It was that time of day. Sarah McLachlan had just made her daily transition from Mom to Lilith Fair cruise director. Her two daughters were off at lunch with their nanny, and McLachlan was making her daily media rounds to discuss the return of the unexpectedly beleaguered Lilith Fair.
After an 11-year hiatus, the once-mighty female music fest has returned to a flurry of negative headlines. Thirteen of the original 36 shows have been canceled due to soft ticket sales. Norah Jones, Rihanna, Queen Latifah, Kelly Clarkson and Loretta Lynn have dropped out. Ticket prices have skyrocketed to as much as $260. Sunday's Minneapolis show has been downsized from Canterbury Park to Target Center.
McLachlan, Lilith's founder, headliner and guiding light, prefers to accentuate the positive. "We've had amazing audiences; they've just been on fire. The bands have been great. The music has been amazing. So it's all great," she said last week. "What's wrong with Lilith? Not much, in my opinion. I look at the 9,000 people who did come who had huge smiles on their face. That's what I focus on."
Despite McLachlan's sunny disposition, she has taken heat for ticket prices. The Canadian superstar said the prices -- including subsequent discounts after sales slumped -- were determined by Live Nation, the world's largest promoter. However, a progressive soul like McLachlan teaming with the fiscally aggressive Live Nation makes about as much sense as a Democratic political candidate hiring Karl Rove to run her campaign.
McLachlan laughed at the analogy.
"I have some issues with them, but they're trying, and they're losing a lot of money, too; we don't have a lot of control with what they do with ticket pricing in the end," she said of Live Nation.
No matter how McLachlan spins it, the downward spiraling statistics don't lie. In Minneapolis, where Lilith averaged 27,000 people from '97 through '99, only 8,000 to 10,000 are expected to show up Sunday.
"For us, that's great in this economy, considering what other tours are doing, other than maybe Nickelback," said McLachlan. "Are we disappointed that we aren't selling 27,000? Sure. I'm just thankful that we get to do the tour."
McLachlan posits that attendance may be down because of the particular lineup for the Minneapolis show, which took a hit when Clarkson pulled out. She has been replaced by Court Yard Hounds, who canceled their March Minneapolis gig. Fans tend to shy away from artists who have burned them at the box office.
Moreover, the core demographic of Lilith is much like McLachlan -- women with kids, making it challenging to commit to an eight-hour day/night marathon. Nonetheless, when McLachlan, 42, looks into the audience, she sees many familiar faces.
"They are still like me. To a certain degree, I've brought my audience with me," she said. "There's a lot of a young people, too. And, quite frankly, a lot more men. Maybe their wives are all dragging them out. But I see a lot of guys, and they're really getting into it."