In Defense Of Lilith Fair

In 1997, you couldn’t have paid me to go to Lilith Fair. Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, the Indigo Girls—all undeniably talented, but not even slightly to my taste. What was up with all the emo singer/songwriters? And, ugh, were they really using an image of a naked woman with a flower growing out of her head as their logo? No, that summer I was too excited to see Hole, Devo, and Beck at Lollapalooza to ever give the hippie dippiness of Lilith Fair a chance. Ditto for every summer until the concept of the all-female music festival fizzled out in 1999.

But then this year, Sarah McLachlan announced a rebooted Lilith Fair. The concept was the same but the lineup was truly off the hook, spanning a huge number of genres, ages, tastes, and aesthetics. For the top 40 lover, there’s Rihanna and Ke$ha. For indie rockers, there’s the Gossip, Metric, and Tegan and Sara. On the R&B tip, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, and Erykah Badu. Not to mention my personal ’80s favorite—The Bangles. The Lilith Fair tour kicked off on June 27 to great initial reviews. But then it was announced a few days later that 10 dates were being canceled. “We are in the midst of one of the most challenging summer concert seasons with many tours being canceled outright,” says Lilith co-founder Terry McBride. “Everyone involved with the tour would like to apologize to the fans and artists scheduled to play in these markets, and express appreciation for all the support for the festival’s return.”

Ever since the cancellations, the tour has been taking a lot of flack. Not to mention that days before, Jessica Herman of Slate Double X wrote an essay called “Why Do We Need Lilith Fair Anymore?” She has a point—many of the artists on the bill are doing awesome on their own, regardless of gender. So why make gender an issue?

But still, I argue that we do need Lilith Fair. I say this for the same reason I went to a women’s college and the same reason I have always loved working at women’s magazines and websites—something special happens when talented women get together to listen to and support each other. Yes, many female musicians are kicking ass. But the music industry is still notoriously hard on women. It’s more difficult for female musicians to get label attention, radio play, and book big shows—well, unless they look great in booty shorts.

The point of Lilith Fair to me is about the interplay of all these awesome women. Yes, almost all of these artists would be on tour this summer if it weren’t for Lilith. But they’d most likely be on the road with lots dudes. I’m curious to see who or what these female musicians will inspire when they get to meet each other, listen backstage, and play on the same bill. Perhaps it will inspire a lady music boomlet?

And hey, if there’s a summer music festival with more women’s restrooms, I’m not gonna complain.