When Sarah McLachlan and her partners launched the Lilith
Fair in 1997, they set a male-dominated music industry on its ear by proving
that a bill containing multiple female acts could indeed sell tickets. Lots of
tickets. Lilith broke attendance records at many of the venues where shows were
staged that summer.
But it's a different world now. Summer concert bills are
suffering, stifled by a combination of bad economics and an industry that has
started to feed on itself. Poor sales have led promoters to offer ticket deals,
and now potential attendees know that they might be better off to wait to buy
tickets. Lilith Fair has been one of the major victims, canceling 11 of its
scheduled dates so far.
"We're going into a very tough climate. I don't think we necessarily knew that
was going to happen going in," McLachlan admitted in a recent interview. "I
don't know how we would have reacted differently. We're just trying really hard
to keep our ticket prices really low so lots of people have an opportunity to
come. Some people were complaining that there are $250 tickets. But 300 are
$250, and there are 9,000 that are $25. For 11 acts and all day of music,
that's a pretty good ticket price."
But McLachlan's trying to not worry. She said that, unlike its first
incarnation, the tour might not make a ton of money, but that's not her goal
"I just want to put on a really
good musical show," McLachlan said, talking from her Vancouver home. "It's
certainly not going to be, 'Oh, we're not selling enough tickets, we're going
to pull the plug.' We're not going to do that."
Asked how Lilith changed the game for women in music, McLachlan responded, "Is
there still inequality? Yes. Is it perhaps a little less of an issue? Maybe,
depending on the kind of music that you choose to make. It comes down to the
individual. And what kind of music they create."
She said she still sees younger artists powered by "a big male marketing
machine." But others are taking power into their own hands, creating the music
they want to make on their own terms.
McLachlan, who tours only in the summer, said it just seemed
like the right time to bring Lilith back.
"I've been relatively quiet for quite a long while," she said. "I haven't
toured with a band for a long time. To me, that's where I shine. I love touring
live. I'm very grateful to be able to get this record out and have a big tour
and be able to be part of a community again as well. I remember what I love best
about Lilith was that sense of community that we created.
Life on the road can be really isolating for artists. Aside from their own
bands, they don't often get to interact with other musicians, either
professionally or, McLachlan said, "as human beings."
"The idea that we get to hang out together to play together and learn from each
other, it was incredibly inspiring to be part of that sisterhood, and I think
it was beneficial for us as artists. I think it was beneficial for the audience
as well," she says. "We all got to be part of something that became bigger than
ourselves. It was a happening; it wasn't just a music show. There was a lot
more to it."
That sisterhood may mean even more to McLachlan now. During the first round of
Liliths, she fell in love with her drummer. They married and had two children
– and have now divorced. At 40, she found herself facing life as the
single mother of two young children. That experience, of course, provided
inspiration for many of the intensely personal songs on her new album.
"I had no idea what kind of record I was going to write; I never do," she said.
"I don't start out with any preconceived notions. I just write what comes out."
Lilith remains attentive to issues of social justice, notwithstanding the inclusion
of a crisis pregnancy center in an online poll to determine which
Indianapolis-area non-profit organization would receive donations from this
year's Lilith Fair. (The pregnancy center was removed from the Indianapolis
list — and from polls for local non-profits in other cities where Lilith
was schedule to stop — after protests by pro-choice groups and media
coverage in outlets including NUVO).
A dollar from each ticket will again go to local women's
shelters, and this time around, corporate sponsors are matching donations.
McLachlan is also partnering with the American Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals, which is giving away tickets to animal welfare activists
nominated for their efforts in various communities.
That component is important to McLachlan. It's also why the Phoenix date was
canceled. Like other artists, she opposes that state's proposed legislation
regarding illegal immigration.
But amid all the social responsibility, she also intends to have a lot of fun.
After the messy divorce, she said, "It's nice to be back in the world and
feeling good about myself."