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Woman Magazine, Autumn 1998

Defending Lilith Fair Ė Woman Power
by Kim Daynard

Lilith Fair may draw a different crowd than the Spice Girls, but itís still about woman power. Touring for its third year, Lilith Fair hit the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto on August 15 and 16 to the enjoyment of more than 32,000 predominantly female ticket holders. "Celebrating Women in Music," Lilith offered up an eclectic combination of highly recognizable and lesser-known women artists, including Liz Phair, Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant, Paula Cole, with Lilith pioneer and femme musician/recruiter Sarah McLachlan headlining the bill.

The roving day concert, which McLachlan says was her answer to what was a prevailing (pre-Lilith) industry notion that female-only line-ups donít sell tickets, hasnít always been an easy gig. In fact it, Lilith and McLachlan have both been targeted by a sort of backlash, right from the concertís origins. Whether perceived as too feminist, or not inclusive enough of racial and/or musical diversity, Sarah continues to be called upon to defend herself and her creation.

While, admittedly, Torontoís Aug. 15 show was, in McLachlanís own words, "a white bread show,", the criticism that Lilith does not incorporate varied musical cultures does not seem entirely fair. Other concerts in Lilithís tour have featured diverse acts such as Erykah Badu, MeíShell Ndegeocello, and Queen Latifah. And, because the concertís diversity has been dependent upon whether performers accept McLachanís invitation to participate, she is enthusiastic about the possibilities being created by the momentum of the tour. However, what acts Lilith Fair intends to incorporate into next yearís line-up remains unknown. McLachlan would not grant WOMAN (or Canadian media) an interview.

Having to defend Lilith Fair against the criticism of its female focus and what reviewer Ben Rayner (Toronto Star, Aug. 16) calls its "feminist baggage" has perhaps been the largest obstacle for McLachlan and supporters of the Fair. It seems the unabashed female camaraderie, both among the Lilith performers and the women who go to the concerts, has managed to make some people uncomfortable. Sarahís "Vulvapalooza" is about celebrating women in music and women in general, and because of this, and its success, McLachlan continues to be called upon to justify her and Lilithís motives.

One has to ask: Just what is it that is so threatening about an all-female concert? Could it be the Fairís connection to Lilith, the "first wife of Adam" after which the roving concert is named? The mythological Lilith, after all, was no little princess. According to the mythos, Lilith was created pre-Eve as a companion to Adam. However, as the legend goes, Lilith wouldnít stand for Adamís demands that she be the subordinate of the two. "When the time came for the two to tango," states Lilith Fair publicity material, "Adam insisted that Lilith do it his way. She refused, saying Ďwhy must I lie beneath you? We are both equal because we come from the same earth.í Adam got mad, Lilith took off, and, a few thousand years later, a festival was born."

Lilith, in short, did not take things lying down. Further investigation reveals she went to great lengths to make her point. She made the choice to flee paradise, and to suffer the death of 100 of her demon children, rather than return to Eden and submit to a man. Sexual equality was crucial to her.The Fairís connection to such a strong and dangerous mythological figure has no doubt alarmed those who would have women resume a missionary positionís place in society.

Perhaps there is an element of intimidation arising from the public comfort zone Lilith Fair creates for women. Much of the appeal of the concerts, easily detected at Torontoís venue, is that they allow many women to gather safely, express themselves, and participate in female empowerment. As Lilith performer Liz Phair commented at the pre-show conference: "Itís a powerful thing when you get all these women together and they make music." And it is a powerful thing. The concert makes women feel good about being women, providing examples of female success stories, and of women doing what they want to do despite any deterrents.

One of the concertís greatest contributions for women in the music business is it not only showcases many current female headliners, but it is also designed to give struggling female musicians a rare opportunity. Lilith Fair sponsors talent searches in various cities, and in the case of the Aug. 15 Toronto concert, local artist Ali Eisner got the chance to join more seasoned performers and participate in a truly unique event. From a Canadian cultural perspective, it is unfortunate the Fair doesnít include more Canadian cities in its tour (and talent searches), this year visiting only Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Lilith Fairís support of women is not exclusive to musicians. One dollar from each ticket sold goes toward helping womenís organizations in the tourís host cities. In Toronto, both Street Haven at the Crossroads and The Redwood Shelter received cheques for $15,000 each, presented by McLachlan prior to Saturdayís show. In addition, local business and sponsors are encouraged to make donations to womenís associations, with a commitment to bettering the health and futures of women across North America.

Lilith Fair celebrates women in music, but thatís not all it does. Lilith Fair celebrates women Ė their talent, their communities, their empowerment, and their potential Ė and thatís worth defending.

Kim Daynard is a Toronto-based freelance writer.


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