Titantic. Teletubbies. Tamagotchi. Lilith Fair. These were all big in 1997. Now, one of them is coming back. Although the return of the all-female musical tour has been rumoured for months, ths month the organiser Terry McBride confirmed that music festival Lilith Fair will indeed rise again in 2010. McBride said the festival will tour at least 18 cities including New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Montreal, Vancouver and London next summer.
The revival of Lilith Fair ties in with a 2010 album release by its leading light, Canadian singer songwriter Sarah McLachlan. She co-founded the original Lilith Fair in 1997 after getting frustrated that radio DJs would never play two songs in a row by female artists. During its three year lifetime, Lilith Fair was a huge money-spinner: the Fair's 104 shows grossed over $52 million (Dh192.5m) and drew 1.6m people, making it the most successful all-female music festival in history, and one of the biggest music festivals of the 1990s too.
"Sarah McLachlan set out to disprove that stupid old-school attitude that women don't sell tickets or records," said Lucy O Brien, a music critic and author of She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop, and Soul. "It really captured people's imagination." Named after the medieval Jewish legend that Lilith was Adam's first wife, it attracted men as well as women to sprawling outdoor events featuring acts such as Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Dixie Chicks and Sinead O'Connor among others.
While it was a critical and commercial success, some were turned off by "sensitivity overload": a Lilith Fair bill could feature up to 50 female singer-songwriters, many fretting about gender politics in earnest, environmentally-aware songs. The US pop magazine Blender described it as "one of the worst things to happen to music". But, as O'Brien points out, by 1998 stars of the hip-hop scene were added to bring much needed zest to the bill including Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott. Today, the festival is credited with broadening the industry's attitude to female artists.
But at a time when artists such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry dominate music, do we need the return of an all- female festival? Lucy O' Brien thinks so. "Reviving Lilith is very timely, with female artists doing so well, not just commercially but critically," she says. "This year's Mercury Prize nominees included five women on the shortlist." But in the male-dominated world of music magazines, people aren't so sure. "I think it all hinges on exactly how 'post'-feminism we feel we are in 2009," says Danny Eccleston, the consultant editor at Mojo magazine. "All-girl gigs seemed like a good idea when gig culture, even in the alternative rock realm, was drearily testosterone-charged. These days, it seems to me, that women give as good as they get, and, certainly in the UK, women are in greater evidence at shows and the vibe has improved - unless you go see the Specials or Paul Weller, where it is still pretty much a football crowd."
In its heyday, Lilith Fair raised a total of over $7 million (Dh26m) for women's charities. In keeping with that tradition, on November 4 Terry McBride announced that the 2010 Lilith Tour will contribute $1 (Dh3.7) from every ticket sold, as well as a portion of their marquee sponsorship revenue, to the i4c Foundation, a group that supports environmentally-conscious businesses. But at the time of going to press, no big names have yet signed on to the festival. As a result, fan sites are abuzz with the question of who should play next year. The Canadian artists Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne are obvious contenders, as both are expected to release new studio albums in 2010. The Lilith Fair alumnus and singer-songwriter Paula Cole has suggested Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kelly Clarkson could be Lilith stars too.
"Those are girl's girls - they're strong and smart and talented, with really good voices and opinions. They're not going to be little pop bunnies. They've got spine," she says. "I hope they have a real mixture of genres and styles," said O'Brien. "Everyone from Katy Perry to the wonderful Peaches to newer artists. I would like to see British female-fronted groups and artists such as Florence and the Machine, La Roux and Speech Debelle. I am sure it will sell out. And Lady Gaga would sell out anytime."
It seems that is one thing critics can agree on: the outlandish costumes and performances of the trash disco queen Lady Gaga might be what Lilith Fair is crying out for in 2010.