Lilith Fair 1998, Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas

There's nothing quite like 101 degree heat and all the estrogen you want in the middle of a former cow pasture. Welcome to Lilith Fair in Austin at South Park Meadows -- for once, a venue that's actually near my home!

I arrived with my cranky companion at 4:30, greeted by people trying to give away Starbuck's frozen coffee bars; it was cold, so we partook. We walked about 10 feet and trashed them. If you like coffee -- A LOT -- you will like this product. Otherwise, the aftertaste is disgusting.

Somehow, I missed the protesters from Houston at the gate that I read about in the paper this morning, there to encourage me to forsake my $35 ticket, because I will be exposed to abortion and birth control propaganda from Planned Parenthood otherwise. But I did witness a guy giving away Biore products mobbed by several dozen teenage girls when he announced what he was giving away. Biore was everywhere at this festival -- and several people decided to put the strips on their noses during the Fair as a kind of fashion statement. Good music and get rid of black heads, all at one place!

Lots of booths, many that also frequent Ren Faires, no doubt. The best was, believe it or not, Planned Parenthood, which was running a sex quiz and had a basket of condoms (I did not partake, as there is no need right now. sigh). After observing several contestants trying to answer multiple choice questions, I am fearful of where this upcoming generation is headed.

The crowd was predominantly female, but not overwhelmingly so -- women outnumbered guys about 3 to 1. And I must say that it was really cool to be out and about and see most women dressed comfortably and for themselves rather than uncomfortably for others.

On the second stage, playing as we approached, was N'Dea Davenpport. I found her enthusiastic but her music kind of bland. Unchallenging. Good as background music. I didn't realize she was merely introducing the theme of Lilith Faire. Next was Talking to Animals on the even smaller stage, but we decided to head up the hill to set up camp and have a clear shot of the main stage. By the time we had found a place and relaxed, Liz Phair took the main stage, and we watch her tiny speck on the stage so far away -- they weren't lighting the stage yet, and she was dressed in dark clothes, so all we could see was a tiny guitar floating on stage. She was absolutely swallowed by the huge space, and her low key, dreary music did not translate well for this venue.

Midway through what I hoped was her last song, I headed over solo to the second stage, and found a place to sit just as Lucinda Williams appeared. For the next 45 minutes, I was in heaven. She was the anti-Lilith Fair, music with spirit and bite and roughness and rhythm!! Incredible. Her band was incredible as well, with Bo Ramsey on electric guitar. She complained at one point that some were telling her to not wear anything too "country," so that she won't be categorized as twang. Her response was, "Twang this." The crowd was screaming for more, but she was locked into the Lilith timeline -- no encores, stay on schedule. If you are foolish enough not to own her latest CD, your life is an empty shell.

Headed for a beer pickup, and then back to base camp, where I got the surprise of the day -- Erykah Badu is terrific!! And easy to see on that stage so far away with her Texas-sized yellow head rap. She was groovy and powerful and I felt cooler after hearing her. She was another exception to the Lilith Fair rules of enthusiastic bland music. The crowd was sincerely grooving along. I was surprised to hear her be so proud to be a Texan, actually -- you don't get that from her videos.

Bonnie Raitt followed, and I was thrilled to find that she was as great as I hoped she would be -- and also easy to see in her large red hair. She is an electrifying performer, and obviously loves the stage. I did not feel like she was a football field away, and the crowd around us was totally into her -- everyone was up and moving, finally! I heard her recent live CD and was quite unimpressed -- this was just the opposite. I think I'm going to have to brave the yuppies and go see her on her next tour. She did a duet with Sarah McLachlan, who really, really needs to explore twang -- she's got the voice for it.

Next was Natilie Merchant. I know a couple of you out there are big fans. Heck, I've even got one of her CDs. But she was horrible -- I never realized that all of her songs sound the same, which was bad enough, but what was worse -- she was SO offkey (flat). It was embarassing. But not as embarassing as the people in rhapsody around us (I think it was just because they knew all the words to the songs). I haven't been this dissappointed since seeing Jackson Browne at the Bridge Concert in 1990. Never again. Plus -- what the heck is UP with Natilie Merchant headlining over Bonnie Raitt? Paleeeease.... On a good note, she seems like a really nice person, and was the first to point out that estrogen was misspelled on the radio station banner flying overhead (estrugen).

The blandness continued with Ms. McLachlan, also obviously a very nice person. But, again.... I was about to fall over from boredom. I felt the need to go shopping for groceries -- it was sounding like Muzak.

Rebecca and I decided, as we sat in the parking lot amid a sea of unmoving cars as midnight approached, that what Lilith Fair needed was Hole, No Doubt, Missy "Misdeamenor" Elliot or Queen Latifah, to give it more contrast. Maybe I would have appreciated McLachlan more if she'd followed someone loud on stage.

Thanks for sitting through this e-mail, which I hope was less bland than Lilith.


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