After a 10-year hiatus, Lilith Fair is back.
The original festival — started in 1997 by Sarah McLachlan and friends — consisted solely of female solo artists or female-led bands. During its three-year existence, Lilith Fair was a top-grossing tour featuring acts such as Fiona Apple, Missy Elliott, Sinead O'Connor and Emmylou Harris. The festival ended in 1999.
The line-up for the 2010 incarnation of Lilith Fair was recently announced. Acts include Cat Power, Beth Orton, The Gossip, Heart, Erykah Badu, Indigo Girls, Janelle Monae, Ke$ha, La Roux, Lights, Loretta Lynn, Mary J. Blige, Metric, Miranda, Tegan and Sara and many more.
Not a bad bill.
But the question is: Do we need a Lilith Fair in 2010?
According to Billboard.com, women accounted for nearly half of the "20 music stars with the best performance on the Billboard 200 albums chart and the Hot 100 over the last 10 years." Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Destiny's Child, Britney Spears, Pink, Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey. If you count The Black Eyed Peas, of which Fergie is the most recognizable member, then women were equal to their male counterparts in terms of chart performance and staying power.
Part of the reason Sarah McLachlan started Lilith Fair in the first place is that she'd become frustrated with concert promoters and radio stations that refused to feature two female musicians in a row. But clearly, at least on Top 40 radio, that's no longer the case.
In addition to the aforementioned Billboard chart-toppers, countless other female-led bands or female solo artists are well-known, if not downright famous: M.I.A., Lady Gaga, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Feist, Charlotte Gainsbourg, St. Vincent, Carrie Underwood, Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Neko Case, Taylor Swift, Regina Spektor, and on and on. And that already-truncated list doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the more underground (and more exciting) girl bands or up-and-coming female artists. Plus, there are a lot more bands now with non-lead-singer female musicians. (If you want to read a great piece on women in music from 2000 to '09, check out Monitor Mix guest-blogger Tobi Vail's piece.)
The incredible Beyonce Knowles took things a step further. She's decided to choose an all-female touring band, and had this to say on the subject: "I wanted to get together a group of fierce, talented, hungry, beautiful women and form an all-girl band... I'm all about female empowerment; I'm all about pushing the envelope. I know it's my responsibility to do something different."
The fact is, even in 2010, Beyonce is doing something different.
As a side note, if you're about to ask the question, "Why an all-female band?" please stop yourself. I can practically guarantee that no man in a band has ever been asked the question, "Why did you choose only to have men in your band?"
But back to Lilith Fair. I do think, for the same reason I like the way Beyonce put together an all-female group, that a festival like Lilith Fair is important. Even if it doesn't hold the same urgency that it did 10 years ago, if nothing else, it acts as a reminder and a showcase for the sheer abundance and variety of female musicians. And, whereas most festivals pepper their lineups (either intentionally or not) with female singers and musicians, Lilith Fair will be unapologetically, undeniably female-centric. That fact alone will likely be inspiring for both the participants and the audience.
But do we need this festival? Maybe we don't. We definitely need amazing shows with lineups that reflect the fact that there are countless women musicians out there. And we need organizations like Seattle's School of Rock, which mixes up the female and male roles when their bands cover songs. The other day, I heard an 11-year-old girl in the program sing "Outshined" by Soundgarden. And I saw a mostly male Bikini Kill perform.
My main criticism of Lilith Fair is the same one I had a decade ago — and the reason my own band declined to play when we were asked. The Lilith Fair lineup tends to eschew the freakier, the louder and the more obscure. But, hey, they're including The Gossip this time around, and any lineup that includes Mary J. Blige and Loretta Lynn is worth seeing.
Lastly, Lilith Fair or no Lilith Fair, in 2010, it seems weird to have a show lineup that consists of 100 percent men, or that features only one female player. Right? Right.