Lilith Fair in L.A. with Sarah McLachlan, Miranda Lambert, Jenni Rivera, Emmylou Harris, and more: EW is on the scene!

sarah_mcLachlanDespite my best efforts, it was awfully hard to walk into Lilith Fair on Saturday with an open mind. I was initially jazzed for this summer’s return of the “celebration of women in music,” but then the underwhelming day-to-day lineups got announced and the show dates started to get cancelled and some big-ticket artists decided to drop out, and by the time Lilith rolled into Irvine, Calif.’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, it felt a little bit like attending the funeral of something that wasn’t quite dead. But festival co-founder Terry McBride asked us critics to check out Lilith for ourselves, and “then see if you want to criticize it afterwards.” So off to Irvine I went, through the Lilith looking glass on a beautiful, sunny, SoCal day. What did I find there, between sets from Sarah McLachlan, Miranda Lambert, local fave Jenni Rivera, Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, and ever so many more? Hmm. You mean besides the free tampons?

If I happened to be a user of o.b.’s line of feminine protection, I certainly could have gotten my money’s worth. I could have loaded handfuls of tampons and pads into a free Chevrolet tote bag, then filled out a survey to score a $5 Starbucks gift card. I could have layered in a few dozen snack-size Luna Bars, and washed them down with endless amounts of Crystal Light in my Lilith-branded Nalgene bottle while sitting in the shade from the ABC Music Lounge or the Yamaha gear tent. If the shade wasn’t enough, I could have swiped on some free Degree antiperspirant, or smoked a pack of free Camels. And if somehow I managed to cut through all the swag and merchandising, somewhere in a small, underattended corner of the field, I could have chatted with someone about the Downtown Women’s Center, a local shelter for homeless women that would receive $1 from every ticket sold in Irvine.

In the midst of the corporate carnival, though, there were female artists singing, in an efficient stage-toggling system that enabled fans to catch every set on the bill simply by walking a few feet across the Verizon Wireless pavilion. Jes Hudak, a cute Katy Perry lookalike at a keyboard, sang sweet, TV ready songs with feel-good lyrics; Susan Justice, a tiny African-American girl strapped into a giant guitar, sang a song titled for “one of my musical heroes, Bob Dylan.” Molly Jenson, a flame-haired acoustic type with a fashionably quirky voice, covered Ryan Adams’ “When the Stars Go Blue” and perked up the lazy afternoon with the kind of quick wit you only hone after playing for lots of audiences who couldn’t really care less who you are. In front of her stage, a pair of women danced drunkenly, stealing most of Jenson’s thunder; with a few well-timed barbs, she easily stole it back. The crowd — mostly ladies, with a healthy sampling of husbands and boyfriends, and at least one group of men who said they were there for “the ratio” — sat in the grass. The occasional kid ran by. I wondered why a “celebration of women in music” had no day-care or Kidzapalooza-style option for families. I looked around for pre-teen girls who might grow up to become the next Colbie Caillat, and didn’t see many.

The toggled pace of afternoon Lilith wasn’t always welcome: Adorable husband-and-wife team The Weepies brought their three-year-old son on stage during a too-short set of folk-rock numbers, including new songs like “I Was Made for Sunny Days” that made me long for a college quad to hang out on. But just as the crowd was settling into the Weepies’ good-natured pace, it was time to walk the other direction for Elizaveta, whose Regina Spektor + Tori Amos + Yma Sumac formula equalled a bit of torture to these ears. “This next song is about waiting,” she melodramatically intoned at one point, and I think I sprained my eyes, so hard did they roll. The drunk women were back up and dancing for this set, too; Elizaveta was neither as amused nor as amusing about them as Ms. Jenson. By the time Marina and the Diamonds closed out the small stages with a slightly sluggish, sun-soaked attack of tunes like “Are You Satisfied” and “I Am Not a Robot,” it was high time to enter the amphitheater itself and settle in for the headliners.

This is where Lilith’s attendance woes became most apparent: the 16,000+ capacity venue was about an eighth of the way full when Brandi Carlile, a first-round Lilith attendee who seemed a little in awe of her surroundings, took the stage. “I never used to show up to see the opener until I became one,” she said by way of thanks, then slung her electric guitar over her bare shoulders for songwriter-rock nuggets like “The Story.” She tossed a pick into the front rows with panache; women scrambled for it like it was a bouquet. A cover of “Jackson,” ably handled by her mostly-male band, melded into a powerful take on “Folsom Prison Blues,” complete with the comparatively ladylike addition of a cello solo. Then Carlile closed with “Pride and Joy,” her supremely confident, gimmick-free voice throaty and clear. Again, I wanted more.

Emmylou Harris matched her shoes to her silver hair, and played a somewhat perfunctory set including “Orphan Girl,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” and “Red Dirt Girl.”  I love Harris and her quavering voice, but I couldn’t really fault her for seeming disconnected: The crowd seemed not at all interested in the legend singing before them, and I wondered what Harris saw when she looked out from beneath her wise bangs, and how different it looked from those first Fairs. Behind me, a group of very loud women bitched about the ticket prices. “Not to disregard that,” one said, pointing at Emmylou, “but I paid for a show.” These were not the only complainers I encountered over the course of the day. It seemed many in attendance had paid up to $250 for their tickets and were displeased by both the lineup — where was Erykah Badu, they wondered; where was Norah Jones? — and the fact that LiveNation employees were offering $10 “upgrades” to orchestra seats when we walked through the gates. This meant that folks who’d spent, say, $50 for an upper loge seat were now sitting in better locations than the aforementioned $250-spenders. Part of me had no pity for those who’d shelled out big — check the website to see who’s playing in your city, folks! the internet is your friend! — but part of me felt like 1) no concert should be $250, ever, and 2) boy is it a slap in the face to hand out better seats for less money on site. By the time Emmylou and her all-male band wrapped up with gorgeous acapella hymn “Calling My Children Home,” the grumbling of the fans — in seats, in the bathroom line, in the smoking corners — was kind of drowning out the music.

Jenni Rivera was a sight to see, though, and as the first Mexican regional artist to play Lilith Fair, she provided the evening’s biggest (and most thoroughly welcome) dose of “WTF?” Backed by 10 male mariachis in traditional garb, the Long Beach native walked out in a low cut deep purple gown, with long-trained flamenco skirt and exquisite gold brocade. A golden scarf was wrapped across her shoulders and around both wrists. Her hair looked ready for prom. She mixed traditional songs en español like “Cielito Lindo” and “Besame Mucho” with American jukebox standards en ingles like “Angel Baby” and “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” and those of us in the crowd who weren’t massive Rivera fans — and I’d estimate a good quarter of those present were massive Rivera fans, in bedazzled La Señora ballcaps — could only stare in wonder at her stage presence and showmanship and realize how little we actually know about what people we don’t know listen to in their cars. Rivera was, in a word, refreshing. She also handed out tequila to the front row.

Thus, Miranda Lambert could not have arrived at a better time. With the front row now drunk, and the rest of the crowd — maybe a little over half capacity now — awfully sleepy from the day of slow, sincere songs, the Texas shotgun lover strode on stage with her all-male band and slammed into “Kerosene,” the best song anyone has ever accidentally stolen much of from Steve Earle. She had more people on their feet than I’d seen all afternoon. Lambert used some of her canned banter and worked close to her standard set list — “Only Prettier,” “Heart Like Mine,” “House That Built Me,” the Faces’ “Stay With Me” — but threw in Lilith bonus tracks: “Easy From Now On” went out to Emmylou Harris (who’d recorded it nearly 30 years before Lambert put it on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and Miranda brought out new Lilith bestie Brandi Carlile for the best number of the night, a passionate duet on Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” Two women singing those lyrics in perfect harmony while grinning into each others’ eyes? A Lilith dream come true on every level.

Note to future headliners: If you need someone to pick up a lazy crowd for ya, might I suggest Lambert? After her awesome punk cover of “That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round” and a hardcore two-fer of “White Liar” and “Gunpowder and Lead,” the place was up and at ‘em for McLachlan and her mostly-male band. I’m not sure any of us really wanted to sit back down — there had been soooo much sitting. And that’s why we stood through “Angel,” which is not a traditionally peppy song, even if Emmylou Harris takes a verse. We danced like fools to “Building a Mystery” and swayed like dorks to “I Will Remember You.” We accepted odd disco-backbeat versions of “Sweet Surrender” and “Possession” as though they were ABBA songs, and we practically exploded with glee for an encore singalong of “Ice Cream.” We even hung in there for the handful of new tracks McLachlan “indulged” in: “Loving You Is Easy,” “Out of Tune,” “Forgiveness.” None were particularly memorable, but dude! She played “Adia”! Except for the new numbers — and “World On Fire,” which she introduced with the night’s only platitudes about “sisterhood” — I knew every song McLachlan played. I haven’t bought a Sarah McLachlan album since 1998.

The finale was a group-sing of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” featuring most of the acts from the day — sadly minus Rivera and her mariachis, happily plus a vocal line from McLachlan’s super-hot chick bassist, Butterfly Boucher — and I spent it considering what Lilith 2.0 amounted to, when it was all sung and done. Walking out with the half-sized crowd, I realized: It’s a Sarah McLachlan concert. Yes, there are 10 opening acts. Yes, McLachlan only plays for an hour. But she played all her hits, and she played them well, and she got to plug her new album, and we all went home feeling nostalgic and happy in the way the last Bryan Adams/Def Leppard double bill I saw made me feel nostalgic and happy. And on some level, that’s okay. But while on the Lilith grounds, I wouldn’t say I felt like part of a “sisterhood.” I don’t necessarily think I saw the very best “celebration of women in music” available in today’s culture. I would not have paid $250 for a ticket. It was merely a nice day in a friendly setting with some talented ladies and some great songs. The last round of Lilith helped define a generation, but except for that Lambert/Carlile take on “Crazy,” I likely won’t remember this go-round much past next Thursday.

Sigh. I know. Women. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t placate ‘em with free tampons, right? Anyway. Mixers! Who’s been to Lilith so far this summer? What did you think?

Comments (56 total) Add your comment
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  • JW

    That does not sound like my type of show. Too much estrogen for me and I’m a female. Didn’t appeal to me in the 90’s either.

  • Nermal

    I went to the Calgary concert, and I have to say it was very much the same. Same tampons and energy bars. Same complainers. Same turnaround in the energy level once the country act came out. Same realization that it was actually a Sarah McLaughlin concert disguised as something bigger. But after seeing Sheryl Crow, Sugarland and Sarah in good seats for the $90 I paid I was happy – everything else (including the free tampons) was a bonus. Unfortunately we didn’t get a finale because they ran late and had to cut Sarah’s set short because of the curfew. A finale featuring all the artists would have been the icing on the cake.

    • Glory

      Sarah McLahlan, Sheryl crow, Colbie Calliet and Sugarland?!?!? Your show rocked!!!

  • Arthur

    Wait, did I read right that Butterfly Boucher is touring as Sarah’s bassist? That’s pretty aweome – Boucher has two fantastic albums of her own out! Did she do a set herself?

    • JC

      Butterfly did not do a set herself. She was scheduled for a couple Lilith shows, but they got canceled. I’m happy she at least gets to participate via Sarah.

      • Jerald

        My family and I have been itereesntd in Sarah McLachlan’s music since our trip to the US in 1998 “Surfacing” was the first album that Mum got of hers! I went to that blog and read the review and thought it was great! “Angel” is definitely my favourite Sarah McLachlan song from that album!

  • daisyj

    I went to the San Francisco stop and had a good time, though my expectations weren’t that high (and it helped that I had gotten our tickets for half price). Would have loved to see Emmylou– with the Bangles and Heart on the bill it seemed even more like a nostalgia show. (You could pretty much feel the crowd deflating whenever someone said the magic words “from our new album.”) But there was a singer I liked doing one of the earlier shows, plus an extra acoustic set, and I enjoyed a lot of the other acts I hadn’t heard of, so I felt like I got my money’s worth.
    And yeah, I notice the all-male bands thing too. Really, it was less a “celebration of women in music” than it was a “celebration of women singing.”

    • Leo

      Yah, but aside from the overpaid driectors and producers, what about all those production people who have to pay $1200+ a month in rent, $500 for food, and all the other costs of living in a first world country? What about the crew who pay for goods and services locally? What about the single mother working at a diner who lives off the tips the production crew gives them, or the poor saps working at any of the businesses they go to? If they don’t work these people don’t get as much earnings either. Plus money is relative. $200 sends a kid to school in Africa for a year, $200 in the US is less than one month of my student loan payment which will go on for another 6 years.Look, I get it, money can be better spent on helping people in poor countries, but wake up and look around you. Your just taking away from one set of people to give to another. If you want to really help take some of the money *you* earn from a $150k video and buy all those things rather than take a job away from someone who is trying to make a decent living in a place that costs a fortune just to get by. If you do that then all the production crews etc. get paid, you get to feel good by helping people out with the earnings, and you can even raise awareness of how people can help by putting their money where their mouth is, everybody wins.Right now, you think you’ve done a great thing but all you’ve done is ignored reality to help fill an empty spot in your soul, at the experience of hard working people right in your back yard. Because thats where all a lot of this money eventually ends up, paying people just like the ones working on your finally kept yard.

    • Iracema

      Thats the most beautiful song ever made .and I must apiprceate your efforts to offer these helps to the people in need all over the world. Thats definitely the best thing we all can and should do in our lives. AWSOME !!!! I LOVE YOU !!!

  • Meg

    I saw the show in San Diego, same line-up minus The Weepies. Brandi Carlile is one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen. Love her cover of ‘Folsom Prison Blues.’

  • Glory

    I’ll be in Kansas City this Thursday for Lilith Fair. I never would have ponied up $250, but was more than willing to pay $55 for an hours longs concert that culminates with Sarah McLachlan. I suppose more than anything, I thought this Lilith would be just as wonderful as the one I saw in 1999. Sarah, Sheryl Crow, the Indigo Girls, the Dixie Chicks…aahhh, those were the days. Unfortuntely, we won’t have Miranda Lambert to liven up the crowd. Maybe that was the role Kelly Clarkson was supposed to fill but, alas, she pulled out. I will admit that I was a little overjoyed to see that the Courtyard Hounds have filled her space…I’d have preferred all three Dixie Chicks, but two will do. I guess what I’m looking forward to most is spending some awesome time with some girlfriends.

  • L

    The description of carlile and mclachlan’s bands as “mostly male” is bizarre. Carlile has a female drummer and male guitar and bass players. Counting her, the band is half female. Mclachlan has a female backing singer and bass player – her band has only one more male than female member. Odd thing to note, particularly as it is patently untrue.

    • ap

      You’re forgetting her cellist Josh Neumann. True, it’s only 3 males to 2, but it is in fact a correct description.

      • ap

        By “her” I’m referring to Brandi Carlile.

  • AC

    Sounds like great Sarah McLachlan nostalgia! I would’ve gone for that and skipped everyone else. Too bad that this wasn’t the Lilith Fair it once was.

    … have to say that I loved the Bryan Adams/Def Leppard mention. That was my favorite nostalgia concert.

  • Paul H

    I was at the Irvine show and I liked it. The Weepies were the biggest surprise…I really enjoyed their show, though it seemed that the band shows should have been on the other stage, since they were crowded into a small area with very little room for crowds, whereas the solo artists like Elizaveta had huge stages with plenty of room. Brandi Carlile’s performance was fantastic, and I was totally taken off guard by Jenni Rivera, but in a good way. Miranda Lambert’s never been a favorite but her performance was fantastic. Sarah was very solid and a great live performer.

  • sue

    Does anyone know if Sarah is going to be touring on her own? She’s the only one I want to see.

    • Alan of Montreal

      part of the reason why Lilith Fair was created in the first place was because Sarah hates touring. Lilith offered her the opportunity not to have to do a full set and to have some friends to pal around with during performances while helping out some worthy causes. So it’s unlikely you’ll see her do solo shows.

  • Alan of Montreal

    She is amazing on her own, though, especially in intimate spaces. I saw her when she toured Solace in 1990 in a church that was converted in to a concert and theatre space in Toronto.

  • Cobalt-Blue

    Sounds like a bad case of estrogen poisoning to me.

    • Rion

      You’re a creep.

    • Neville Ross

      You’re full of &!@*.

  • JT

    Free cigarettes???!!! Seriously??!!!

  • Laurie

    We had tickets for the Houston show which was canceled. I am super disappointed. I just dont think the advertising was really there. I have seen Sarah 4 times including 2 LFs. She is awesome. I was at the show she debuted Angel at and the whole place was crying after she explained the story behind it and sang it accoustic with piano only.

    • Ann

      we are driving up to KS instead….had tix to Houston too. Take a road trip! Only $74 for up front tix! Fun car ride, cheap front tix, Sarah….fun eh?

  • Hypno13

    And to think she is boycotting Arizona. I think this shows not only how self-important these people are, but also how irrelevant most of these clowns are. Used to like Sarah but I couldn’t be paid to take one of her albums.

    • Neville Ross

      And to think she is boycotting Arizona. I think this shows not only how self-important these people are, but also how irrelevant most of these clowns are. Used to like Sarah but I couldn’t be paid to take one of her albums.

      Only because people like you are right-wing sheeple that can’s see how bad things in Arizona are; that’s why you say that. The only ones here who are irrelevant are you and people like you. Go on and enjoy your Miley Cyrus concert; better hope that your brain cells won’t atrophy.

      • Hypno13

        Boy aren’t you a mental midget. Hey idiot I lived in Arizona for three years. I worked at a hospital that went bankrupt caring for illegals and not getting paid. The crime in the area became so bad the police were fearful of even entering the no go zone. So live on the border for awhile then comment you buffoon.

    • Mike

      She’s just using it has a convenient excuse to cancel the concert. It would have never sold out anyways. She couldn’t even sell out Austin which has more d kyes than just about anywhere else besides San Francisco and cancelled the concert all together.

      • Hypno13

        There ya go. An excuse with the added impact of a political statement.

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