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Lilith Fair: Lovely, lively and long overdue


Web posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 1998 2:10:09 PM

From Donna Freydkin
Special to CNN Interactive

ATLANTA (CNN) -- For Lilith Fair mastermind Sarah McLachlan, the music festival is about melodies, not manifestos.

"We're just here to put on a great musical show and I think any social or political issues are secondary, although very important, because it is a music festival first and foremost," Vancouver-based singer-songwriter McLachlan commented last week before a show in Atlanta, halfway through the festival's national tour.

"Yet we have a great opportunity and great platform to talk about a lot of issues that are important to me and a lot of us as women and human beings."

Nonetheless, politics don't pack concert venues. Great musicians do. And at the Atlanta show, the gritty Meredith Brooks, the ebullient Queen Latifah, blues-y Bonnie Raitt, whimsical Natalie Merchant and silken McLachlan captivated the mellow, peaceful and often newly empowered capacity crowd at Lakewood Amphitheatre with their performances.

Summer bestseller

Merchant, McLachlan join in onstage high jinks

The Canadian singer's brainchild has evolved from a novel, much ballyhooed concept into the best-selling summer festival thus far this year. Billed as a celebration of women in music, the second all-women, 57-show, 41-city tour features a rotating roster of performers on three stages and a tribute to all things feminine.

The festival is named after the legendary Lilith, who refused to obey Adam and instead bolted from the Garden of Eden to search the Earth for adventure. McLachlan herself would not cave in to concert promoters and radio stations refusing to play two female acts back-to-back. Instead, she booked a successful tour with herself and Paula Cole. The first Lilith Fair was born a year later.

What started out as a 35-city fledgling tour in 1997 racked up $16 million in ticket sales last year. Overall, Lilith Fair was the top-grossing festival tour of 1997 and ranked 16th among the year's Top 100 Tours. This year's tour is expected to generate $25 million in ticket sales.

How does this year's Lilith Fair compare?
Performance from Lilith Fair's California leg of the tour:
2.3Mb QuickTime movie

All-star roster

With such artists as Erykah Badu, Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Missy Elliot, Bonnie Raitt and McLachlan, Lilith Fair belts away the notion that an all-female lineup can't fill stadiums, sell albums or dominate radio airplay.

Criticized last year for a lack of diversity, this year's Lilith does include more R&B performers in addition to numerous folksy singer-songwriters.

"We asked all sorts of people from all different walks of music and this is who we got this year, who said yes," McLachlan says. "I think music crosses barriers and boundaries. If it's good, it's good. We're after good music."

Boxscore, which compiles weekly concert grosses, reports that about midway through its 1998 dates, Lilith Fair had grossed just over $6 million and remained the top-grossing summer concert package tour of the season.

Queen Latifah

Latifah: 'Vibes are right'

"This is the best tour, man, and it's all women!" laughs Latifah. "I wanted to do this because I was excited about playing to a different audience than I might normally play to at a hip-hop show. The vibes are right."

Girl power, indeed.

"I'm completely thrilled to be a part of this," says veteran rocket Raitt. "I have to say, this is the highlight of the summer for me. This is one of a kind and long overdue. It's the best vibe I've ever seen backstage and onstage as well."

For the newcomers, such as Rebekah, Holly Cole and Christian/Durand, Lilith Fair is a breakthrough opportunity to play to enormous crowds and learn from the more established and experienced artists on the bill. "Everybody is so helpful and so kind. All you have to do is ask and everybody is available," says Rebekah. "It's very encouraging for people like us that have so many questions because we don't have a manual or a hand guide."

Good music, good works

Meredith Brooks performs in Atlanta

Raitt refers to it as part of the "cosmic food chain." Others just call it plain ol' charity. Regardless, Lilith Fair goes beyond music by donating $1.00 from each ticket sold to a local non- profit organization. At the end of last year's tour, over $700,000 was donated to various groups throughout Canada and the United States.

"It's a great opportunity for all of us to raise the ante and the attention for something that needs focus," says Raitt. "It's the cosmic food chain -- that we get so much and we give something back -- it's what we're supposed to do."

Select non-profit organizations, including the Breast Cancer Fund, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, AIDS research and awareness organization LIFEbeat and Planned Parenthood, also have booths in the Village area during each Lilith Fair show.

Women's purchasing power is becoming more apparent, as the Recording Industry Association of America reports that for the first time in the history of the $12 billion U.S. music industry, women bought more music than men last year.

Many of those women made up the laid-back, patient crowds, which were devoid of fights and moshing. Although the Lilith crowds have run 60 to 70 percent female, for reasons both musical and social, some men were drawn to the show.

"My favorite artists are women and I wanted to be here," said 20-year-old David Campbell. "There's no male bashing going on here. Most guys just take it the wrong way."

Despite the grueling tour schedule and brutal heat, the performers seemed to be having a great time. Even before the grand finale, which reunites all the singers on stage, Raitt jammed with Brooks, McLachlan joined Raitt and Latifah sang along with Merchant. For Brooks, the biggest bonus was jamming with Raitt.

Europe possible

With an initial agreement for three years of Lilith Fair, McLachlan has no concrete plans beyond the initial deadline. Although there was talk of taking the road show to Europe, McLachlan says she has "no pull" with European promoters.

"We plan to have three years and try not to repeat artists in the same marketplaces," said McLachlan. "I have a hard time thinking of what's going be going on next week, much less two years from now. We're going to sit down after '99 and reassess things, probably take a year off."

Brooks, for one, hopes to be back next year, which would be her third appearance at Lilith Fair, "If Sarah will have me."

As a glorious end to a glorious day, most of the performers -- as well as the Indigo Girls, not part of the Atlanta lineup -- rejoined McLachlan on stage and harmonized to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

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