Why is it that as we grow older and stronger/ The road signs point us adrift and make us afraid/ Saying ‘You never can win,’ ‘Watch your back,’ ‘Where's your husband?’ / Oh I don't like the signs that the sign makers made.
Dar Williams was just 25 years old when she wrote those lyrics for her song “You’re Aging Well,” an examination of growing older and the power of female mentors. Six studio albums and 19 years later, Williams continues to write and perform smart, soulful music for her devoted fan base. On September 14, she will embark on a two-week co-headlining tour with fellow powerhouse Joan Osbourne. Williams recently spoke to MORE:
MORE: You and Joan Osbourne both performed on the inaugural Lilith Fair concert tour in 1997. What are your memories of that time?
Dar Williams: I loved every minute of it. I think it was everything it set out to be. At that time, radio stations wouldn’t play women back to back because [radio stations believed] women in general sound alike—which somehow they didn’t think was true of Tom Petty and Don Henley. Lilith Fair started to dispel that myth. Although ... if you listen to the radio today, you’ll still hear a woman once an hour, every 12 songs.
MORE: It must have been inspirational having all those great female artists around.
DW: Sarah [McLachlan, founder of Lilith Fair] was very generous and sisterly to the other artists. She must have felt exhausted by all of it but, because it was supposed to be about this community of women, it functioned that way. I met a lot of really great women. People like the Indigo Girls really created a sense of community and I remember Pat Benatar showing up and saying ‘I’m just so thrilled to be a part of this.’ And people looking at her and saying, ‘You are responsible for this.’
MORE: Do you think that time, around the first Lilith Fair, seemed like a more promising moment for women in music?
DW: I think that in terms of an over-the-top, slightly promiscuous, highly experimental decade, the 90s were awesome and great for women because everybody was experimenting and there was freedom to do that. The climate in which Lilith Fair happened, women were starting to have more money and they were able to say, ‘I’d like to go to this concert. Instead of seeing Rambo, I want to go see Melissa Etheridge.’ I think the world continues to be better for that decade because of all the loosening that happened.
MORE: Early in your career, you opened for Joan Baez on tour. What did your relationship with her mean to you?
DW: I think it really defined my path. Joan was the big sister that you dream of having. She was 100 percent supportive: fun, funny, and completely politically engaged and yet also a big shopper. Once the whole band was in her hotel room and I left my shoes in there and the next morning I found a note in my shoe saying, 'Darling, you need new shoes. Otherwise, you’re perfect.'
She was quietly helping me get more excited about the more sparkly aspects of being a performer. At that time, I felt guilty shopping retail and felt my entire wardrobe should just be hand-me-downs. I was putting myself out there and hiding myself at the same time. I think Joan said, 'Let it shine' and that’s a really important thing.
MORE: Have you mentored younger artists?
DW: I hope so. When I meet artists I believe in, I really love to witness for them what I see happening. I think it’s just really important to say, ‘I see the way you’re connecting with young girls or older folks who are still trying to find meaningful songwriters.’ I always hope I can be sort of like a bicycle pump for any sort of short-term flat tire. The great news is that the wheel always turns and everything comes around. Everything comes around. And we all need that kind of encouragement not just to start in the world, but to keep going.