The gates to Lilith Fair in Seattle don't open for another hour or so, but thousands of women are already lined up outside The Gorge Amphitheater. In bikini tops and cargo shorts or braless in floor-length sundresses, the festival-goers gathered for the Sarah McLachlan-led summer tour that celebrates female musicians call to each other as they head inside. A girl in a white slip dress trailing her friends across the parking lot yells, "Do I look cute right now?" Another leading her crew to the line shouts, "All my ladies say, 'Oh!'"
Amid all of this is a strange sight: A man. Max Tritt, 21, in a Brewers baseball hat and throwback Adidas sneakers, is standing in a nearby field, peeing. When he's done, he leans down, picks a dandelion from the freshly watered field, locates his girlfriend of five and half months in the line and presents it to her. That girlfriend is the reason Tritt, a student at Gonzaga University in Spokane, is here. "I'm fine with taking one for the team," he says. "I'm a trouper."
Two kinds of guys infiltrate the sisterhood of Lilith Fair, which has returned this summer after a 10-year hiatus with McLachlan headlining and a rotating undercard of artists such as Mary J. Blige, Cat Power, and Suzanne Vega. There are those who were dragged by their girlfriends or wives, like Tritt. And there are those who really, earnestly like the music. Standing next to Tritt is his buddy Will Foster, 22, who just graduated from Gonzaga, where he was the backup center on the Division 1 basketball team. He's a Sugarland fan. He bought tickets months ago when he heard the country duo was playing, but McLachlan is as big a draw. "I love her," he says, "I listened to 'Angel' last night." As the line starts to move and they head inside, Tritt remembers that he actually knows a McLachlan tune. "I do like that ice cream song," he says.
Will Foster and Max Tritt outside the Gorge amphitheater.
Lilith Fair has had a discouraging comeback so far. Last week, organizers canceled 11 shows, mostly in the South including big cities like Atlanta and Austin, and Kelly Clarkson quit entirely to concentrate on recording her next album. "It's the reality of this summer," Terry McBride, Lilith Fair's cofounder, told Rolling Stone. "It's just across the board. Main Street is still in recession. We're not out of this yet. Did we see that four months ago? I don't think anyone did." Some say the marketing, including television ads that urged women to be inspired, is to blame for poor ticket sales. Today, there are only about 9,000 people in the 25,000 capacity amphitheater; about 90 percent are female.
"The commercials were awful," says Steven Sloan, 33, from Seattle, who went to Lilith in 1998 in Denver and came back this year with his boyfriend. "I was like, 'Yeah, I don't know if it's going to inspire me.'" He adds that there were a lot more guys at Lilith a decade ago.
Steven Sloan (right) with his boyfriend.
The perception of Lilith Fair as a fest for only granola-munching, patchouli-smelling, hypersensitive chicks-with-guitars was never the whole truth—for example, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Liz Phair played in '98—and the guys who once chose it over the aggro gathering Lollapalooza and jam-happy H.O.R.D.E. seemed to know that. In 1997, both male-targeted concerts played to undercapacity amphitheaters in many cities, while Lilith Fair was the summer's top-grossing tour—it brought in more than $16 million—with the Indigo Girls, Fiona Apple, and Jewel on the bill. But nowadays, when feminist music is as likely to be accompanied by gold lamé and disco balls as it is by an acoustic guitar, the women and men at Lilith are being pigeonholed as pillars of old-school feminism. Sheryl Crow's backup singers even end her set with the emphatically second-wave act of ripping off their bras.
"I think it's great that women do this," says T.J. Conley, 24, from Walla Walla, Washington, who came with his fiancée and is reclining on the grass eating a bag of beef jerky while he waits for the show to start. Who would ever say that about Rihanna and Ke$ha's Last Girl on Earth summer tour?
Forrest Bray won tickets through a radio station and brought his girlfriend to the concert.
The Seattle show, held on July 3 with a main-stage lineup that also includes Colbie Caillat and Erykah Badu, is actually two and a half hours southeast of the city in George, Washington. There are worse places to be dragged to. The stage is nestled in a canyon-river combo so transfixing you'd probably still feel peaceful even if Paula Cole made a surprise appearance and sang "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" The venue is crowded with women buying frozen margaritas in guitar-shaped glasses and grabbing free samples of LUNA bars and Degree deodorant body spray. Even ten years later, the stereotype of the Lilith lady disliking body-hair maintenance—and its two main tools, antiperspirant and razors—seems to hold true. One woman tries the Degree sample and screams, "It burns." Another, who's dressed in a rainbow-striped one-piece bathing suit, needs a bikini wax as badly as Borat did.