In the 90s, musicians shook up the music scene with the Lilith Fair. Of course, many great touring music festivals got their start during that time such as Lollapalooza, Coachella, and The Warped Tour.
But Lilith Fair was the first music festival celebrating women in rock. In those days, however, music industry giants said it couldn’t be done.
We decided to look into why so many people doubted Lilith Fair could succeed. We’ll also discover the men and women who proved them wrong.
Let’s check it out!
About Lilith Fair
Lilith Fair was a music festival centered around an all-female lineup of artists. Men joined the stage, but only if they were backing a female singer. The goal was to give women the same shot at lucrative touring gigs as men. And it was a hit.
The first fair occurred during the summer of 1997, grossing more than any touring festival of that time. It even beat Lollapalooza! Lilith Fair did two more summer tours in 1998 and 1999. Several musicians returned for Lilith Fair 2010. But the national recession damped the tours’ reception.
Lilith Fair gave hundreds of artists such as Sheryl Crow, Milly Elliot, Emmylou Harris, and Queen Latifa a platform to reach new audiences. On the flip side, musicians like Beth Orton, Christina Aguilera, and Tegan and Sara gained more followers from playing a short set on the roster of small-stage artists.
But one of the greatest things about Lilith Fair were the vendors and organizations involved. Concert booths ranged from vegan hot dog stands to Planned Parenthood tents. It was a safe space for concert-goers to talk about anything from politics to being a mom. That kind of scene was rare on such a big scale. In addition, Lilith Fair raised over $10 million in charity.
Who Founded Lilith Fair?
Singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan co-founded Lilith Fair with Dan Fraser and Terry McBride from Nettwerk Music Group. McBride and Fraser were initially a bit reluctant, given the music industry’s boys’ club history. But they believed in McLachlan, and bucking the system felt like a great idea.
Sarah McLachlan is a Canadian musician best known for her late 90s singles Building A Mystery and Angel. Her 1995 song I Will Remember You won her a second Grammy after its appearance in The Brothers McMullen movie. McLachlan released the single multiple times, both as a remix and live version.
The singer made it big in America, but in Canada, she’s unmatched. With 26 Juno Awards for her musicianship, the Canadian Governor appointed her as an Officer of the Order of Canada. This is no small feat. McLachlan received this high honor because of her charity work, Lilith Fair, and exceptional musical talent.
How Did Lilith Fair Change the Music Industry?
Female pop groups and solo artists boomed in the 90s. The range went from Fiona Apple to Courtney Love. But oddly, industry executives rarely put two women artists on the same bill. Radio station deejays thought playing two female voices back to back would kill ratings. The music industry was a man’s world.
But Lilith Fair changed everything. At least for a while. Sarah McLachlan faced an uphill battle in convincing her male peers that her all-female fest would sell. But as we know, it did. The 1997 lineup showcased 69 woman-fronted bands in 37 gigs. By the following year, band numbers were over 100, with 57 North American dates.
According to Time Magazine, macho was out, and empathy was in.
Lilith Fair changed the music industry by changing attitudes about what could be successful. Record companies and music managers finally began providing the infrastructure women artists needed to thrive. And although we have a long way to go regarding equality for female musicians, Lilith Fair was the kickstart we needed.
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Who Was Lilith Fair Named After?
Lilith is a mysterious biblical figure in the Bible’s Old Testament. The first biblical book, the Jewish Book of Genesis, says God created man and woman. But Adam, the first man, didn’t like his first wife, Lilith, so God gave him Eve.
Much debate exists over who Lilith is because Genesis includes a conflicting account of creation, where God made Adam and Eve only. Consequently, the lore of Lilith changed over time. Scripture says Adam didn’t like her because she wanted to be treated as his equal.
During medieval times, Lilith’s portrayal was as a demon or even a vampire. Some biblical interpretations say she was a succubus. And the negativity didn’t stop there. You can find references in art, like stained glass cathedral windows showing Lilith disguised as a snake.
In total contrast to these misogynistic retellings, many people view Lilith as a figure of autonomy. She’s a self-assured woman, cast out because she refused to be subservient. It’s no wonder Lilith Fair was named after this controversial yet powerful female figure.
What Is Sarah McLachlan Doing Now?
Sarah McLachlan has been touring regularly since the fair days. In 2002, she founded a music school called the Sarah McLachlan School of Music. At-risk children of all ages can take courses online or in person. There’s even a cohort for the silver set aged 55 and up.
Also, a new album is in the works. But, according to an interview from The Press Democrat, it may be her last. Not because she no longer wants to write, but because she’s not sure albums are a thing anymore. Releasing a single here and there is what the online age brought us. But that’s ok; 21 albums is plenty for one artist to release.
A Necessary Change in the Music Industry
Lilith Fair was one of the most successful touring music festivals of the 90s. Hundreds of female artists gained exposure to new audiences. And maverick Sarah McLachlan made it all happen. She bucked the system and refused to believe that an all-female festival couldn’t generate high revenue.
The popular festival changed perspectives in the music industry and gave women a leg up. Remembering its impact may help inspire a more inclusive pop culture today.
Did you attend Lilith Fair? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.