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Sarah McLachlan's Trailblazing Lilith Fair Festival Takes Centre Stage In New Documentary

Sheryl Crow, Erykah Badu, Olivia Rodrigo and many more are featured in the upcoming feature-length film directed by rising Canadian Ally Pankiw and exploring the legacy of the late '90s all-women music festival.

Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan

Kharen Hill

An under-appreciated, influential '90s festival is getting its due in the form of an upcoming feature-length documentary.

Lilith Fair will tell the story of Sarah McLachlan's travelling music festival, which featured all-female lineups in a groundbreaking effort to push back on sexism in the live music industry.


The documentary, helmed by rising Canadian director Ally Pankiw and co-produced by Dan Levy and Christina Piovesan, will feature interviews with some of the festival's biggest acts, including Sheryl Crow, Erykah Badu, The Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile, as well as contemporary artists like Olivia Rodrigo, attesting to the festival's legacy.

Running from 1997 to 1999, Lilith Fair was founded to elevate and build community between women artists, and helped give major spotlights to future stars like Missy Elliott, Nelly Furtado, Tegan and Sara and The Chicks. McLachlan was inspired to start the festival when she repeatedly heard from bookers that audiences didn't want to see multiple women on concert lineups.

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She revived the festival in 2010, bringing back original performers and welcoming new ones like Lights and Serena Ryder.

The documentary is based on music journalist Jessica Hopper's 2019 oral history of the festival, written with Sasha Geffen and Jenn Pelly, which describes the mid-to-late '90s as a breakthrough moment for women songwriters on the charts, when McLachlan, Crow, Alanis Morissette, Lisa Loeb and more were achieving mainstream success but still coming up against sexist barriers in the industry.

The oral history also highlights how progress isn't absolute: even as Lilith Fair proved that festivals could have huge sales with only women on the bill, the festival was stereotyped as overly feminine and frivolous. And as pop music entered the 2000s, many women were pushed back into the margins, with the successes of Lilith forgotten or ignored. Even today, 25 years after Lilith Fair, festival lineups are still male-dominated, as the Instagram account Book More Women highlights.

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The documentary, executive produced by Hopper, will reflect on these lessons and legacies, drawing from over 600 hours of archival footage. "I want to give a deeper understanding of the festival to the young female, nonbinary and queer musicians, and music fans who picked up a guitar or tickets to a concert for the first time because Lilith showed them how," says Pankiw.

The film about McLachlan's festival comes as the Canadian singer-songwriter is looking back on her own trajectory, with a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of her album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. This fall, she will also be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Lilith Fair is set for a Canadian theatrical run, distributed by Elevation Pictures, and will premiere on CBC during the 2025-26 season.

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Alvvays
Norman Wong

Alvvays

Rock

Happy Anniversary, Archie: Alvvays' Debut Record Gets a 10th Birthday Re-Issue

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