Behind the Scenes on the Lilith Tour

Heart, the Bangles and Colbie Caillat raised the roof in San Francisco.

By Erika Milvy
Lillith headliner Colbie Caillat in San Francisco on July 5.
Photograph: Photo by: David Bergman

In the late 1990s, much ado was made of Sarah McLachlan’s brazen, nearly heretical launch of Lilith Fair, the music festival featuring an all-female lineup. “Sarah McLachlan: Getting Even With the Guys” smirked one headline. But that was so last century. Fourteen years later, nary a hackle has been raised as this celebration of women in music, relaunched as Lilith 2010 (MORE is a sponsor), heads into the second month of its 23-city tour.

At the lively San Francisco concert on July 5, the mood was festive and not the least bit man-hating, as an audience of 10,000—largely women but with a healthy dose of men and children—revved up to watch headliners including McLachlan, Heart, Miranda Lambert and the Bangles. With more electric guitars than in the original Lilith and many performers wearing sexy, mile-high black boots, the “touchy-feely feminist vibe” that Newsweek described in 1996 was definitely toned down—even if attendees were flocking to the O.B. tent to snag their free tampon cases.

The crowd melded Lambert’s cowboy hat–wearing country-music fans with devotees of the “adult contemporary” genre that permeated the ’90s chick-music scene and veteran concertgoers exulting in ’70s and ’80s pop nostalgia. Meanwhile, most of the singers featured on the second stage weren’t born when pioneering rockers Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart first recorded songs like “Barracuda” and “Magic Man.” Some of them weren’t around even when the Bangles hit with “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Fifteen-year-old Chloe Chaidez, who fronts the band Kitten (her hardcore performance involved rolling around on the stage in face paint), was in kindergarten when the original Lilith performers were touring. And Grammy-winning headliner Colbie Caillat, who broke through via MySpace, was 12 when she attended the very first Lilith Fair.

This intergenerational baton-passing and cross-pollination are great aspects of the festival. But one of the biggest benefits for the touring musicians is the opportunity to bond with other female artists. Blake Hazard, the pony-tailed, Converse-wearing vocalist of the Submarines, said that she was looking forward to not having to "hang out in the girls’ room" to get her dose of woman power on the Lilith tour.

McLachlan told MORE that she revived the festival because she missed the sense of camaraderie and community on the road. In her trailer, rolling up her yoga mat, this mother of two admitted that until recently her Lilith nostalgia had been squelched by exhaustion. Now everyone’s kids are older—the newborn Erykah Badu was nursing during Lilith ’97 is now 13. Plus a number of the artists have new music for their fans: Laws of Illusion is McLachlan’s first album in seven years; Red Velvet Car is Heart’s first in six years; and the Bangles are back in the studio collaborating with Matthew Sweet.

Before Lilith, concert promoters wouldn’t put two women on the same bill; radio stations wouldn’t play two women back to back on the radio. “It was asinine,” said McLachlan. Ann Wilson recalled a time when “one female per hour” on the radio was the rule of thumb—“shocking, shocking stuff,” she said. She added that if she hadn’t had her sister in the band, she wouldn’t have been able to endure that climate. (Legend has it that the song “Barracuda” was inspired by her anger at a reporter who insinuated that the Wilson sisters were lesbian lovers.)

When Wilson came on stage at the Shoreline Amphitheater and belted out “Crazy on You” (she also played a mean flute), you couldn’t help but admire the band’s trailblazing toughness. One nearby 13-year-old fan, Adrianna, was wearing a Heart T-shirt; she said her dad had turned her on to the group.

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