My Lilith Road Diary – by Aliza Sherman

Monday, August 17, 1998 Buffalo, NY 8:00am I’ve landed in Buffalo with one hour’s sleep (worked late at the office, didn’t pack until last minute, don’t want to talk about it). Grey sky. Shiny silver grey, to be polite. Unless the morning sun burns away the ‘skyless clouds,’ we may be in for rain. I can take it, I’m in road-mode. I’m in the cab on my way to the venue at Darien Lakes, paper and pen in hand, feeling like a writer on assignment.

12:15pm Waiting in front of the Production Office for my laminate reminds me of my days in the music business, working for Metallica. Same business, different band. Sound check is starting in the background and a loud, booming “Check. Check.” reverberates through the field. The sun might be coming out.

2:10pm Had Burritos for lunch with a soggy chocolate chip cookie and weird-tasting iced tea. Saw Sarah (as in SARAH) walking around the busses earlier and wasn’t completely sure it was her, wearing a white cotton hat pulled down her head and a shape-clinging blue dress. Saw her again and could see her smile – familiar somehow. You sometimes get a flash of a thought when you see someone ‘famous’ like “hey, that person looks like someone who looks like Sarah McLachlan.” Strange. She has a soft, full, womanly shape, not slight as I expected. And an unselfconscious way of standing, comfortable in her own body.

3:30pm Village Stage Alison Pippitone and the Cash Cows were performing as the sun burned down from a blue sky, and I searched for a patch of shade to shield me as I watched. Jangly guitar, reverberating bass, country twang, rhythm and blues, discordant harmonies. The crowd cheered their local heroine who had made it to a stage at Lilith Fair.

3:55pm Village Stage Melanie Doane played a violin accompanied by a guitarist and drummer. I could hear her singing an ironic song called “Happy Homemaker” as I wandered over to the Tower Records booth where Alison Pippitone was signing CDs to try to arrange an interview.

4:20pm B Stage Caught last song in N’Dea Davenport’s set as she called out to the crowd to get them to sing along. I’m looking forward to catching more of her set in Milwaukee. The stages are set up on opposite sides of the field. Getting my exercise.

4:55pm B Stage Mary Lou Lord has a very 50s feel in her look and a very storyteller feeling in her songs, choosing music by the likes of Richard Thompson, Neil Young and Lucinda Williams. Her voice is clear and strong. She tells the audience that she used to perform on the streets of Boston and in subways around Harvard Square.

5:20pm Village Stage Jepp really belts it out, powerful wail over fuzzed out guitar. Intense, piercing and impressive. She came to Lilith via London via Minnesota and throws candy to the crowd – Hershey bars and Nestle’s Crunch.

5:45pm Liz Phair is joined by Sarah in a black dress and N’Dea during her set. The crowd cheers.

6:15pm The Wild Strawberries rouse the crowd over at the B Stage. This is their last show of the tour this year. They had also played Lilith last year. Lead chanteuse Roberta, with her red-red, spiky hair, had a commanding, self-assured voice and presence.

6:35pm The sky is a sweet blue, the sun is in the distance now, and a cool breeze is blowing. I run across the field and through the crowd to catch some of Emmylou Harris on the Main Stage. She is a woman with an elegant style, a strong spirit on stage, a gentle country twang, and a perfect pitch voice describe by one person as “smooth like listening to butter.” Halfway through the set, she thanked Liz Phair for “lending me her glitter. I’m feeling like a babe!” Later, she was joined by Paula Cole and the entertaining harmonies they created made goosebumps rise on my arms. “I hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am,” Emmylou called out to the crowd, “Then you’re probably in nirvana,” she said, pronouncing nirvana with the last part rhyming with Vanna White’s name. Yes, we are, assured the crowd.

7:50pm Paula Cole’s transformation from demure and endearingly awkward at the press conference to a sultry seductress in a red velvet long skirt and bare midriff surprises me. She moves around the stage in a dramatic, modern dance way and her sharp, rich-toned, precise singing voice is expressive and determined. The crowd screams in approval. She ends her set with “I Don’t Want to Wait,” then takes a bow with her entire band and tosses red roses into the audience.

9:00pm The lights go out, the crowd cheers, and I maneuver back through the crowd under an indigo sky to see Natalie Merchant appear in a pink, buttoned up suit and bare feet. I first saw her perform in 1985 and she stood, seemingly terrified, in the middle of the stage wearing a coat buttoned up to her neck and holding a book practically in front of her face the entire set. She didn’t move a muscle. Tonight, she danced across the stage, moving her body, her arms, and singing in her lilting Natalie voice. She is joined by N’Dea Davenport at one point and the two of them belt out soulful harmonies. Then she begins to take her hair down, literally, during another number, unraveling her braids and finally bending over to shake her hair into long, flowing tresses.

10:00pm Sarah has just taken the stage but a crowd has gathered around the TV in the catering tent to see President Clintons address to the nation. In between laughter (at the television), Sarah’s voice reaches into the tent with the music of “Sweet Surrender” swelling behind it and the crowd roaring. Eventually, I’m drawn toward the stage and catch Paula Cole joining Sarah and looking freshly showered with hair still wet. Fireworks are electrifying the sky in the amusement park behind the stage, giving a bright and celebratory feeling to her set. Paula wails, voice like an instrument, then leaves the stage after the song. Next, Emmylou Harris appears for a duet with Sarah on “Angel.” Chills start at my ears and run down my back and arms to my fingertips. Even when Sarah’s voice cracked, the audience cheered more loudly with encouragement. She can do no wrong.

11:00pm The finale brings all of the artists of the day from all three stages to the Main Stage. About a dozen women dance together, smile together and sing “What’s Going On?” together. Natalie dances like a slow-spinning top between the others, Alison and Jepp take a few minutes to get their courage up in the midst of all their idols, then lean into the microphone together to join in, Sarah brings Roberta forward to the mike but she smiles sheepishly and then disappears back behind the crowd on stage. Then the women form a Samba line, hands to shoulders or the hips of the woman in front of them, and dance off stage left. The crowd screams. The house lights go up. The crowd reluctantly settles down and gathers their things to leave. Euphoria sparkles through the air, brighter than the fireworks from the hour before.

12:10pm After a slice of cold pizza on the bus, I say goodnight and crawl into my bottom bunk. To some, this sleeping set-up might feel like a coffin. To me, it feels like a nest. I burrow in for the night, warm and exhausted.

8/19 Wednesday – Milwaukee, WI

11:45am Just arrived at the venue a little while ago from the hotel. Booths are being set up and a very cool breeze is blowing. I’m in search of the production office for my meal ticket and the catering tent to eat. Priorities. The venue is on the banks of Lake Michigan, and I wander into the stands. Behind me is an seemingly endless expanse of water, in front of me is the main stage. As I walk down the stands, I can see the production crew setting up the stage.

1:45pm Eating a vegetarian lunch and deciding what our schedule for the day will be, who we will interview, who films which act. Ate a lentil dish, a barley dish, a cucumber dish and a carrot dish. Vanessa from Nettmedia should be very happy today as she is a strict vegetarian. On the road, food becomes a focal point upon which all other actions and activities are based.

3:30pm Village Stage The audience is sitting back from the stage because there are tables with umbrellas set up. Framing Amy take the stage – Amy Pierce with two guitarists. She sings sweetly, but powerfully, with a soft vibrato in her voice. The melodies of their songs stay with me throughout the day.

3:55pm Village Stage Amanda Kravat takes the stage, with a fiery red tangle of curls and a long, lean body behind her acoustic guitar and an ever-present cigarette between her fingers, then her lips. She is accompanied by a keyboardist as she shouts and sings in her breathy, raspy voice. Her between-song banter is playful such as when she talked about the last time she played Milwaukee: She remembers playing on a pier and everyone began throwing fish. She told the audience today that they can throw fruit and vegetables, but to please not throw fish because she hates fish.

5:00pm B Stage Neko Case was already playing when I arrived and I was immediately impressed with her Janis Joplin-strong voice howling and careening over the crowd. She seemed to be shy, however, and spent most of the time on stage with her back to the audience or pacing the stage looking down at the ground. Her voice pulled you in regardless of her closed presence.

5:30pm Interviewed Sara Jepp of Jepp under the same trees as the previous interview, with Lake Michigan beyond us and a breeze blowing gently under the shade. She talked about her circuitous route to London, where she now lives, starting in Minneapolis, to Venice Beach, to New York City, back to Los Angeles to write screenplays (none of them produced), back to New York City where she worked in the horse stables at Central Park and met a guy at a party from London who expressed interest in hearing the songs she had been writing on the side. She ended up in London signed to Virgin Records two months later.

6:30pm Sara and I headed over to the B Stage to catch Mary Lou Lord’s set. The sun was settling behind the stage and Mary Lou appeared more relaxed than in her previous show, wearing blue jeans and a blue halter top. She took photographs of the crowd, explaining that she was pregnant and making a scrapbook for her baby. The crowd cheered appreciatively and Sara applauded and hooted loudly.

7:00pm Ran into the venue to see Joan Osborne on the main stage wearing a white, fuzzy, long sleeved, mini dress, black tights and black platform shoes with buckles. Her voice was at once husky and penetrating, soulful and expressive as she moved across the stage with an easy confidence. Had to leave her show early to catch Mary Lou to do an interview.

9:20pm The interview with Mary Lou ran longer than any we have done. We were fascinated by her views of music, of preserving a musical legacy and of giving generously to other artists. After the interview, I ran back to the venue to catch Natalie in full costume – a loud, puffy red skirt with multicolour stripes and red top, barefoot as usual.

Natalie dances across the stage like a child across an open field, twisting and turning her body in a fit of emotion, trance-like at one moment, a whirling dervish the next. Toward the end of her set, a large blue and yellow swing is lowered from the ceiling and she jumps on, swing off of the stage and over the heads of the people in the first few rows of the audience. Next, she is joined by Sarah who was wearing a magenta top lined in black fake fur and a long black skirt. Sarah took her turn to jump on the swing during their duet, then she jumped off and Natalie grabbed her hand then they ran offstage together.

10:00pm I move into one of the rows of chairs stage left as the crowd takes their feet and Sarah breaks into “Sweet Surrender.” When Paula Cole joins her for a song that she dedicates to all the teenagers in the audience, the teens in the audience scream in delight. Paula and Sarah dance together and their voices harmonize as if they were one. For “Icecream,” Ashe’s (sp) drumset is rolled toward the front of the stage, with him riding on it, and he proceeds to back Sarah up vocally as she strums her guitar. The first notes of “Building a Mystery” has everyone back on their feet. At the end, Sarah puts her hands together in prayer-like fashion and takes a bow to thank the audience who screams, whistles and applauds, knowing she’ll be right back.

Sure enough, she emerges for an encore, then she introduces all of the artists of the day for the grand finale. Everyone on stage gives Joan Osborne a hug to welcome her onto the tour.

Q&A with musician Sarah McLachlan

As many of you may know, several members of the our staff had the unique opportunity this past summer to tour with Lilith Fair (me included!). And while we were able to interview tons of performers, which you will see in the coming weeks, we had the chance to ask the grand poobah of Lilith herself, Sarah McLachlan, some of our most pressing questions. Enjoy!

When did music first enter your life? And what was the first record you bought?
I grew up with folk music. My mother turned me on to Joan Baez when I was aboutmy earliest memories are when I was 4. That was actually the reason I wanted to pick up an instrument, because I wanted to learn how to accompany myself and sing just like she did. And I guess the first record I bought would have been Queen, The Game.

I know you’ve been on tour all summer—what motivates you to keep going every day?
Music, the love of music and the community that has been created from this, the amazing friendships that I’ve made. It is very meaningful to me, on so many levels, and to be able to play in front of a really warm and receptive, respectful audience every night. It’s been really great as well to be able to perform with a lot of amazing musicians. And the bill is continually rotating, so with all these people leaving it’s sad, but with new people coming in, it’s great.

What do you notice is the biggest difference between the first Lilith and the second Lilith?
The biggest difference–I’m in a bubble with this whole thing so I’m not sure if I’m the best person to ask that question. I don’t know if I can be very objective–I think, more than anything, artists relations have improved from last year to this year. There are way more people playing each other’s sets and I think all of us, myself included, are a lot more confident about asking everybody and getting involved which is really, really fun for all of us. It keeps it interesting and unusual.

And for a very brief time you flirted with adding men to the act–what changed your mind?
As far as the men thing–when this whole thing started last year, I was thrust in the media spotlight and forced to justify this thing every step of the way, every day. And that became quite exhausting and I was in a real learning process, learning what to say and how to say it because the press would take it a certain way, and then, you know, mix it up just to make it fit their story. So I was thinking, “Oh God, maybe I should make this a little more egalitarian, maybe I should add men.” Yeah, early on it was an idea. Emilylou Harris, bless her heart, took me aside last year after one of the press conferences and said, “You know, it might not be my place to say this, but this is a beautiful thing that you’ve started and it’s so important. Just let it grow. It’s just a baby.” And I needed that support from somebody, whom I had a great love and admiration for, to come to me and say that. It just completely solidified and reiterated my initial belief in the whole thing.

One of things that you are doing with Lilith Fair is raising money for breast cancer research. Have you, personally, been touched, or any family or friends been touched by breast cancer? How did you choose that particular fund–the Breast Cancer Research Fund–to support?Well, we all have breasts. I’m one of the lucky ones. I know on the periphery one individual who has breast cancer who is actually a few years older than me–a friend I grew up when I was in elementary school who I hadn’t actually been in touch with for years. And that’s really the only person I know, personally. But I know that it’s a huge problem and it needs research, it needs funds.
There are so many different organizations out there that are so worthy that need money and this is just one of them that we believed in and really wanted to help support. And Biore, one of the sponsors for this tour, has had a long standing with breast cancer research as well. They suggested it and that’s one of the reasons why we became involved with it as well.

Why do you support charities?
Well, we’ve been doing it from the beginning, and me and the people involved with Lilith Fair believe that it’s a good thing for us to do. We gain so much from coming into every community. It is certainly in the way of spiritual enlightenment and in the way of monetary funds as well. This is a money-making venture, it’s a music festival, which can make or can lose a lot of money. We’ve been very successful and I just feel like it’s a good thing. It feels good to be able to give something back to the communities we go into.

You’ve made a real effort to help emerging artists. Have you considered providing more of a forum for veteran artists like Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez?
Yeah, we’ve asked a lot of those people. Actually, Joan Baez showed up in San Francisco. We’ve asked Joni again. Joni’s elusive, she is very non-committal, never actually said no, just never said yes. Bonnie Raitt was on, Emilylou Harris has been on.
Are you at all surprised by the success of this tour?
Not in the least. I knew from the very beginning this would be successful. We have to define success. My idea of success is the fact that we can get together a bunch of amazing women, amazing songwriters, amazing musicians and put on a great music festival that is diverse and wonderful. It was successful before we got started, for me, because we could do that. It was a very selfish thing and it became so many other amazing things as it moved along–and it still is–and those have been a lot of positive benefits.
“I’m going to be really sad when it’s over because it has been such an amazing experience.”

Last year was 37 dates, this year was 57 dates, how was that, increasing the amount of days. Any ideas about Lilith for next summer?
Yeah, we’re going back to 37 dates. I have the easiest job, but it is certainly starting to wear on me a bit. It’s amazingly fun and there’s so many amazing experiences that happen every day that make it all worthwhile. It’s harder on the crew who have been working 16 hours every day, sometimes in temperatures of over 100 degrees, and it gets really, really, really hard after a certain period time. We’ve had over twice as many artists as last year, which I think has been really, really amazing. It’s been quite a juggling act to make it all work. And I think we’re going to bring it back in a little more next year–into a manageable place–it’s just bursting at the seams a little bit. We have 10 shows left and people are getting ready to go home.
I have to say that even though, yes, I’m getting ready to go home, I’m going to be really sad when it’s over because it has been such an amazing experience. Like I said, every day, every week there’s a new artist coming in, so it’s always fresh–fresh faces, fresh music, fresh attitudes–it is continually rejuvenating for all of us. I’m going to be playing all 57 shows.

Looking out on the parking lot, the tons of women you see out there, the Village outside and all the socially-aware organizations with booths, there is more than music happening out here. What is it?
It’s a love fest. It’s a happening. It’s a music festival. It’s a great day of music, and there’s a lot of socially relevant issues and causes we support and we feel this is a great platform to give information to people if they choose it. We’re not stuffing it down anyone’s throats, it’s simply out there. The information is there if people want to go and get it. Again, these are things that I believe in, that Lilith believes in and that we really want to support, and this is a good platform for that.