What Lilith has to do if it hopes to stay alive for next year…
One of the fondest memories of my teenage years was attending Lilith Fair.
At Jones Beach, NY about 12 years ago, I attended the festival in celebration of women in music. Lilith Fair couldn’t have been timed any better. At this time in 1998, women like Brandy, Madonna, Sarah McLachlan, Mariah Carey, and Shania Twain dominated the charts. Alternative and folksy female artists like Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, Jewel, and Alanis Morissette also proved to be a powerhouse during this time paving the way for more current artists like Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, and Michelle Branch. At the fair, I had the privilege of discovering artists like Antigone Rising, Sixpence None The Richer, and Heather Nova.
But perhaps the time of women wearing Birkenstocks and bopping to 4 Non Blondes has come and gone.
Amid a poor economic climate and struggling sales, Lilith Fair was forced to cancel the last leg of its tour and other poorly selling dates. Some media outlets are reporting that the tour is suffering from “embarrassingly low attendance.” Names like Norah Jones, Kelly Clarkson, The Go-Gos, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Sheryl Crow proved to be an initial draw but many of those artists were only performing in select regions and have since dropped out due to various reasons (in the case of Jones, Clarkson, The Go-Gos, and Rihanna). While it’s not unusual for acts to drop out of a tour this massive, it’s unfortunate many of them had to be some of the bigger names.
At this time, the pop music charts are dominated mostly by men and of the three women currently there (Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Lady Gaga), only one was originally booked to perform at Lilith (Ke$ha) — and even she was relegated to being a supporting act instead of a main headliner.
The appeal of Lilith Fair has always been discovering some of the smaller, lesser-known acts while being able to connect with familiar favorites. When familiar favorites aren’t available, the smaller acts suffer as well. So what does Lilith Fair need to revamp in the hopes of continuing this next year?
1. Obtain several current, big names for each city.
Sure, Sarah McLachlan is considered a big name , performs in each city, and is the largest reason people attend the tour, but let’s face it: Ms. McLachlan hasn’t had a Top 10 hit since Lilith Fair ended in the last decade. When people pay money for multiple acts, they want to see several acts they’re interested in. Booking artists like Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, or Miley Cyrus would draw in a mix of old and young, generating significant sales and, in turn, revenue. Upon the initial Lilith Fair lineup announcement, I was disappointed to discover that Sheryl Crow was only performing in Northwest America (Canada and US), Rihanna and Ke$ha were relegated to Salt Lake City, and Mary J. Blige was doing a Midwest circuit. The biggest name for the Philly area (apart from Ms. McLachlan) was Kelly Clarkson. For the NYC area (one of the largest music markets), no one on the lineup has a current Top 10 hit. That needs to be rectified for Lilith Fair to be successful next year.
2. Keep up with the diversity.
I’ll give Lilith Fair credit — it’s done an amazing job of getting acts spanning all races for the 2010 reboot and it needs to do it again. My only complaint from the original Lilith Fair was the lack of diversity in the lineup. Like Jessica Herman said in Slate’s “Why Do We Need Lilith Fair Anymore?”, the festival indeed felt like “a bunch of white chicks strumming their acoustic guitars.” For Lilith 2011, I’d like to see acts that draw a multiracial audience rather than just mostly white women. Lilith needs to continue reflecting the changing landscape among women in North America.
3. Make itself relevant again.
Possibly a restatement of #1 above but Lilith Fair in the 90s had the mission of breaking down barriers for women in music. In Sarah’s absence, women have indeed proven they can do just that. Twelve years later, the mission statement can’t be the same and the big draws of the 90s (eg, Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega) can’t continue to be relied upon now. What’s Lilith’s goal now? Simply celebrating female talent? Honoring legends and showcasing future acts? Whatever it is, Lilith needs to find its footing and make that clear.
2010 has proven to be a difficult concert sales climate with everyone from the Jonas Brothers to The Eagles cancelling shows. Perhaps Lilith Fair is simply a victim of a struggling music industry. But if it hopes to remain around next year, organizer McLachlan will have some serious tinkering to do.