Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch Series,” Lilith Fair Edition, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

In 1996, singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan was tipping from alternative icon into something more like traditional pop success. At 26 she had garnered serious momentum—and 2.8 million albums sold in the United States—after her 1993 crossover Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. But as she ascended through the music industry, she kept hearing “no.” No, we can’t play your song—we already have another woman artist in rotation. No, you can’t put two women on the same concert bill—it’s box office poison. Sexism was passed off as age-old industry logic—logic that forced her into competition with other women artists to be the sole exceptional woman allowed opportunity.

McLachlan was not alone.

So she presented a challenge to her team—let’s prove them wrong—and in 1997, they assembled a bill of women to play massive outdoor venues across the States. McLachlan headlined, and they stacked the show with superstars like Tracy Chapman, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega, Emmylou Harris, Paula Cole, Patti Smith, and Lisa Loeb. The backlash to what would come to be called Lilith Fair was swift. From the beginning, Lilith frequently encountered skepticism from the industry and withering hostility from the media (“It is, in short, a total crock of shit,” wrote critic Gina Arnold), and was attacked by the Christian right. The Los Angeles Times reported music-industry insiders deriding it as “Lesbopalooza.”

But during its three-year run, Lilith Fair made over 130 tour stops in North America, featured roughly 300 women artists, drew more than 1.5 million people, and grossed over $52 million—more than $10 million of which was donated to women’s charities. The festival helped establish the careers of Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu, Dido, Nelly Furtado, Christina Aguilera,and Tegan and Sara, and brought the Dixie Chicks to a mainstream audience. The bills featured out, established artists onstage, new artists alongside veterans, and an entire village of progressive activist causes. But more than anything else, it was visionary. Lilith Fair was glimpsing a possible future in which women were rightfully placed at music’s center and not its margins.

Yet two decades later, even as artists like Haim and Brandi Carlile cite Lilith as inspiration, it’s just as often a cultural punch line. This is how Lilith came to be—and what it ended up meaning to a generation that had never seen anything like it before and brought hope for a more gender neutral equality for females in an otherwise male dominated music industry.

Song,- Fast Car. Album: Tracy Chapman (1988)

In this song, Chapman sings from the perspective of a woman whose life isn’t working out as she hoped. She’s with a guy who’s unemployed, lazy and unsupportive – she works at the convenience store to pay the bills while he’s drinking at the bar.

In the chorus, we hear why she’s with him: Long ago, he made her feel like she belonged, and that they could have a fulfilling and exciting life together. Riding in his fast car, his arm around her shoulder, all was right.

Speaking with Q magazine, Chapman said: “It’s not really about a car at all… basically it’s about a relationship that doesn’t work out because it’s starting from the wrong place.”

This won the Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

When the then-unknown Tracy Chapman was booked to appear down the bill at the Nelson Mandela birthday concert at Wembley Stadium on June 11, 1988, little did she know her appearance would be the catalyst for a career breakthrough. After performing several songs from her self titled debut during the afternoon, Chapman thought she’d done her bit and could relax and enjoy the rest of the concert. However, later in the evening Stevie Wonder was delayed when the computer discs for his performance went missing, and Chapman was ushered back onto stage again. In front of a huge prime time audience she performed “Fast Car” alone with her acoustic guitar. Afterwards the song raced up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

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