Where Ya Been? Lilith Fair Edition: Sarah McLachlan, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb

Women's tour played to millions, raised millions for charity, but many of its stars have since faded.

We couldn’t get enough of them. Their songs were our soundtrack, and we laughed, danced, cried and loved along with them. They flashed across our radio and TV burning brightly … but where have they been lately? As you’ll find out in this regular feature, sometimes the stories behind your favorite songs are more interesting than the hits themselves.

With the summer-festival scene dominated by mostly male-centric tours like Lollapalooza and the jammy H.O.R.D.E., the Lilith Fair was a breath of fresh, lavender-scented air. Founded in 1997 by Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan to combat what she saw as sexism in the radio and touring industries, the tour crisscrossed North America for three summers before folding up its tent.

With a lineup of established stars including Sheryl Crow, the Indigo Girls, Jewel, Emmylou Harris and Suzanne Vega, the first year’s outing was a success that led to two more years of tours with such well-known acts as Bonnie Raitt, Liz Phair, Natalie Merchant, Sinéad O’Connor, the Dixie Chicks, the Pretenders and Tracy Chapman. Plenty of emerging stars also got their first mainstream exposure on Lilith, including Fiona Apple, Missy Elliott, Nelly Furtado, Beth Orton and Dido.

The tour also featured many lesser-known acts whose names have faded in the ensuing years, such as Melky Sedeck (Wyclef Jean’s brother and sister), the Mediæval Bæbes, K’s Choice, Cibo Matto, Splashdown, Antigone Rising, Wild Strawberries, Holly McNarland, Leah Andreone and Luscious Jackson (see “Luscious Jackson Reunite — To Make Children’s Album” ). Then there are the artists you might not have known paid their dues on Lilith, like Monica, Mya, Deborah Cox, Bijou Phillips, Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah and Christina Aguilera.

During its run, Lilith played to more than 2 million people and raised in excess of $7 million for women’s causes, but what became of the big-name acts who were on the verge or huge during Lilith but have been flying under the radar since? Glad you asked.

Who: Sarah McLachlan

Her story: The tour’s founder had a string of hits in the 1990s with such soft-rock staples as “Possession,” “Building a Mystery,” “Sweet Surrender” and “Angel.” After the third Lilith in 1999, she decided to take a hiatus, during which her first child was born, eventually returning to the pop world in 2003 with Afterglow. Though still popular, McLachlan has not fully recaptured her early success in the second phase of her career.

What’s next?: McLachlan’s first holiday album, Wintersong, slated for release October 17, includes her version of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” Joni Mitchell’s “River” and the original title track.

Who: Meredith Brooks

Her story: In 1997, Brooks was taking off with her Alanis Morissette-style kiss-off “Bitch,” which helped her debut, Blurring the Edges, climb the charts and landed her a spot on Lilith. Though her second album, 1999′s Deconstruction, got decent reviews, it failed to live up to her first, and 2002′s Bad Bad One came and went without much notice. In the interim, Brooks tried her hand at producing, sitting behind the board for Jennifer Love Hewitt’s 2002 track “BareNaked” and co-writing and producing Hilary Duff’s Metamorphosis album. Brooks’ song “Shine,” from the album of the same name, became the theme song for the 2004 season of the “Dr. Phil” TV program.

What’s next?: Brooks is producing the debut by the first act signed to her Kissing Booth production company, 16-year-old Bec Hollcraft. According to Brooks’ Web site, the 2004 birth of her son led her to refocus her career. “It’s funny how trying to be the best mom I can be and feeling so happy about it has produced the most inspired music of my whole career,” Brooks said on her site about her latest project, a children’s record called If I Could Be …, which will be accompanied by a festival tour aimed at children.

Who: Paula Cole

Her story: This former Peter Gabriel backup vocalist broke onto the scene in 1994 with her spare singer/songwriter debut, Harbinger, sporting a cropped hairdo, combat boots and a nose ring. By the time she returned in 1996 with This Fire, though, she had ditched the androgynous look and scored a pair of big hits with “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and the inescapable “I Don’t Want to Wait,” which became the theme song for “Dawson’s Creek.” In 1997, she became the first woman to be nominated for a Grammy for Producer of the Year; she lost but did take home the Best New Artist trophy. After a few years off to raise her daughter, Cole returned in 1999 with the Paula Cole Band and released Amen.

What’s next?: A greatest-hits album called Postcards From East Oceanside was released in June.

Who: Lisa Loeb

Her story: For the most part, there are two things people remember about Dallas fizzy-pop singer Lisa Loeb: her signature cat-eye glasses and the fact that she became the first unsigned artist to top the American singles chart. Loeb did the latter with her signature hit “Stay,” from the 1994 soundtrack to the slacker flick “Reality Bites.” The smash single landed her a major-label deal, followed by a few more hits like “I Do” and “We Could Still Belong Together” from the soundtrack to “Legally Blonde.” After releasing two LPs in 2004 — the heart-on-sleeve The Way It Really Is and a children’s album called Catch the Moon — Loeb switched to television, appearing in the Food Network’s “Dweezil & Lisa” show with then-boyfriend Dweezil Zappa.

What’s next?: Loeb released a greatest-hits album in 2006 and starred in the E! Entertainment Television dating show “#1 Single” about entering the dating pool for the first time since college.

Who: Joan Osborne

Her story: Of all the singers on this list, curly-headed soul belter Osborne has had the most eclectic career path. The singer moved to New York in the early 1980s and formed the Womanly Hips label to release a live album and EP. She then signed to a major to release her second album, 1995′s Relish, which spawned the pop-oriented, spiritually ambiguous hit “One of Us” and earned eight Grammy nominations. The singer, who dabbled in blues and folk on the album, had a few more hits with “Right Hand Man” and “St. Teresa.” But her third album, the frequently delayed 2000 release Righteous Love, didn’t fare as well. Osborne, who studied the devotional Qawwali form of Indian singing with late legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, gained some serious cred with her gritty singing in the 2002 documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.” She took to the road with the famed Motown house band featured in the film, the Funk Brothers, and released an album of soul covers, How Sweet It Is, in 2002. She toured with former Grateful Dead members in their new band, the Dead, as a guest vocalist in 2003.

What’s next?: Osborne has recently played with Dead spinoff band Phil Lesh & Friends. She’s slated to release a new country/ Americana-flavored album called Pretty Little Stranger on November 14. It features contributions from such country stars as Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Sonny Landreth and Rodney Crowell.

Ever wonder what happened to Crazy Town? How about Snow? Ace of Base? Tell us which faded stars you’d like us to check up on, and you just might find them in a future edition of “Where Ya Been?” Send us your suggestions and we’ll get digging…

Past “Where Ya Been” Artist Profiles:

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