This Week In History: The Inaugural Lilith Fair Festival Kicks Off

July 5, 1997: The first ever female-fronted music festival Lilith Fair begins its first tour

In 1996, while promoters and radio programmers were still often refusing to feature two female artists in a row, Sarah McLachlan decided to challenge the industry standard when she booked a tour featuring herself and Paula Cole. A show in her hometown of Halifax added additional female artists including Lisa Loeb and Michelle McAdorey of Crash Vegas. They nicknamed that show “Lilith Fair”, honouring the figure Lilith from Jewish folklore, who was Adam’s first wife, and who refused to become subservient to him. The tour with Cole was a success, and it gave McLachlan the idea to make an even bigger move: a touring music festival featuring an all-female lineup.

In the summer of 1997, Lilith Fair kicked off with a lineup that featured many of the biggest names of that decade, including McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, Paula Cole, Fiona Apple, Indigo Girls, Lisa Loeb, and Natalie Merchant. The festival was a huge success, and soon became the top-grossing festival of 1997.

The achievements of the inaugural Lilith Fair secured a second run in 1998, and its proof of success led to an even bigger lineup that brought in Bonnie Raitt, Chantal Kreviazuk, Emmylou Harris, and expanded upon the folk-centric roster of the first tour with the additions of artists like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliot.

The festival ran again in 1999, but it would be its last run (excluding an unsuccessful attempt to bring it back in 2010.) McLachlan stated she had “more than proven her point when it comes to women’s place in music.” When Lilith Fair wrapped up, they had brought in over 1.5 million fans to 139 shows, and grossed well over $60 million – with $1 from each ticket going toward local women’s shelters and domestic violence crisis centres in the US and Canada.