Lilith, lily white no more, finds balance in fans, too Diversity: Festival's better effort at presenting different skin colors and types of music is paying off big time this time around the country.

July 18, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Lilith Fair's public image may be tied to founder Sarah McLachlan, but the festival's heart lies with the secondary acts.

Since it started last year, Lilith -- which features McLachlan and a varying lineup of female artists spread across three stages -- has become a music-business behemoth. It was last summer's top-grossing festival and seems sure to do even better this year. Naturally, much of the roving festival's box-office success has to do with the big stars on the bill, a group that ranges from Natalie Merchant and the Indigo Girls (both of whom perform at the Merriweather Post Pavilion today and tomorrow) to Shawn Colvin and Joan Osborne.

Granted, the acts that play the B Stage and Village Stage don't get as much time and attention as the Main Stage stars. Typically, they play for 20 to 30 minutes (McLachlan, Merchant and the Indigos get a full 50-minute set), and may not be audible from every part of the compound.

Even so, these acts are an essential part of Lilith's allure, adding an element of diversity to the festival's musical menu.

"There are a lot of white chicks with acoustic guitars at Lilith," says Kacy Crowley, who performs on the Village and B Stages at five Lilith shows this summer, including the ones this weekend at Merriweather. "It makes sense to have a bill where there's a real common thread, stylistically, because you can obviously sell more tickets that way.

"But I think it's going to gradually open up. I mean, it seems like this year there's a little more diverse lineup."

Indeed there is. Where last year's Lilith lineups relied heavily on folk-oriented singer/songwriters, this year's artist roster runs the gamut from rap to rock. At Merriweather, attendees will hear hip-hop star Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, the British dance rock act Morcheeba, alternarocker Liz Phair, and young black rocker Rebekah. Elsewhere in the country, concerts will include rockers Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt, R&B stars Erykah Badu and N'Dea Davenport, country singers Martina McBride and Emmylou Harris, rapper Queen Latifah and African singer Angelique Kidjo, to name a few.

All of the acts feature women as the focus, vocally and creatively, and each was approved by McLachlan. So even though the concerts boast a wide array of music, there remains a sense of artistic consistency to each bill.

That made the show an easy recommendation for Skye Edwards of Morcheeba, which is playing the B Stage at Merriweather. "It was kind of like, 'Well, I'm not sure who's playing there, but it's the Lilith Fair. There's bound to be good music."

Still, not everyone involved in Lilith was immediately sold on the concept.

"I didn't go last year," admits Rebekah, who is playing the B Stage at Merriweather. "Because there they were trying to have this celebration of women in music, and all the women were white folk singers. I mean, that's not women in music, and that bothered me."

What Rebekah wanted was a lineup more in keeping with the myth of Lilith. Lilith was said to be Adam's first wife, but she didn't go along with the notion that a woman should be totally subservient to her husband. "She was very headstrong and independent, and he couldn't deal with her, so he cast her out," she explains.

Rebekah is happy that the Lilith Festival features artists who are equally headstrong and independent, who refuse to be held in by the limitations of musical pigeonholes -- including the one marked "Women's Music."

"I don't even think there's such a thing as women's music," she says. "There's music by women, and I personally think that if it's good, it appeals to everybody. It shouldn't only appeal to women, and we shouldn't assume that it only does." She laughs, and adds, "There are lots of guys in touch with their sensitive side."

Indeed, attendance at shows so far this summer has been quite balanced, gender-wise. "I thought that there'd be an overwhelming amount of women out there, but it was quite an equal number [of women and men] that were watching us," says Edwards of Morcheeba's first Lilith appearance, at Jones Beach in New York.

"It was really no different to a lot of the festivals that we've played."

The audiences at Lilith may look the same as other crowds from the stage, but they do seem to act differently. Crowley, for example, says she picked up new listeners simply by virtue of having played a couple of Lilith shows last year. "I've had lots of young girls show up at shows and say that they saw my name on the list of people who played last year," she says. "That's how they were introduced to me, even if they didn't see me at Lilith."

Lilith Fair

When: Today and Sunday. Gates open at 3 p.m., music starts at 3: 30 p.m. Concert ends by 11 p.m.

Who: In order of appearance: Dead Girls and Other Stories (today); Love Riot (Sunday); Emm Gryner; Holly McNarland; Rebekah; Kacy Crowley; Liz Phair; Morcheeba; Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott; Indigo Girls; Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion, off Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia

Tickets: $28.75 lawn (Sunday only; today's show sold out)

L Call: 410-481-6500 for tickets, 410-730-2424 for information

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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