Not Your Usual Divas: inside Lilth Fair

McLachlan talks about upcoming Lilith Fair

Although Lilith Fair was the most successful tour of last summer, tour organizer Sarah McLachlan says she decided to organize a second tour simply because she "had fun." Fun, and a sense of camaraderie were the general themes at the press conference to announce this year's Lilith lineup and itinerary. Joining McLachlan at Los Angeles' El Rey Theater were Lilith vets Shawn Colvin, Paula Cole, Meredith Brooks and Lisa Loeb, as well as rookies Liz Phair, Tracey Bonham, Rebekah, and Bonnie Raitt (who described herself as the tour's "den mother," adding that she was curious to see if the performers' menstrual cycles would synchronize).

This year, the tour will play fifty-seven dates in forty-seven cities, starting June 19 in Portland, Ore. and finishing up in Vancouver, BC on August 31. The tour will visit twenty new cities, and care was taken to ensure that no acts would return to the cities they played last year. Again, McLachlan will be the only act playing the entire tour.

Responding to criticisms that last year's lineup tended toward folky singer/songwriters, the acts booked this year are more eclectic, including rappers Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott, trip hop acts Morcheeba and Mono, R&B diva Erykah Badu and New York hipsters Luscious Jackson. The tour will also include Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls, Sinead O'Connor, Me'shell N'degeocello, Lauryn Hill, Beth Orton and Mary Lou Lord. McLachlan expressed some regret that for the second year, Lilith was unable to book Joni Mitchell. "She's an illusive, wonderful, Canadian artist," she said. "The invitation is always open."

The process of choosing the acts, McLachlan explained, was basically the same as last year: she asked the bands she wanted to hear. But after the success of last year, "it was easier to get people to take our calls; we had a track record of success." That track record also meant that Lilith is booked into some bigger venues this year -- in Los Angeles, the tour is booked into the 100,000-seat Rose Bowl, as opposed to 15,000-capacity Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. McLachlan isn't worried about the larger audiences: "the intimacy of Lilith comes from the interaction between the artist and the audience, not the size of the venue."

There will be more interaction between the acts this year, McLachlan promised. "I was much too shy last year," she said, "but this year, I'm going to be knocking on dressing room doors, getting people together."

Asked to comment on the opposite trajectories of Lilith and Lollapalooza, McLachlan said she felt that the other festival was smart to take a year off. "Sometimes it's best to take a breath and reconsider." As for Lilith's future, she said that while it's hard for her to schedule a week ahead, she and her manager, Marty Diamond, started Lilith with a three-year plan. "We're committed until 1999; we'll talk about the future after that."

As it did last year, Lilith Fair will present acts on three stages; but this year there is a twist. Talent shows, sponsored by Levi's, will be held in fourteen cities with the winner appearing on the Village Stage in their hometown. "Finding unknown talent is always a joy, and part of Lilith's mission," McLachlan said. It's a philosophy that also influenced the choices on the double-disc Lilith live album. "The main stage acts are necessary for sales," she said, "but it was just as important to me to have acts from the Second and Village stages on the album."