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In concert: Lilith Fair at Merriweather Post Pavilion


The Indigo Girls perform at the final Lilith Fair concert of 2010. (Tracy Woodward/The Washington Post)

By Chris Richards

Dark clouds have chased Sarah McLachlan's reincarnated Lilith Fair all across the continent this summer. In a season of historically miserable ticket sales, Lilith's were some of the miserablest, forcing organizers to scrap a dozen of 36 dates, cutting marquee acts Kelly Clarkson, Norah Jones and Loretta Lynn along the way.

As McLachlan's caravan hobbled to its final stop at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Tuesday, those dark clouds took literal shape overhead, flashing serious looks but never unleashing their fury. Something similar happened on the festival's main stage, where an array of talent -- the Indigo Girls, Sara Bareilles, Cat Power, Court Yard Hounds and the tour's headliner and figurehead, McLachlan -- sang songs that hid their ponderous energy beneath majestic, melodic surfaces.

(View a photo gallery from Tuesday's show.)

"Welcome to the very last Lilith," McLachlan announced from the stage during her headlining set. It came with a dramatic pause, and then, "...of 2010." The audience released a collective sigh and cheered wildly as McLachlan plunged into "Building a Mystery," a career-defining love song populated by ghosts and vampires from the year 1997 B.T. (Before "Twilight.")

sarah mclachlanSarah McLachlan closed out the troubled 2010 Lilith Fair tour.

Banners strewn from the rafters touted Lilith 2010 as "The Celebration of Women in Music," a credo that reflects the tour's founding spirit. Lilith thrived for three summers between 1997 and 1999 before being resuscitated this year, with McLachlan promising a more dynamic, diverse 21st-century-kind-of-bill. And while R&B miracle-worker Mary J. Blige and perky country superstars Sugarland performed other Lilith dates, McLachlan could have cast a wider net -- one big enough to snare artists from genres where women are still a woefully itty-bitty minority. Where were the rappers? The DJs? The funky drummers?


Thankfully, the tour's final stop included Chan Marshall, a singer whose mesmerizing work as Cat Power sounds as if it were composed in a fever dream, yet still fits neatly into Lilith's women-strumming-guitars template. Over the years, Marshall has battled some of the most legendary butterflies in rock lore, but she trumped her stage fright here, unspooling blurry, blues-tinged songs with expert patience.

The Indigo Girls delivered almost the opposite: Sturdy singalongs that felt clear and sharp and full of political bite. Singers Amy Ray and Emily Saliers sounded best during "Shame On You," an anti-anti-immigration tune sprinkled with a few la-la-las from the Van Morrison catalog.

They couldn't quite eclipse the sisterly harmonies of Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, who made their area debut as Court Yard Hounds. The two are taking a creative vacation from their platinum-selling supertroupe, the Dixie Chicks. "When we play with the Dixie Chicks, we stay at the Ritz," Maguire quipped between songs. "When we play with Court Yard Hounds, we stay at Motel 6."

The festival's undercard performed on two small stages planted side-by-side on a paved lot where corporate sponsors plugged automobiles, and TV shows, and deodorant, and energy bars, and tampons, and Washington Mystics ticket packages. A few charity organizations had set up shop, too.

The performers were squinty, scrunching their faces during performances that ranged from mawkish (Australian chirper Butterfly Boucher) to Fleetwood-mawkish (Illinois singer Lissie.) Here, Lilith blew its greatest opportunity to showcase some bold young talent and win a new generation of fans. (Those rappers! Those DJs! Those funky drummers!) Instead, it was mostly unadventurous jingle-jangles and high-drama choruses where vowels were achingly torqued to sound like other vowels.

One exception: British singer Beth Orton, whose arresting warble of a voice had fans so rapt during "She Cries Your Name" that you could hear the muted VRRRRR of the neighboring massage chairs and the meditative PSSSSSHHH of the mist tents that housed them.

Back on the main stage, it was all WOOOO-HOOOO for McLachlan when she took the stage. (Never mind that she had already joined the Hounds and the Indigos onstage earlier in the night.)

After a stately set that included '90s hits "I Will Remember You" and "Sweet Surrender," she invited the entire bill to the stage for a group-encore of Patti Smith's "Because the Night." They had done it in other cities, but this version had a bittersweet last-night-of-camp feel.

You might see these people again next summer. You might not.

By Chris Richards  |  August 4, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Cat Power, Indigo Girls, Lilith Fair, Sarah McLachlan  
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Comments

All Flannel-shirted, female truck-drivers welcome!

Posted by: pgr88 | August 4, 2010 1:39 AM | Report abuse

And not a razor in sight...

Posted by: HughJassPhD | August 4, 2010 1:44 AM | Report abuse

I'd rather be a flannel-shirted female truck driver than some d-bag being hateful. If I am a flannel-shirted female truck driver, that means I'm working, while you're on your ass with either nothing better to do while you're Rosie Palms and her five sisters, or so insecure as a man you have to actually be bitter about other women's choices because you've repulsed them thus far.

Posted by: burly7 | August 4, 2010 1:53 AM | Report abuse

I didn't go this time, but back in the 90s it was more than just flannel shirted folks. There were plenty of hot chick lax players and such. Even a few guys who figured out they would find more chicks at Lilith than at some metal show....

Posted by: didnik | August 4, 2010 2:47 AM | Report abuse

Ah, Chris Richards--what I'm sure you thought was clever and insightful comes off on the page as out of touch, patronizing and sexist. Way to go, man.

Posted by: katie10 | August 4, 2010 3:05 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the ignorant snark - Chris Richards...

Can't stand to read Wa Po in other than real news sections of the paper...it's always such a disappointment!

Posted by: Badger21 | August 4, 2010 4:54 AM | Report abuse

"And not a razor in sight..."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that was actually written by someone who has the ego and gall to follow his name with his alleged academic accomplishment - PhD.

What an ass. Excuse me. Dr. Ass.

Posted by: ge_nome | August 4, 2010 5:29 AM | Report abuse

"Where were the rappers? The DJs? The funky drummers?"

What?!

They didn't have a salute to Broadway or the Pan Flute, either.

Do you go to a music festival with a list of genres that need to be checked off? Good luck at Ozzfest!

Posted by: corco02az | August 4, 2010 6:15 AM | Report abuse

Kind of a bad news thing for Idols subway troubador, Crystal Bowersox who was hailed as a "Lilith Fair" natural.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | August 4, 2010 6:49 AM | Report abuse

What!? So Van Morrison owns "lalala" and you dictate what kinds of acts should be caught in a Lileth "net"!?
Well, Squinty Scrunchy Chris Richards ... yours seems to be the "miserablest" excuse for a review in recent memory!

Shame on you....

Meanwhile... hats off to Tracy Woodward! Nice Indigo photo!

Posted by: janie828 | August 4, 2010 6:58 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Chris, your comments are so clever! I'm sure you looked at this article with pride. The fact that you thought you'd make up a word like "miserablest" means you're like Sarah Palin, right?

Posted by: Sutter | August 4, 2010 7:03 AM | Report abuse

I am really starting to hate blogs. Because the get paid or rewarded for attracting eyeballs and comments, we now have to put up with snarky blogs writers looking to spark a comment war among it's readers. Why no rappers? Do you go to a Heavy Metal concert and expect to see Country music?

Posted by: RickJohnson621 | August 4, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

ge_nome:

I think Mike Hunt and Jack Mehoff would like to have a word with you. oy.

Posted by: Rravenfan | August 4, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Shame on the Indigo Girls.

Posted by: StJohn1 | August 4, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

"
I'd rather be a flannel-shirted female truck driver than some d-bag being hateful. If I am a flannel-shirted female truck driver, that means I'm working, while you're on your ass with either nothing better to do while you're Rosie Palms and her five sisters, or so insecure as a man you have to actually be bitter about other women's choices because you've repulsed them thus far.
"

Gosh, and I had heard that lesbians tended to be angry, humorless man-haters. Wonder how they got that reputation?

Posted by: mr_bill_10 | August 4, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Richards has some definite ideas about what he expects from a given concert. He ripped Neil Young recently for singing too much new stuff and not enough of his older greatest hits for the crowd to sing along to. As if Neil Young fans don't realize that Neil doesn't play that way. He's not a nostalgia act. I wasn't at the Lilith Fair show but I sure wouldn't judge it by Mr. Richards standards.

Posted by: curtb | August 4, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

The Lillith Fair is alot like the WNBA. For example, everytime it makes the news, people are shocked it still exists. Ladies, take you 17 fans and go home. Thank you

Posted by: qwerty18 | August 4, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Uh, didn't Springsteen write "Because the Night"? Or at least most of it?

Posted by: jcburka | August 4, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

the lillith fair is a joke...no one goes, no one cares. just like the WNBA. what if you added up everyone that attended a lillith fair concert this year and every WNBA season ticket holder together? that would be almost, what, fifty people? hahahahahaha

Posted by: qwerty18 | August 4, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

God, I am so tired of hateful reviews and hateful comments. I'm a guy who simply likes the fact that these women actually can sing - not like the autotune crap that everyone scrambles to buy today and then you're sorely disappointed when you see a "live" performance or that performance never happens. I attended two of the original Lilith Fairs and saw some of the greatest performances I've ever seen at a concert. McLachlan and Indigo Girls, in particular, are mesmerizing performers who always mix things up, engage the crowd, and never fail to put on the best performance possible. My hat's off to Sarah for soldiering on in light of all the negativity and challenges this concert season has brought. Other huge acts completely bailed on their fans and canceled tours entirely. Thank you Sarah, you created something special and I hope it continues in a better environment in the future

Posted by: mslider | August 4, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The folks at Lilith Fair are welcome to put on whatever sort of show they wish, but I always thought that the idea of showcasing women in music was peculiar, given that there is not exactly a shortage of women in music and, in my lifetime, there never has been. Mr. Richards observes, correctly, that a wider diversity of styles might have attracted a larger audience for the tour, but of course, the choice of acts is theirs to make. So the market has spoken - Lilith Fair canceled 1/3 of their shows, dropped some big-name acts, and perhaps played their last show last night. So be it.

One reader comments that he is beginning to hate blogs, apparently because bloggers express opinions. Perhaps he should stop reading blogs and go here instead: http://lilithfair.com/. Personally, I enjoy this blog, which is not to say I share the same taste as all of the writers here. What I don't like are most of the comments, most of which have a tone that would lead one to believe that they are discussing health care or Afghanistan. The average Teabagger has a cooler head than some of the people who have posted here. The personal attacks directed against the writers particularly make me cringe. Perhaps the WaPo should take a cue from the NYT and moderate these things.

Anybody who wanted to see women in music could have gone to the 9:30 Monday and seen a (sold-out) show by Kelis and Robyn. Not my cup of tea, but I'd certainly rather see Neko Case than anyone at Lilith Fair.

Posted by: MyPostID27 | August 4, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I love the concept, especially since a lot of guys just don't get it. But I have to disagree with the reviewer's viewpoint, as I have no desire for the rappers, D.J.s and funky drummers that he longs for. Sorry, but I've never thought of DC as much of a music town. Someone else's music maybe.

The Fair has the potential to offer listeners the creative output of the many great female musicians and composers out there, they need to get them on board.

NPR Music did some major stories on female musicians, (check their website), and some of them would be great for Lilith. I know the sucky economy has a lot to do with it, but if they could get more of these unique artists in there, it could really be the show to see again.

Posted by: fluxgirl | August 4, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Meh.

Posted by: Rand-al-Thor | August 4, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

ge_nome:

I think Mike Hunt and Jack Mehoff would like to have a word with you. oy.

Posted by: Rravenfan


=================================

Let's not forget Dick Fitzwell, Pat McGroin and Buster Hymen.

Posted by: Hk45 | August 4, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

The folks at Lilith Fair are welcome to put on whatever sort of show they wish, but I always thought that the idea of showcasing women in music was peculiar, given that there is not exactly a shortage of women in music and, in my lifetime, there never has been. Mr. Richards observes, correctly, that a wider diversity of styles might have attracted a larger audience for the tour, but of course, the choice of acts is theirs to make. So the market has spoken - Lilith Fair canceled 1/3 of their shows, dropped some big-name acts, and perhaps played their last show last night. So be it.

One reader comments that he is beginning to hate blogs, apparently because bloggers express opinions. Perhaps he should stop reading blogs and go here instead: http://lilithfair.com/. Personally, I enjoy this blog, which is not to say I share the same taste as all of the writers here. What I don't like are most of the comments, most of which have a tone that would lead one to believe that they are discussing health care or Afghanistan. The average Teabagger has a cooler head than some of the people who have posted here. The personal attacks directed against the writers particularly make me cringe. Perhaps the WaPo should take a cue from the NYT and moderate these things.

Anybody who wanted to see women in music could have gone to the 9:30 Monday and seen a (sold-out) show by Kelis and Robyn. Not my cup of tea, but I'd certainly rather see Neko Case than anyone at Lilith Fair.

Posted by: MyPostID27 | August 4, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse
-----------------

the lillith fair is a joke...no one goes, no one cares. just like the WNBA. what if you added up everyone that attended a lillith fair concert this year and every WNBA season ticket holder together? that would be almost, what, fifty people? hahahahahaha

Posted by: qwerty18 | August 4, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse
-----------

Wow, you're all so smart chiding these silly little feminist women and their outdated ways. They just can't keep up with the times. If only they could be as smart and up to date as you the world would be a better place.

Posted by: nvamikeyo | August 4, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

So, is someone who doesn't like the review going to post an actual rebuttal, or is the cascade of putative countersnark just going to keep coming? Richards did have a lot of complimentary things to say about many of the performers.

I would never go to the Lilith Fair unless they had rappers and drummers, though, so what do I know.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | August 4, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm a guy and I'll go on record as saying that Sarah McLachlan is a wonderful human being and talent and though it's too bad about all the cancellations, the bringing together of talent is never a bad thing, good times and music are good. My wife and I saw her in Albany, NY, once and it was great fun. Beth Orton is a gem, whether "Water from a Vine Leaf" with William Orbit, or her stuff with Chemical Brothers, etc. I'm always amazed, BTW, at how comment boards get devolved by some types into asinine and hateful back-and-forths. But let's face it: a certain type of person thrives on comment boards because it's more fun to them than the old bathroom stall dividers were in the pre-Internet days. But same basic mentality.

Posted by: Plutonium57 | August 4, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

This is about people taking care of themselves, their image, their content with a minimum of corporate interference. Way to go and keep the suits doing what they do best: playing golf. The corner office doesn't left itself well as the arbiter of culture and good taste.

Posted by: citizen625 | August 4, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I know a number of people who were disappointed that they canceled their Phoenix concert this year. They stated that it was becasue they opposed the states new SB1070 law. Who knew that 11 other states had passed a similar law, and that was why they cancelled those shows as well? Nice try.

Posted by: ANCLvr | August 4, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Dear nvamikeyo -

You have accused me of saying something that is nothing like what I actually said. Please get your facts straight before you bloviate.
By the way, your comments are exactly the sort of thing I was addressing in the second paragraph of my post. Point proven.
Finally, at no point did I claim to be either smart or up-to-date. I am certainly not the latter and arguably not the former.

MyPostID27

Posted by: MyPostID27 | August 4, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

FYI to the posters who are not aware of why the need to showcase women in music because women are already prevalent, the concert was the response by McLaughlin and other female performers to being told by the record company suits that their opening acts would have to be men because no one would go to a concert with two female acts. This year's economy was bad for groups of all types, but the concert still proved them wrong again. Actually, the event this year was more enjoyable with a less-than-capacity crowd.

Posted by: achamblee | August 4, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

The main problem of the tour is its traditionally narrow scope. The Lillith fair is traditionally a lesbian themed folk music festival, which is fine. However, with this sort of narrow scope, you won't draw the interest of most concertgoers. Bring in the Bangals, the Go-Gos, Joan Jett, Lita Ford...have a Runaways Reunion, Pat Benetar, Britney Spears, Lady GaGa, Rhianna....

Posted by: tyree230 | August 4, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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