A smiling Tracy Chapman is standing center stage at the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts, an outdoor theater near Boston. With guitar slung over her shoulder, her long dreadlocks covering part of her face, she begins singing the bluesy "Give Me One Reason."
Give me one reason to stay here, and I'll turn right back around
Because I don't want to leave you lonely, but you got to make me change my mind
Singing about love, relationships, and heartache is a common theme at the Lilith Fair, an all-female concert organized by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. Ms. Chapman is one of 51 women artists featured on the tour.
Paula Cole asks, "Where is my happy ending?" in "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"; Nina Persson of the Cardigans wonders what she could have done to make him stay in "Lovefool"; and Ms. McLachlan sings about betrayal in "Possession." Granted, the tunes are catchy, but women today are writing thoughtful lyrics that people can relate to. Because of this, women have risen to the top of the Billboard charts.
Neal Karlen, author of "Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock-and-Roll Band," says, "Not since the glory days of Motown in the late '60s have so many female voices been at the top of the pop charts, forcing onetime giants like R.E.M., U2, and Aerosmith to sag far below them."
Lilith has turned out to be the concert of the summer, with most of the venues filled to capacity. Entertainment Weekly's July 11 issue called Lilith this "Summer's Hot Ticket" and pictured Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne, Sheryl Crow, and McLachlan on its cover. Time magazine also called it "one of the most exciting musical events" of the summer.
"Putting on a festival of all women is unfortunately a bit new and a bit different," McLachlan said at a press conference at Great Woods. "But it was a really simple, humble idea. I wanted to create a sense of community in the music industry for women that I don't think has existed in the past."
Ms. Cole, who is riding high with her hit single "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" acknowledges that Lilith is a symbol of hope for women musicians.
"I am really proud of Sarah for putting this together," Cole says. "Lilith is really great music that happens to be by women. It does make a political feminist statement, and I am proud of that."
The rotating lineup (all 51 artists aren't performing every date) includes Victoria Williams, Ms. Crow, Cole, Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, and the Indigo Girls. Currently on tour are the Cardigans, Jewel, Juliana Hatfield, and Ms. Osborne.
Halfway through this 7-1/2-hour concert, young concertgoer Melissa Turner, walking around in Birkenstocks, a long flowing skirt, and a sleeveless white blouse, says she is pleased the Lilith Fair came together.
"There are so many cool musicians performing here today - I love them all," she says, as she looks at shiny rings and tie-dyed clothing for sale.
Every date showcases 10 artists performing on three different stages. The smaller stages were created to give up-and-coming artists a chance to tour with bigger-name acts. McLachlan says that 700 bands featuring women had applied for only 25 slots on these two stages to perform for just 20 minutes. (See story, right.)
Concert promoters had just about shut the door on an all-female bill, fearing low ticket sales. McLachlan herself experienced this when she wanted Cole to open for her a few years ago. Promoters told her that audiences wouldn't want to see two women on the same bill. This prompted McLachlan to organize Lilith, named after the mythical figure in Jewish folklore who considered herself an equal to Adam and existed before Eve.
"I think Lilith will open up people's eyes," McLachlan says. "The musical climate in the past three or four years has really changed and opened up for women, but we still have a very far way to go."
The atmosphere at the concert was laid-back and mellow, unusual for an outdoor show. And although Lilith is billed as "a celebration of women in music," all the women's acts had mostly men backing them up on drums, guitar, and bass - which shows that McLachlan isn't sending out any anti-male messages.
"I want [men] to enjoy the music just as I want women to. I want this to be a celebration of the fact that women finally have a strong voice and are being listened to and being respected for it."
But why has it taken so long for women to gain this recognition? "I think public demand has spoken loud and clear," McLachlan says. "For a long time, radio stations wouldn't play two women back to back. If [the radio stations] actually listened to what their audience was wanting, they would have caught on a lot more quickly."
While Lilith has been criticized for not including harder-edged acts such as Ani DiFranco, Garbage, or Bjork, McLachlan says they declined because they were working on albums, touring themselves, or just exhausted from performing. In the latest issue of Spin magazine, Ms. DiFranco says that "right away, by the name, you know they aren't pushing the envelope hard enough."
McLachlan, the only artist appearing on every date of this seven-week tour of 35 cities, ended the show with "Ice Cream" from her album "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy."
Your love is better than ice cream, better than anything else that I've tried ....
And it's a long way down ... to the place where we started from.
Two couples in the crowd begin swaying to the music, arms locked around each other, their voices raised with hers, sharing every word.
AUG. 1 Atlanta
Aug. 3 Houston
Aug. 4 Dallas
Aug. 6 Nashville
Aug. 7 Cincinnati
Aug. 8 Noblesville, Ind.
Aug. 9 Tinley Park, Ill.
Aug. 10 Columbus, Ohio
Aug. 12 Burgettstown, Pa.
Aug. 13 Scranton, Pa.
Aug. 15, 16 Toronto
Aug. 17 Montreal
Aug. 19 Milwaukee
Aug. 20 Shakopee, Minn.
Aug. 22 Calgary, AB
Aug. 24 Vancouver, BC
Source: Lilith Fair's Web site: www.lilithfair.com/