Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lilith Fair: The Background

In the early nineties, powerful female artists arrived from every direction. Tori Amos introduced her music to the masses, and they fell at her feet, begging for more. Fiona Apple stormed onto the scene demanding attention with her all-too--relatable teenage angst and talent beyond her years. Alanis Morissette became the ultimate “scorned female artist” and sang about it—over, and over, and over, and over again. Sarah McLachlan climbed the pop charts with her haunting melodies and entrancing presence.

There was an undeniable movement; women wanted to be part of the music world. And they weren’t going to do it by exploiting their sexuality and prancing around on stage in booty shorts; instead, they would be in charge of their own music. All of them had something to say.

For each of these women, music was about giving their gender a voice. It wasn’t necessarily all about empowerment, but kicking ass and encouraging other females to do the same was present in their defiant attitudes and in their enduring tracks.

While these artists were able to garner quite a following of dedicated fans, the general music public was not prepared for this influx of female talent. The girls found it very difficult to book concerts, to piece together shows that were demonstrations of the feminine presence in music because venue managers did not want to book shows with more than one female artist on the program. They found that if they wanted to book a show at a venue where a female artist had recently performed, they would be turned away because it was too soon for another artist of “that type.” In short, female artists were a marginalized race in the universe of music, and they weren’t just going to sit back and allow that course to continue.

And thus, Lilith Fair was born. In 1996 Sarah McLachlan decided to take matters into her own hands and booked her own tour; a tour featuring herself, Paula Cole, Lisa Loeb, and Michelle McAdorey. It was a tour with exclusively female performers—and it was wildly successful! It was clear that there was a market for female artists, even if the commercial circle was unwilling to acknowledge it. And so McLachlan teamed up with two members of Nettwerk Music Group—Dan Fraser and Terry McBride—and Marty Diamond, a talent agent from New York, and took her success to a whole new level.

A touring music festival featuring only female solo artists and bands with female leads divided among three stages began touring the country. Over sixty female artists came together for the event. Some of them were already big names, some of them still working their way up to commercial success. Others were selected through local talent searches and had never before played for a crowd of more than one hundred people.

The energy was amazing because the purpose was clear—this wasn’t just a music movement, it was a feminist movement as well. Lilith Fair was there to prove that there were women who had a voice, women who had something meaningful to say, and more importantly that there were thousands if not millions of people who wanted to hear it. The first year, Lilith Fair had a grand profit of $16 million, a large portion of which went to women’s charities throughout North America. Naturally, with this wild success, Sarah McLachlan and her army of female musicians stormed back for another year. And another. It was the highest grossing touring festival, and the 16th highest grossing tour of all concert tours the year that it was started. The 1999 tour came to a close and Lilith Fair was over, forcing female music enthusiasts like myself to ponder why.

But fear not! After ten years, Lilith Fair has announced its return. That’s right, get ready for round two of “Girlapalooza”—coming to a city near you in summer 2010!

Emmery Brakke is a freshman in VPA. She can be reached at Stay tuned for further updates on this event!

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