So Why Didn't They Call It Gal-apalooza?

by RICHARD CROMELIN, Special to The Times

"We got next!"

Now that the women's pro basketball league is underway, maybe it could lend its slogan to Lilith Fair. With the established summer rock festivals such as Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E. monopolized by male acts, this fledgling tour offers something different: an all-female lineup. Tour founder Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, Paula Cole and Suzanne Vega will play the initial shows of the 35-date tour, which opens today at the Gorge in Washington state and comes to Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Wednesday. As a clear alternative, Lilith Fair has drawn media attention and generated strong ticket sales.

McLachlan, who conceived the tour, selected the artists and coordinated the charity aspects, also made a new album in the past year. "Surfacing," due July 15, is the follow-up to the Canadian singer's breakthrough success "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy." During a break from rehearsals this week, McLachlan, 29, talked about Lilith Fair's formation and future.

Question: What was the initial inspiration for Lilith Fair?

Answer: More than anything it was just that I kept seeing all these fantastic women rising in the music industry and I thought, "Geez, wouldn't it be fun to put them all on the same bill and create a festival around that?" I just kind of casually mentioned it to my manager and . . . from there everybody started talking about it. Quite honestly, if it had been left up to me nothing probably would have gotten done. I had to go make a record. So while I was off making a record everybody else was spending 60-hour workweeks organizing this.

Q: Was it also a reaction to the male domination of the summer tours?

A: That's not what it's about. It's a celebration of the fact that women are finally having a really strong voice in the industry. But sure, I looked at the lineup last year of Lollapalooza and I didn't really feel like going, because there wasn't much on there that I would have really enjoyed. I dig Metallica, OK? But I like to see something a bit more varied. It wasn't representational of the possibilities out there. But to give them credit, we don't know who they asked.

Q: Did female artists need to establish some kind of commercial clout in order for this kind of tour to happen?

A: I think so. If we'd tried to do this three years ago we would have gotten laughed at. Promoters wouldn't have taken a chance on us. And when we started organizing it there were a couple of promoters who were a bit worried. I think a lot of people in the industry are living by these old standards that don't really apply anymore--like you can't play two women back to back on the radio, can't put two women on the same bill.

Q: Are you concerned that you might be increasing the polarization, with all the women here and the men over there?

A: Yeah, that's an element that I've thought a lot about. I'd like to see Lilith have some longevity, and I think probably next year I'm gonna be including men on the bill. This first year, it was a bit to make a point, a positive point, that women are finally having a really strong voice, let's celebrate that, let's make this a tour of all women to get that community going. But I think when most people listen to a song on the radio and they feel something from it, they don't think initially, "That's a woman singing that song" or "That's a man singing that song." They just think, "That's a great song."

Q: So if it's not a women's festival, then what is Lilith Fair's musical identity?

A: It's music that I like. It's completely selfish.. . . I think honesty is the most important key.

Q: What men would you invite?

A: Peter Gabriel. Ron Sexsmith. Willie Nelson . . . Daniel Lanois. People who have a passion for music--I don't know how to explain it, but I always know when I hear music when people are doing it for the right reasons.

Q: Were there any artists you tried to get this year but couldn't?

A: We got about 90% of the people we asked. I was really [upset] about Neneh Cherry, because she was in from the beginning. But her American record company decided not to put her record out, so she lost her tour support. She was one of the first people we asked. Like she's the most awesome babe. . . . I really wanted to get Garbage. They were in the studio. Tori Amos, same thing.

Q: Was all this a distraction from recording your new album?

A: Not really. I was sequestered in a little cabin in Quebec. There was very little that I did have to deal with on Lilith.

Q: What's the album like?

A: I suppose it's along the same themes as the last record. With every record I'm sort of trying to peel away the layers of myself. . . . Over the past three years all sorts of stuff has happened to me that's really forced me to take a good look at myself and change some things . . . personal upheavals that made me think, "Wow, I really don't like myself, I really have to figure this out or I'm not gonna be a happy person." I was miserable there for a while, but I did some really good therapy.

Q: Does that come out in your music?

A: Oh, completely. This album is so autobiographical. A lot of the songs I used to write I used to hide behind characters, I used to try and project a false sense of hope at the end because it seemed too depressing if I didn't.

With this record it's just like "Be here now"--whatever you're feeling, just be in it, don't deny it. Because for so long I was denying everything I was feeling. All the rage and anger and frustration. . . . So, it was a very hard record to make. But it was fantastic to force myself to go to those places, because I ended up becoming a hell of a lot stronger.

* Lilith Fair, with Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega, Wednesday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, 4:30 p.m. Sold out. (714) 855-4515.

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