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Economy Hurts But Doesn't Beat Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair

of the Oakland Press

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Sarah McLachlan is a glass half-full person.

She sees the silver lining, not the cloud. She genuinely likes to say that, “You get handed lemons, you try to make lemonade.”

That’s a good attitude to have this year, too, given the mixed fate of her reinstated Lilith Fair tour.

Great excitement greeted the resumption of the traveling festival tour. It was a huge hit during its 1997-99 run, when it drew more than a million fans and broke conventions with its genre-blending, female-dominated lineup — including McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, the Indigo Girls, the Dixie Chicks and many others — proving women could indeed sell concert tickets. It also raised more than $10 million for North American women’s charities.

“I think we did definitely help to change some old school attitudes and ... definitely let the industry know that women were, in fact a powerhouse,” McLachlan recalls.

Not so this year, however.

Lilith has, perhaps unfairly, become a poster child for the havoc the economy is wreaking on the concert industry this summer. What McLachlan acknowledges are “pretty soft” ticket sales has led to the cancellation of 13 shows and the relocation of one to a smaller venue. Kelly Clarkson and Norah Jones, meanwhile, have dropped out of the tour as well — though one can argue that the added Court Yard Hounds, featuring two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, is an upgrade.

But you won’t find McLachlan — who’s promoting “Laws of Illusion,” her first set of new pop songs in seven years — moping about how Lilith, or her life, is faring.

“Life is good,” says the Canadian singer-songwriter, a single mother of two young daughters who resides in Vancouver and has sold more than 40 million albums during her 22-year recording career. “I don’t go into things with the anticipation that any of it’s going to be a huge hit. I do the best I can, I feel good about it and I let it go.

“I’ve pretty much lived my life that way. Whatever I do is because it should feel good, feel right and then that, to me, is success. I mean, I don’t have to work another day if I don’t want to, and that’s a ridiculous place to be at 42 years old.”

As for Lilith itself, McLachlan is resigned to the “very tough climate” of economic realities.

“I don’t think we necessarily knew that was going to happen going in,” she explains. “I don’t know how we would have reacted differently. We’re just trying to make the best of the situation. We’re putting on a great musical show, and I think people still want to go see live music, so I’m hopeful.

“I’m a real optimist. We may not make a ton of money — we probably won’t, you know? But we’ll put our heads down and work hard to make it as successful as we can.”

But Terry McBride, McLachlan’s manager and Lilith Fair partner at the Nettwerk Music Group, feels their festival is being “picked on” when it’s certainly not the only tour that’s suffering. He points to treks such as Christina Aguilera’s and Limp Bizkit’s that were canceled altogether, and to some which have been severely curtailed, like the Jonas Brothers, “American Idols Live!” and Rihanna.

“Show me one tour this year, especially this summer, that hasn’t either canceled a show or cut back or had soft turnouts — there hasn’t been one,” McBride says. “The fact that we’re going to put on 23 shows and hit about 250,000 people, I think that’s pretty spectacular now.”

McBride — who’s still planning to bring Lilith Fair out again in 2011, though probably with fewer shows initially — says he’s buoyed not only by the turnout for the existing shows but also by the reaction from those who are going. “They hop on Facebook that night, raving about it,” he says. “Eleven years is a long time to be away, but now they’ll be stoked about it when we come around again next year.”

McLachlan, McBride and their other partners decided in 2008 that they would bring Lilith back when she released “Laws of Illusion.”

“Every interview I did, I was always asked when I’d do Lilith again, so we clearly made an impact,” she says. But McLachlan was ambivalent at first.

“It shifted from, ‘Oh, no, Lilith, I can’t imagine going back there and doing that again’ to, ‘Y’know, that was a lot of fun ... ’” she recalls. “All our kids are older now and it felt like we could actually give it the attention it deserves and make it something really amazing — at which point it was, ‘Let’s talk about that’ and then, ‘Well, let’s do it again.’

“It was pretty much as easy as that.”

There are differences this year, McLachlan notes. “Well, I have two small children on the road with me,” she says with a laugh. And Lilith’s logo has been updated. “There’s no more naked woman coming out of a mandrake root,” McLachlan says. “I look at that and I cringe now; I thought, ‘Good God, what was I thinking?!’”

There’s also a slightly more pronounced urban flavor on the rotating show lineups this year with artists such as Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Mary J. Blige. Miranda Lambert and Sugarland lead the country contingent, and heritage artists such as Carly Simon, the Bangles, Heart and Loretta Lynn are also on the roster.

The Lilith philosophy, however, remains unchanged.

“We’re trying to put on a really good musical show,” McLachlan explains. “We’re trying to create awareness in the communities we’re going into for women’s issues. We’re trying to raise money for charity. We’re trying to leave a positive imprint everywhere we go.”

As McBride notes, “Lilith is a positive event. It’s about discovery ... a safe, fun festival that’s all about music and giving back.”

It was that spirit that caught current Lilith performer Colbie Caillat, who was 12 years old when she attended a show on the festival’s initial run. “I went with my sister and all her friends, so I felt like it was a ‘cool girls’ show,” Caillat, now 25 and a chart-topping performer herself, remembers. “All the artists were women, and I thought it was just great to see all these women together, especially since I was, at that age, already wanting to be a musician and a singer, so to be able to see them and how far they’d come along was amazing.”

British upstart Kate Nash, however, didn’t know much about Lilith before she was recruited to be on this year’s bill but finds the concept exciting.

“I think it’s important to have that forum for women to play and enjoy each other’s music,” said Nash, 23, “’cause I think there is sexism in the music industry and a noticeable lack of opportunities for women. That makes (Lilith) very important, so I’m excited to be part of it.”

Lilith Fair 2010 is at 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 21 at DTE Energy Music Theatre. The lineup includes Sarah McLachlan, Miranda Lambert, Court Yard Hounds, Kate Nash, Suzanne Vega, Chantal Kreviazuk, Melissa McClelland, Cara Salimando, Lights, Vita Chambers Ourstage Local Talent Search winner Jett Rea. Tickets are $108.50, $78.50, and $49 pavilion, $39 lawn wih a $75 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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