It solely took 12 years for Lilith Honest to turn out to be quaint. Within the decade between when Sarah McLachlan ended the pageant for the primary time in 1999 and her determination to take the rebranded “Lilith” off of life help in March 2011, feminine musicians had made vital strides in genres from hip-hop to folks. The proudly plastic pop of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera had given a wildly common center finger to ’90s folk-rock and its obsession with authenticity, and no much less of authorities on the topic than Bikini Kill’s Tobi Vail and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein celebrated Beyoncé’s all-female backing band the Suga Mamas as an indication of sensible progress within the business.
Feminism had moved ahead, too, embracing the intersectional politics that fueled criticisms of Lilith Honest’s majority-white lineup in its first 12 months. Trans points and increasing definitions of gender got here to the fore, and whereas Lilith Honest by no means had the transphobic insurance policies of its non secular predecessor, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Competition, it by no means did a lot to problem its personal barefoot, broomstick-skirt-clad definitions of femininity, both. Artists on the revived Lilith didn’t appear positive how they slot in, with Ms. noting with disappointment that McLachlan sidestepped questions on whether or not she was a feminist at a July 2010 press convention. With all this in thoughts, Lilith Honest begins to seem like The Female Mystique of music festivals—traditionally essential, positive, however of little relevance exterior of a particular time and a comparatively privileged group of individuals.
McLachlan definitely had respectable complaints when she began the pageant. She was, and nonetheless is, a mainstream singer-songwriter: In 1997, she launched her fourth studio album, Surfacing, which spawned 4 singles, gained two Grammys, and offered 16 million copies worldwide. (It’s the one with “Angel,” the track now without end related to unhappy canine in American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals commercials.) However as she instructed Time journal in 1997 for a chunk with the cringeworthy headline of “Galapalooza!” when she launched her earlier album, Fumbling In direction of Ecstasy, in 1993, “plenty of radio stations mentioned they couldn’t play me as a result of they already had one other singer-songwriter on their playlist […] They had been saying, ‘Go away, we’ve added our token feminine this week.’” Annoyed, McLachlan instructed her supervisor she’d do summer season live shows provided that they may put collectively an all-female roster, an idea that expanded into the primary Lilith Honest in the summertime of 1997.
Acts had been picked from a listing compiled by McLachlan, a private contact that ended up considerably shortening Lilith Honest’s shelf life. Many of the acts that performed the primary stage within the pageant’s preliminary 1997 lineup—Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple, Indigo Women, Jewel, Joan Osborne, Natalie Service provider, Shawn Colvin, Paula Cole—all conformed to the identical adult-contemporary radio-friendly singer-songwriter model, which was at its inventive and industrial peak on the time. You keep in mind the aesthetic: China flats and flowing hair, handkerchief attire and silver spoon rings, earnest acoustic odes to cowboy romanticism punctuated with the occasional “message” track. Even the music movies, all gauze and sensual closeups of lipsticked singing mouths, begin to mix collectively after some time.
Modern opinions of Lilith Honest’s first 12 months famous the homogeny of the lineup: The Chicago Tribune wrote, “This 12 months’s Lilith offered just one sort of sturdy lady—invariably a pretty, sweet-voiced singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar fronting an all-male band,” and Spin remarked in its 1997 assessment, “Lilith’s artists, like their earth mom, are typically non secular, nurturing, in contact with their feelings, inwardly directed, and passive.” Even nation legends Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter and neo-soul singer India Arie, who supplied what musical range there was on the primary stage, had been of the “white Christmas lights and wall tapestry” bent. So far as racial range goes, Chapman and Arie had been the one artists of coloration on that preliminary headlining invoice. “I do know why they known as it the white-chicks folks fest, however I really like that music,” Arie says in Glamour’s oral historical past.
To its credit score, the pageant did attempt to diversify in its second and third years, bringing on hip-hop artists Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott and rockers Liz Phair and The Pretenders in addition to neo-soul-influenced R&B artists like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill and the funk/soul/jazz hybrid of Me’Shell Ndegeocello. However by then it was too late, and “Lilith Honest” had come to symbolize a wispy-voiced, estrogen-soaked stereotype that critics and comedians had been all too completely satisfied to leap on. “Lilith Honest Performers, Attendees Obtain Largest-Ever Synchronized Ovulation,” The Onion wrote in 1998, and The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot waxed poetic describing the group at Lilith Honest ’98 like this: “The company all stroll round in elegant night attire and make small discuss social points, astrology, and the therapeutic energy of affection. No person spills any wine on the carpet and the jokes which can be made induce well mannered chuckles, not stomach laughs. Dancing is tolerated, however barely.”
Thus, deliberately or not, by foregrounding its founder’s model of what Time known as “coffeehouse pop,” Lilith Honest positioned itself in opposition to the riot grrrl motion that had pushed “women to the entrance” earlier within the decade and alienated feminine headliners who leaned indignant, or edgy, and even just a bit bit bizarre. Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos went out on their very own double-headlining tour—“this isn’t nearly consuming some rooster and listening to a number of of your favourite feminine singers,” Amos sniffed in 1998—and Sleater-Kinney, Gap, Rubbish, PJ Harvey, and Björk all turned the pageant down. Patti Smith performed Lilith’s first-ever date and determined it wasn’t for her, however maybe probably the most evident “thanks, however no thanks” was from Ani DiFranco, who would appear to be a Lilith Honest pure. Maybe she was fearful her hard-edged political folks was only a bit too aggressive for McLachlan’s “nice girly vitality.”
Nonetheless, if Lilith Honest didn’t symbolize the slicing fringe of feminine musicianship within the late ’90s, it didn’t symbolize the Spice Women and their spangled crop-top model of “lady energy” both. That feminist however nonetheless stereotypically female, non-threatening center floor was secure sufficient for the mainstream by the late ’90s—and it offered. Whereas Lilith Honest’s reserving might have been secure, promoter after promoter had instructed McLachlan and her supervisor/co-founder, Terry McBride, invoice with multiple lady on it was a danger that wasn’t price taking. They couldn’t have been extra fallacious, as McLachlan and her milquetoast band of folk-pop troubadours instantly offered out metropolis after metropolis on their 35-date 1997 tour. Lilith Honest ended up with $16 million in ticket gross sales that 12 months, making it the top-grossing pageant tour of 1997. The 1998 tour additionally proved worthwhile, additional proving the industrial level. And that’s to not point out all of the merch gross sales—“actually fairly merch,” as reserving agent Marty Diamond put it. “We’ve got jewellery, knapsacks, stuff individuals would need”—and the cash coming from company sponsors like Levi’s, Starbucks, and Volkswagen, which arrange cubicles on the pageant grounds alongside native ladies’s teams and Deliberate Parenthood.
However Lilith Honest wasn’t only a profitable advertising technique. By catering to a largely feminine viewers, it crammed an actual want within the ’90s music pageant scene. Reviews of ubiquitous sexual assault and harassment, together with horrific accounts of girls being gang-raped in mosh pits as a whole bunch of witnesses stood by, at Woodstock ’99 proved what feminine music followers had recognized for years: That male-dominated music festivals weren’t secure. At the least at Lilith Honest—which additionally had its fair proportion of male attendees—the environment was such that girls may sway and sing alongside with out worrying about being attacked in the course of the present. As music critic Ann Powers tells Glamour, “There was this overwhelming feeling of security and confidence. Nobody was going to wolf-whistle or cop a really feel as you walked by or shove you right down to get to a mosh pit. Right here was an area the place the violence and disrespect that would loom at different live shows was absent.“
So what would it not take to make Lilith Honest related once more? It’s not as if the issues it was making an attempt to handle have gone away. Sure, ladies have made strides in just about each style of music over the previous 20 years, however the gender imbalance, particularly in music festivals, continues to be there. Crunching the numbers on 996 acts enjoying 23 main music festivals in 2017, Pitchfork discovered that solely 14 % of them had been feminine, with a further 12 % consisting of combined female and male (or non-binary) lineups. The disparity is very evident in EDM-centric festivals like Electrical Zoo, which had a 94 % male lineup in 2016. And security at these festivals isn’t only a persevering with concern, it’s a rising one, with Salon reporting in 2015 that rapes and assaults at live shows had been on the rise.
The thought of secure areas for girls (each cis and trans) and queer and gender-nonconforming individuals at live shows does appear to be constructing momentum, with the Safer Areas At Festivals marketing campaign within the U.Ok. and Safer Scenes within the U.S. working to cease violence and harassment at reveals. Sweden’s Bråvalla Festivalis is taking issues a step additional, barring males from attending a 2018 different pageant after 5 rapes and 12 assaults had been reported at its 2016 version. Much less excessive are measures being taken on the EDM- and jam-band-centric Electrical Forest pageant, which in 2016 launched a campground solely for individuals who establish as ladies. In the meantime, onstage, TUF Fest, a pageant that includes performers from the “feminine, non-binary, and trans digital music neighborhood” debuted in 2016 as nicely.
However whereas EDM is presently taking on the pop-music world, Lilith Honest was, and nonetheless might be, a extra mainstream affair. Title the largest pop stars on the planet proper now, and also you’re going to get an extended record of feminine artists, with Beyoncé, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Girl Gaga, Adele, Taylor Swift, and their friends equaling or outselling the Ed Sheerans and Justin Biebers of the world. For her half, McLachlan is aware of when to stop, saying in Glamour’s oral historical past that “Lilith may work in the present day, however Adele, Taylor, or Beyoncé must spearhead it.” We’d go a step additional and nominate Solange or M.I.A. or FKA Twigs, or maybe Lilith alum Missy Elliott, who’s experiencing an inventive renaissance of her personal proper now.
Whereas placing a lady or ladies of coloration in cost would tilt Lilith Honest on its axis, one other factor that’s modified within the 20 years since its founding is the variety of feminine musicians who aren’t essentially frontwomen. What to do with a band like Boris, for instance, whose singer is male, however whose feminine guitarist, Wata, lives to make ears bleed? Nonetheless the strains are drawn, mixed-gender bands in 2017 run the gamut from Screaming Females’ ripping post-punk to Chromatics’ blissful synth-pop, and whereas the time period “lady band” is fortunately not thrown round as a lot anymore because it was within the ’90s, all-female bands are enjoying every little thing from membership gigs, like surf-rockers L.A. Witch, to theaters, within the case of sister trio Haim.
Competition organizers would have a humiliation of riches by way of solo acts: St. Vincent, Neko Case, and Angel Olsen are already headlining festivals, with Chelsea Wolfe, Zola Jesus, Courtney Barnett, Esperanza Spalding, Jamila Woods, Mitski, Beth Ditto, and Lizzo all on their means there. Together with ANOHNI, the primary transgender lady to be nominated for an Academy Award for Finest Unique Music, can be a should, as would Latina artists like Jessica Hernandez of Jessica Hernandez And The Deltas or Bomba Estereo’s Liliana Saumet, a gaggle that was underrepresented on the authentic Lilith Honest. That’s not even entering into up-and-coming feminine rappers like Younger M.A. and Noname.
And that is only a floor skim of newer artists (how nice would a headlining Le Tigre set be?) from one lady—a lady who’s admittedly not as hip as she was once and is aware of subsequent to nothing about digital music—that’s on no account meant to be complete. However the reality is that, if there was an infinite range of “ladies in music” to select from in 1997, there’s an excellent larger and extra thrilling pool of artists to select from now. And for all its lameness, Lilith Honest contributed to that motion. Solely with an expansive musical viewpoint and a dedication to numerous illustration may you reclaim the “Lilith Honest” moniker, lasering off the title’s gently bohemian, downright boring implications like a dolphin ankle tattoo. Hell, possibly even add a few folk-pop “lady singers” on there. Why not?