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Madison's Lilith Fair

  • High Noon Saloon 701 East Washington Avenue Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

A tribute to the music and iffy feminist legacy of the late 1990s’ female-focused music festival. Info/tix


Perhaps nothing is more quintessentially well-intentioned, second-verging-on-third-wave feminism than Lilith Fair. Named for Adam's first wife (willful, wanton, ill-behaved), the festival was originally spearheaded by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan, who was frustrated by the tokenization of female musicians on commercial radio and lack of all-female lineups on concert tours. From 1997 to 1999, the festival descended upon cities in both the United States and Canada during the summer months. (There was also an ill-fated attempt to revive it in 2010.) Only McLachlan and Suzanne Vega played all the dates, but they were joined by an impressive roster of mostly folk-rock, adult contemporary singer-songwriters such as Diana Krall, Meredith Brooks, and Shawn Colvin.

Despite its historical relevance in women's music history, Lilith's ethos is not intersectional by any stretch of the imagination. Its feminism, is distinctly rooted in a privileged, Feminine Mystique-soaked rhetoric combined with a barefoot, divine goddess. And though the festival (very politely!) included more POC acts in the last two of its three original runs, India Arie, even McLachlan has acknowledged in a Glamour retrospective that Lilith Fair "got a lot of flak for being a white-chicks folk fest," a description that India Arie, one of very few women of color to headline the event, noted as well: "I know why they called it the white-chicks folk fest, but I love that music."

There is still a fight to be fought when it comes to equity in the music industry, at every level, and the renewed war on reproductive justice reminds us that the tireless work of (mostly) women activists in days past is far from over. But this showcase of Madison musicians playing 25 tribute sets to Lilith Fair acts, two decades later after the original, begs the question: why revive it now, when the staggering confluence of identity politics has been brought to the fore, and not just race (which the original organizers probably did their due diligence in addressing) but also ability, gender, orientation, and kinship? Why not use the old models as a blueprint to create something else, something new, that speaks to the fruitful and crucial discussions of convergence?

Still, the lineup boasts some incredible local talent: Anna Wang as Nina Persson (The Cardigans), Julia Rose Kelly as Lauryn Hill/Missy Elliott, Hannah Switzer of Labrador as Vega, Pam Barrett of BingBong playing Lucinda Williams, and WORT's Cooper Talbot set to emcee, to name only a few, so there is little doubt that the show will be a good one. All proceeds from the event will go to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services of Dane County, and Madison Girls Rock Camp. —Katie Hutchinson

Later Event: June 22
The Anthropocene Reading