Roadshows

Numbers too big to ignore--they're outselling ROAR!
It has always seemed to me that the male human--apparently genetically predisposed to risk everything in the name of a little sweaty, sniggering fun--would be a natural for constantly pushing the boundaries of sex roles. Why, then, aren't there more guys out there switch-hitting? Is it because of the dress code? Years of socialization? More than anything, I think it's probably the colossal bummer that so much male energy represents. Imagine a world full of guys leaving their dishes in the sink, pretending to listen to each other over breakfast, and necking sloppily on the couch in between discussions of RBIs and muzzle velocities.

Eeeeeeww! No thanks. Woman has the good chi in this life-dance, friends--nurturing, contemplative, reasoning. It's the man who has that blow-hard, self-centered aggression, once ideal for hunting and wrasslin' cave bears, but now primarily applied to athletics and the driving of sports cars into bridge abutments. Try this: Assemble a pile of albums by the featured artists on this year's Lilith Fair roster and play them through, one after the other. Soak in it. Each act sounds very different, and there are many styles. Still, after a while, a vibe begins to grow, permeating you like the subtle lift you get from a good cup of hot tea. Call it the presence of all that female creativity, but whatever it is, after a while it's palpable.

In the Middle Ages, that creative essence knew three ages: the maiden, the mother, and the crone. While that last word has always had certain Sea Hag connotations, some branches of modern feminist thought have tried to reclaim and redefine the term, casting the crone as a valued elder, a survivor: a storehouse of accumulated wisdom, a leader as well as a reference point. Somebody who would serve a village much like Emmylou Harris serves the Lilith Fair.

Exotically beautiful with her strikingly grayed mane of hair, still possessed of a voice with a purity that age has only deepened, Harris has followed her musical vision through country-rock and bluegrass until last year's Wrecking Ball showed her to have outgrown all the labels. Harris is the tour's Queen figure, a matriarch for all the right reasons.

First envisioned as a celebration of women by Sarah McLachlan last year, the Fair includes femininity's other ages also. She may not have any children, but Joan Osborne sure as hell ain't no maiden--she has the presence and the power associated with what motherhood used to require, and when she unleashes it, she can push you back from the lip of the stage. Tracy Chapman was along for the ride a bit earlier in the tour; if she isn't a spiritual mother to the likes of Fiona Apple or Leah Andreone, then no one is. Mary Black is Ireland's biggest female pop singer.

Of course, showbiz and maidens have long gone together, so it's no surprise that the bulk of Lilith's team falls into this category. This isn't giggling girlhood, though--most of the young talent on the road with Lilith are competent and confident artists, stretching the boundaries of their craft. If it's an important or discussed name in women's music--Tracy Bonham, Michelle Malone, Jewel, Kelly Willis, or Katell Keinig--chances are that she's traveled with Lilith at least part of the way.

--Matt Weitz

Of the acts listed above, Harris, McLachlan, Black, Willis, Keinig, and Jewel will be in Dallas on various stages as part of the Lilith Fair when it hits Dallas and the Starplex Amphitheatre on Monday, August 4.

 
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