what had become the final stop of Lilith Fair 2010 (thanks to those unfortunate cancellations I previously mentioned). She seemed hopeful that Lilith Fair would return for another go next summer. I don’t know if that’s actually in the cards or if it was just wishful hoping, but I’m glad I had the chance to visit once more with Lilith and rekindle some happy memories from my college days.