Without Lilith Fair, it’s quite possible that I would never have pursued a career in music – for better or worse! I grew up singing, playing my little plastic keyboards, and recording my very deep, deep thoughts in the form of poetry and songs, as early as my elementary-school years. And once someone heard me sing and encouraged me to sing not just in the choir but by myself (Mrs. Willoughby! I love you still), I started doing just that all the time, in school and in competitions, mostly a mix of the same Italian art songs and soprano musical theater songs that every teenage girl singer sings, and I starred in the school musicals (at my tiny high school, maybe not so hard to be a big fish).
In the midst of all that, I fell in love with the music of the Indigo Girls. My sister and I memorized every single word and harmonized in the car to 12,000 Curfews – through which I discovered Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joan Baez. They were my gateway drug to singer-songwriter addiction! I begged for a guitar for Christmas when I was 15, which I received, and I toted it down to a local guitar teacher along with my songbook for “Rites of Passage.”
When I was 16, I heard about Lilith Fair, and I thought my little teenage feminist heart would burst. Lo and behold, they held a “Lilith Fair Preview” show that December in West Palm Beach, close enough to where my family lived at the time, and my wonderful mom was good enough to take my sister and I to it. I heard the Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan live, and that was it. That thing where the “bug” bites you; the moment when you know what you want to do – that was the moment, for me. That energy, that GIRL POWER! I was lucky enough to attend another show the next summer, near Cleveland, where I heard Bonnie Raitt rock out for the first time, and I discovered artists like Catie Curtis and Chantal Kreviazuk. I felt super in-the-know to hear Dido’s songs on a Lilith Fair sampler months – even years – before she shot to fame.
Lilith Fair spurred my desire to keep writing and singing and learning songs, and on some subconscious level must’ve made me feel like singing and writing songs for a living was viable. I spent hours at the piano teaching myself Sarah McLachlan songs and hours with my guitar teaching myself Indigo Girls songs. And once I learned those chords, I used them, and variations of them, to set my own teen angst to music – often on weekends, when everyone else I knew was out on dates or at parties. What would I have done without that music? I really can’t imagine. The time I spent listening, playing and feeling inspired is one of the few things from adolescence that I can look back and feel warm and fuzzy about.
Now Lilith Fair is back, and I keep hearing far more bad news than good about it. This may purely be a testament to the media’s penchant for negativity, but it does make me sad, either way. And there’s so much discussion about whether Lilith Fair is “necessary,” or “relevant.” That’s really been troubling me, enough that I feel that I have to investigate. The assertion has been made that we don’t “need” Lilith Fair, because women now dominate the pop charts, and I don’t know if the facts really bear that out, and further, should it be a question of “need,” in the first place? Personally – whether I need it or want it – I think that there should be a Lilith Fair so that women can be inspired the way I was; whether to become artists or just to become empowered to dream a little bigger. For me, Lilith was also about the discovery of new music, and it gave exposure to women who were, perhaps, not being heard enough in other arenas. I do think that women in music (in most genres), still need more exposure than they’re currently getting, and the success of the few at the top certainly prove there’s a market for them. So, in my humble opinion, the music industry still needs Lilith Fair, too.
All this week, I’m going to be blogging about Lilith, women in music, and what it all means, at least to me, from various angles. I hope that you’ll chime in as well! Tomorrow: women dominate the top 40 – true or false?