Reuters (for syndication)

By Gary Graff

DETROIT (Reuter) - Fans arriving at the opening show of the Lilith Fair at the Gorge near Seattle discovered an unexpected treat: festival founder Sarah McLachlan, playing a solo acoustic set on the second stage as the crowd filtered in.

"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if my music was the first music that everybody heard," the Canadian songstress explains from a cellular phone as her tour bus rolls to a show near San Francisco. "I wanted to start the thing off, since it was my idea and all."

And a fine idea it was. Prompted by the overwhelming male orientation of the existing summer touring festivals -- and by the male domination of pop music in general -- McLachlan road-tested her female-oriented Lilith concept with four shows last summer, with an eye towards a full-blown festival tour this year.

The timing couldn't have been better. There's a sense that the novelty has worn off Lollapalooza, the H.O.R.D.E. and some of the other annual tours, which is being borne out by slower-than-expected ticket sales this summer.

Meanwhile, Lilith -- named after the Jewish myth about Adam's egalitarian first wife in the Garden of Eden -- is the season's hot date.

Why? In rock, women are hot right now. Led by Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill," which has sold more than 15 million copies, seven of the top 10 albums of 1966 were made by women or by bands with females out front.

The Lilith Fair lineup, put together from a wish-list McLachlan drew up, is a formidable representation of the rock's new female star power, including: McLachlan -- whose last album, 1994's "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," sold more than 2 million copies in the United States; Grammy winners Sheryl Crow, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Joan Osborne; and hot newcomers Paula Cole, Jewel and Fiona Apple.

"A lot of us on this bill, we don't fit easily into a Lollapalooza tour," says Cole, 29, who performed with McLachlan last year and now has a hit single with "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone."

"Alternative radio is still predominately male ... But somehow we've all found a home. I think it'll be fun."

McLachlan, meanwhile, approaches the Lilith Fair as nothing less than a mission -- though she freely slings around comic nicknames like Galapalooza and Vulvapalooza. She describes it as "a celebration of sisterhood," but that doesn't exclude the boys in their various bands.

"I just felt there was an awful lot of great music that was done by women that wasn't being heard, or it was being heard, yet there was no festival representation with a lot of the talent that was coming up," says McLachlan, who's also planning her own concert tour for the fall. "So I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if there was a festival that was all women?' "

That was a dramatic development for the concert industry, whose conventional wisdom has long run against even putting two women on the same bill.

"There definitely was a sort of old-school attitude like that," McLachlan says. "The same thing existed with radio stations a couple of years ago, that you can't really play two women back to back, which was just this ridiculous old rule people were blindly following.

"But that has turned around really quickly in the past couple of years. More than anything, it's because women have become, to be crass about it, a viable commodity. That's the brass tacks of the industry, is money."

McLachlan is trying to do something about that attitude with the Lilith Fair, too. The festival has taken a progressive approach to its sponsorship, choosing sponsors to represent particular aspects of nurturing, such as learning, wellness, spirit and shelter.

Many companies, including automobile makers and some fashion designers, were turned down due to inappropriate business practices or political agendas.

McLachlan and her partners even turned down Vanity Fair magazine because of the policies of some of its advertisers. On the other hand, they've taken some heat for including Border's Books and Music, which recently has been accused of engaging in anti-labor practices.

The Lilith Fair also provides McLachlan with an opportunity to promote her new album, "Surfacing," though she's doling out the songs in small portions until people have a chance to become familiar with them.

Recorded after she broke through an eight-month writer's block, McLachlan says the album's songs deal with "a lot of hard questions I had to ask myself, like what the hell I was doing, who the hell I was in all of this, starting to be famous and the whole music industry.

"It's a very strange journey, but an incredible one, too."

McLachlan says she tried to strip down both the lyrics and the music, making everything "just simple and more direct, less hiding behind veils or walls."

It was a grueling artistic exercise, but she says there was lots of support -- from her band, from record labels that didn't ask to hear anything before she was done, and from her drummer and new husband, Ash Sood.

"I don't think I could have gone to a lot of the places in myself I had to ... if I hadn't had this unconditional love behind me, supporting me," says McLachlan, who eloped with Sood earlier this year in Jamaica.

"I think my love for him became a whole lot stronger, and I was able to love him more because I was able to start liking myself again."

(Gary Graff is a nationally syndicated journalist who covers the music scene from Detroit. He also is editor of "Music-Hound Rock: The Essential Album Guide.")


16:13 07-10-97

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