Funny Business At The Lilith Fair

As if hearty ticket sales, glowing reviews and cover stories on Time

and Entertainment Weekly weren't enough evidence of the Lilith

Fair's success, another palpable measure rested in the relaxed atmosphere

that pervaded the press conference before Tuesday's outing at the

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md.

Organizer and headliner Sarah McLachlan had very little explaining to do

about this inaugural staging of the woman-centered festival. Rather, she

filled the session by counting victories, giving thanks, and joking with

tour participants Joan Osborne, Abra Moore and Once Blue's Rebecca Martin.

Indeed, having long since proved the artistic and social merits of Lilith,

humor was the order of the day in Maryland. As tour newcomers Moore and

Martin discussed what they expected from Lilith, Osborne interrupted: "So

you guys haven't been inducted into the witches' coven yet?"

Osborne later

deadpanned to a local TV news reporter about the artists mud wrestling on

tour and was admonished by McLachlan, "Sshh, that's backstage."

The festival founder also affirmed her penchant for being just as gross as

any an adolescent male. Asked if she had tried pore-cleansing cosmetic

strips being handed free to fans by Lilith sponsor Biore, McLachlan replied,

"Yes I have. It takes all the nasties out of your nose."

Groans and

laughter rose from all around when the Canadian songstress described the

strip's visible results as "long tendrils, like stalactites."

Naturally, there was also some serious business to attend to. McLachlan presented a

check for $17,000 to Rachel's Women Center, a Washington, D.C. homeless

shelter. She also confirmed that the Lilith Fair will continue with her

participation next year, and will likely expand its lineup to also include

men. In addition, the songwriter said that tour management is working on

releasing a live CD to be culled from the tour ("We're gonna need a box set,"

said McLachlan only half kidding), and hopes to film several shows for a TV

or film documentary.

Osborne predicted more far reaching ramifications stemming from Lilith.

"The tour is really destroying the preconceived notion that you can't have

more than one woman on the same bill," Osborne said. "The success of this festival is

blowing that notion out of the water, and I think you're going to see a

little bit different way of structuring tours in the future."

If Tuesday's audience was any indication, bills focused on women will

certainly sell. Baltimore's Rick Henson, age 26, called the Lilith Fair

"Probably the best thing I've seen in a long time." He and friend Chris

McKenzie, 25, said they owned CDs by at least four of the participating

artists.

Nineteen-year-old Aimee Lundstrom of Bowie, Md. said that she would buy a

ticket for next year's festival contingent upon the strength of the acts

rather than their gender. "If the lineup's still good, I'll come," she

said. "It's really the type of music that I like. I hope that they

can add male performers that believe in female empowerment."

Lundstrom's friend Kim Harden, also 19, agreed. "We saw Tina Turner and

Cyndi Lauper [on the same bill]. We went to see both of them. It doesn't

matter to me whether they're women, as long as both of the groups are good."

Parents like Bernadette Tapman and Dennis Debus believe that the Lilith

lineup makes for good family entertainment. Both brought pre-adolescent

children to Tuesday's concert. "This is the first one I felt comfortable

taking my daughter to," said Tapman.

Perhaps the most satisfying element amid all the attention this festival

has received is that its bill truly is one of the strongest on the road.

Despite the fact that heavy-hitter Tracy Chapman has finished her stint on

the tour, the main stage at Merriweather offered up one engaging set after

another.

Fiona Apple and her "Spice Boys" got the show underway with an animated

early evening performance that included the hits "Shadowboxer" and "Sleep To Dream," as well as a

cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel." During several songs she stomped around

the stage to the band's rhythm, bending over and dropping her head down to

her waist, then bringing it back up with a great wash of her long hair.

Apple dramatically commanded her space, at one point taking shelter beneath

the piano, at others screaming and shouting though she was nowhere near a

microphone.

Osborne, complete with a sky-blue dye job, then hit the stage early for a

romp through her own Stones-y "Right Hand Man," that seemed appropriately

cut shorter than the tedious album version. In a set that featured several

new songs, the highlight was the older "St. Teresa." Here the overwhelming

bass and rim shots on the drum worked their way into a hypnotic pattern,

serving as an instrumental Rosary mantra over which Osborne prayed with her

lyrics.

It was Jewel, however, who stole Tuesday's show. After more than a year of

extensive touring, the Alaskan singer has matured significantly as a

performer on big stages. Whereas 14 months ago she joked nervously during

an opening slot in a summer shed, Jewel now rules that space confidently,

even (especially?) in front of a sold out crowd of 15,000. Moreover, she's

strengthened her arrangements. On "You Were Meant For Me," for example, an

organ and cello added warmth amid the song's melancholy, but in doing so

also accented the hurt inherent in the melody.

Of course, it was McLachlan's show to close, and she mixed hits from

Fumbling Toward Ecstasy ("Hold On," "Good Enough") with new material

from her recently released #2 album Surfacing. Though McLachlan's

soulful performance was not as enthralling as Jewel's, the crowd was

nonetheless thrilled to see the woman who had made the whole day possible.

"I'm proud to share the stage with these performers," McLachlan said--and

why shouldn't she be? She has created the one festival show that's an

overwhelming success in this summer's crowded tour market.

As McLachlan herself said earlier in the day, "If a tour like this wasn't

successful, I'd be deeply disappointed in humanity. I think the bill in

any given city is way, way too strong [to fail]."