Lilith Fair

Lilith Fair, the all-women music festival founded in the late 1990s by Sarah McLachlan, returned to St. Louis last night. And just like the first two times it came to town, my brother Phil and I–both big Sarah fans–were in attendance.

In 1997 and 1998 (the festival also toured in 1999, but didn’t come to St. Louis), Lilith Fair brought some great lineups to the main stage here: Tracy Bonham, Paula Cole, Fiona Apple and Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1997; Liz Phair, Des’ree, Bonnie Raitt and Natalie Merchant in 1998, with Sarah McLachlan closing both nights, of course. That ’98 show was amazing; even though I was living for Natalie’s and Sarah’s music in those days, Bonnie Raitt stole the show that night with an absolutely smokin’ set.

After 1999, though, Lilith Fair ceased touring. Too much work to pull it together, and McLachlan was starting to get into other things, like marriage and babies. It seemed the Lilith adventure was over, but we had fun while it lasted.

But in 2010, McLachlan revived it. She finally came out with a new CD, after a seven-year hiatus. And rather than just go out for a solo tour–that would be too easy, I guess–she put together another Lilith Fair tour.

(I know I’m understating the work involved here. At some point in the last couple of days, I read that a touring festival like this takes about two years of planning.)

The festival stopped in St. Louis at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (hereafter known in this blog by its original name, Riverport), just like the previous two visits here. The crowd last night was much, much smaller than before, a sign of the times, I’m afraid.

We arrived in time to see the last half of the set by a Canadian band called Metric. Kind of a hard-edged sound, with a lead singer who looked like she was about 16. Next up were the Court Yard Hounds, which is made up of Martie McGuire and Emily Robinson—two of the three Dixie Chicks—with a backing band. Even though they’re a little more country/bluegrass than my taste, they were excellent—definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

In between songs, Robinson was talking about how cool Lilith Fair is, and remarked, “Where else can you see Mary J. Blige perform right after Emmylou Harris?”


Harris followed the Court Yard Hounds. Phil’s a big fan and has seen her many times, but it was my first. She put on a decent show, but much lower-energy than the previous two acts. Not really my kind of music, though. And neither was Mary J. Blige’s, but in a completely different way. She took the stage with a loud, bombastic opening, and the crowd loved it, with most on their feet through her entire set. Blige surprised me with the U2 song One, followed by an even more surprising cover, Stairway to Heaven. Very interesting.

But the real reason for the night was Sarah McLachlan. She opened with a duet with Emmylou Harris singing Angel. That was followed by Building a Mystery, and an hour-long set drawn almost entirely from her last three albums. Her classic CD Fumbling Towards Ecstasy wasn’t touched until the end of the night. The new material sounds good — she did three songs from the new CD.

It had been a long time since I’d seen her, so I can’t say for sure, but I think her entire band was different. They sounded great, though, able to pull off her sometimes intricate songs with no problem. Sarah herself seemed very happy to be out touring again.

I guess my only complaint about the evening would be the sound setup; the mix for Blige’s set in particular was bass-heavy and bottomed out a lot, and even McLachlan’s mix was a little muddy at times, but then I’m used to absolutely pristine sound from her concerts.

All in all, it was a great night. We saw some great music, heard some people we never would have heard otherwise, and got some ideas for new CDs to buy. And hopefully this was a prelude to another Sarah McLachlan solo tour.


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