Lilith co-founder and headliner Sarah McLachlan has taken some heat this summer after dealing with numerous cancellations that will force the heralded return of her "celebration of women in music" to end two weeks earlier than planned. In Part 1 of this two-part Lilith series, McLachlan kept her cool during one of the hottest days of the year in Colorado. Part 2 is a review of the July 13 show. (Photos by Michael Bialas.)
To know Lilith is to love her. Unfortunately, more than a few of her former paramours apparently can live without her.
Lilith still possesses extraordinary qualities -- the voice of an angel, undeniable beauty, indomitable spirit and an engaging personality. Not to mention enough estrogen to rival a Justin Bieber audience. Yet something is missing.
This girl is a woman now. The culturally significant and socially conscious traveling festival of fab females formerly known as the Lilith Fair returned 11 years later to the Denver area on July 13 rebranded as the Lilith Tour.
Among the notable absentees at the uncomfortably retitled Comfort Dental Amphitheatre were eager fans willing to spring for $100 tickets in the lower level that was about two-thirds empty, along with previously announced major attractions Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert.
The name recognition factor plummeted considerably when they dropped out after 10 more show cancellations were announced during the first week of the tour because of soft ticket sales. Shows in Phoenix (in protest of Arizona's immigration law) and Nashville were canceled earlier and Atlanta became a later casualty, forcing the tour to end prematurely in Washington, D.C. on August 3 instead of August 16 in Dallas.
Lilith co-founder and headliner Sarah McLachlan (left), still blessed with the loveliest voice in the pop-rock genre, at least was able to bring along the First Lady of Americana, Emmylou Harris, to make up for the lack of star power in Englewood, Colorado, just south of the Mile High City. And while the two veterans showed why they appeal to different audiences, their appearances also served as a constant reminder of those groundbreaking glory days of Lilith's past.
In 1999, ending a triumphant three-year run when Lilith became synonymous with female empowerment, the lineup at this same venue, then called Fiddler's Green and packed from the bottom to the altitude-challenging lawn seats, included Natalie Merchant, the Pretenders, the Dixie Chicks and, on a small side stage, Patty Griffin.
Of course, young 2010 artists such as Erin McCarley, Anya Marina, local talent search winner Liz Clark and the sweet sisterly act of Shel might one day emerge from the Village or ABC stages just like performers as diverse as Neko Case and Christina Aguilera did more than a decade ago.
Despite all the problems, McLachlan, 42, remains resolute and focused on promoting new talent while raising money for women's groups such as Safehouse Denver. And while not offering an outright guarantee of seeing Lilith's return in 2011, she seems determined to continue her "celebration of women in music." During a press conference before the five primary acts hit the main stage, an upbeat McLachlan discussed Lilith's past, present and future.
"I think initially we were all struggling with what we were going to do," she said when asked about the impact of the cancellations. "There's a lot of variables in play. We were just trying to figure out what was gonna be the best situation and certainly at the beginning of the tour there's a lot of negativity around ticket sales and things like that. For me, I just had to find a place to put it.
"And, yeah, it's a bummer. But I'm having such a fantastic time. And if 9,000 people come out to the show (the approximate attendance at this venue that seats almost 17,000), that's who I'm playing for. ... It's a shame that we had to do it, but you know, I get to go home (West Vancouver, British Columbia) two weeks early and see my dad. And he's ailing (suffering from Parkinson's disease), so I'm kind of happy about it actually," she added, ending the thought with an uneasy laugh.
Struggling to remember Clarkson's name ("I can see her face ..."), McLachlan finally explained, "Kelly had five or six shows and I think it was just because the three were canceled, it wasn't financially viable for her to do the other two. She made it clear that dropping out was a choice the first American Idol "had to make, and I get that," then reiterated, "But we're all having a great time." McLachlan said Lambert left for the same reasons, but the ballsy babe of country did show up for a few dates earlier on this tour before inexplicably exiting.
Clarkson posted a message on her website on July 1, when the announcement of cancellations was made by Nettwerk Music Group, the company that helped launch McLachlan's music career that began in the late '80s.
"With the news of cancelled Lilith dates and my current progress in the studio, we've made the decision not to tour this summer," Clarkson's statement said. "I'm going to miss seeing y'all, but I hope that when you hear what we've been working on, you'll be as excited as I am. I've been working with some amazing people and am stoked about this next album!"
Others dropping out because of the cancellations or for other reasons included Rihanna, Queen Latifah, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, Norah Jones and the Go-Gos, who had to cancel their entire tour after bassist Jane Wiedlin suffered a hiking injury that required major knee surgery. The latest to exit this snakebitten tour was Carly Simon, who recently fractured her foot.
Sheryl Crow, Erykah Badu, Heart and Mary J. Blige are among the heavy hitters who have played or are still scheduled to appear. But on this date, McLachlan and Harris, on the Fair's first roster in 1997, were supported by Team Lilith's all-rookie lineup of nine acts. All but Melissa McClelland, who has been a backup singer in McLachlan's touring band, had yet to perform on a Lilith stage.
"I don't know if I have any advice, although I wished I had always dressed in black, so I wouldn't have to worry about my wardrobe. It makes it easier," she said, before telling them what they should already know. "Just go out there and rock everybody's world."
Dressed to impress, Lilith did just that. But, just like with any relationship that attempts to reignite after years apart, there's nothing quite like the fireworks produced by that very first flame.
Discounting the superstar factor -- Beyonce, Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift among them -- here's a select list of personal favorites the Lilith Tour should consider if it continues next year. Disagree? Feel free to comment below, and add your own choice.
Follow Michael Bialas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mjbialas