The late '90s women's music festival was widely mocked, but the reboot could transcend the old jokes
This week, the first round of tour dates for Lilith Fair 2010 — a revival of the late ’90s women’s music festival — was announced, prompting those of us who were the target demo the first time to go, “Aw, cool.” And then, “Wait, but is it?”
Amanda Hess at the Sexist explains the feminist music lover’s dilemma:
On the one hand, it was great to see so many successful female musicians all sharing one stage — the original 1997 line-up included Sarah McLachlan, Meredith Brooks, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, Natalie Merchant, Joan Osborne, and Jewel. On the other hand, who the fuck wants to listen to that shit?
Hess notes that over the three years it existed, Lilith Fair did gather up some pretty cool acts (“Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Tegan and Sara, Liz Phair, and some group called Medieval Baebes, which has got to be awesome”), but its overall image was still a bunch of broomstick-skirted college students who talked about their periods too much going to see a bunch of white ladies you could hear in your dentist’s office. Which might, in fact, be why it only existed for three years. I am the type of person who likes to support female artists, and in the late ’90s, I was still in the habit of going to shows overrun by earnest, shitfaced 22-year-olds (mostly because I was one), but even I couldn’t muster the will to attend a Lilith Fair.
My friend Laura, however, went to the first one as a 17-year-old high school student and queer baby feminist growing up in a conservative town — and she loved it. But when I IM’ed her to ask for a quote on Lilith Fair as Positive Experience, the conversation went like this:
Laura: Oh man, OK. What’s the context, is it gonna be all kinds of people hating on it and then me?
Me: Um, not exactly that.
Even people who enjoyed Lilith Fair are wary of saying so in public! Nevertheless, Laura was kind enough to send me this e-mail:
As a teenage feminist who was the only out queer person in her school in the middle of the “New South,” I was thrilled by the idea of Lilith Fair — despite the vaguely hippie vibe, it felt like My People were finally coming to town. Of course, it helped that I already liked some of the major acts (Sarah McLachlan and the Indigo Girls were both on heavy rotation in my CD player), but what was really exciting was the side stage: Jill Sobule playing “Bitter!” Susanna Hoffs singing “Eternal Flame!” In a town where my classmates were pumped to go to Ozzfest and drink lots of Icehouse, Lilith Fair was a reminder that there was women-centered culture out there. Sure, it would never feature Tori Amos or Bjork, my true faves, but thousands of people singing along with Amy Ray, “The beautiful ladies walk right by, I never know what to say” felt pretty damn great at the time.
Laura also notes that “Honestly, part of it is that there was no way to be a cool feminist in 1997 without being a riot grrrl, which was already pretty much over. So the ‘it’s not cool’ thing always seemed like a red herring to me.”
And now I feel like the Grinch Who Stole Feminist Awakenings. If Lilith Fair 2010 offers a similar experience to young women, how could I mock it? Hell, 10 years later, they might be lining up far more diverse and less adult contemporaryish acts, for all I know — although Hess wonders if the first incarnation’s reputation will harm the new one’s chances for attracting talent. “The question isn’t whether Lilith Fair has got its pulse on 2010 musical tastes. The question is whether today’s most exciting female artists will even agree to play at Lilith Fair. Are we going to get Lady Gaga, or are we going to get Evanescence?”
Lady Gaga, if you’re listening, some little Laura out there needs you.
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