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8 Tracks: We reimagine Lilith Fair for 2024

Maggie Rogers' new song, "Don't Forget Me," is a folksy, yet fierce singalong.
Erika Goldring
FilmMagic via Getty Images
Maggie Rogers' new song, "Don't Forget Me," is a folksy, yet fierce singalong.

8 Tracks is your antidote to the algorithm. Each week, NPR Music producer Lars Gotrich, with the help of his colleagues, makes connections between sounds across time. A slightly different version of this column originally ran in the NPR Music newsletter.

There's something about a twang in an artist's voice that gets inside me. Maggie Rogers has always had those curlicues in her voice, but they were subdued in the deliriously joyful pop throttle of 2022's Surrender. But on her latest single, "Don't Forget Me," she unlocks the full range of the song's powers: Its soft acoustic strum, loping rhythm section and Rogers' powerhouse yodel that turns to an exasperated sigh during the lyric "Oh and every time I try just a little" just reduce my heart to a puddle.

And while twang ain't far away from Kacey Musgraves, her recently released "Deeper Well" takes a turn toward Laurel Canyon fare: a song quickly fingerpicked, but sung with a slow and steady lilt, capturing her newfound realization about "how to take care of myself" in a zen state. It's one of her strongest songs since 2018's "Space Cowboy," and I can't wait to see her perform it live.

Ever since both of these tracks dropped on Feb. 8, I couldn't help but shake a familiar feeling, one larger than my personal preference for tender twang: They take me back to Lilith Fair.

Lilith Fair — for those who need a reminder or weren't around — was a traveling music festival that originally ran from 1997 to 1999, exclusively featuring women-fronted acts. It was, by many metrics, a massive success, garnering $60 million in revenue and $10 million for charity — not to mention increased album sales for its artists. But gaining respect was a constant battle for founder Sarah McLachlan and the festival itself: The festival was mocked by music critics and on SNL, struggled to find sponsors who understood McLachlan's mission and faced a by-now-stereotypical (yet still applicable) list of misogynistic barriers created by an industry that works on a one-woman-out-one-woman-in basis.

The new Kacey and Maggie tracks share sonic similarities to the first year of Lilith — folksy, yet fierce singalongs. And with Tracy Chapman's song of the year award at the CMAs and race back up the charts, boygenius' Grammy wins, Beyoncé's country songs and a forthcoming documentary about Lilith Fair (executive produced by music journalist Jessica Hopper), it feels like a revival for that era and sound of women-fronted music is afoot. But it's worth noting that Lilith Fair quickly diversified, booking the likes of Erykah Badu and Missy Elliott. More than any one sound or genre, the echoes of Lilith Fair's ethos can be found in festivals that create safe spaces for folks often left out of them: Afropunk and Break Free Fest come to mind as spots for POCs to be themselves, whether in fabulous fits or in mosh pits. "[At Lilith] you felt loved," Meshell Ndegeocello said in an incredible oral history for Vanity Fair. "And when you feel loved, you play well."

"Don't Forget Me" and "Deeper Well" gave me a springboard to think about what Lilith Fair taught us, as recalled by McLachlan to NPR: "To create an environment where everybody gets to be seen and heard and valued, and come as you are, you know, let your freak flag fly ... this is the place you get to do that and there is no judgment here."

For this 8 Tracks, I asked my super smart colleagues at NPR to dream up what a Lilith Fair could look like in 2024 and to share a song that would connect to the crowd. Kacey and Maggie should be there, of course, but these picks lean largely on artists of all genders from the past decade who were either too young or not even born, yet, when Lilith Fair first ran.

Mitski, "I Don't Like My Mind"

When I saw Mitski last year in a Broadway theater, she performed her album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We in full. It was beautiful, but something special happened during an encore of classics from her discography: Everyone — I mean everyone — sang along. Quietly at first, and then loudly, to "I Bet on Losing Dogs" and "Francis Forever." I can't fathom going to a contemporary Lilith Fair and not seeing her on stage, leading thousands in a singalong to her hits. —Hazel Cills

Cleo Reed, "Problem Kid"

Sound designer, composer and multi-disciplinary artist Cleo Reed's expansive and experiential soundscapes were made for Lilith Fair. With their band decked out in vintage clown costumes and aesthetics, Reed melds mediums of sound design and narrative-driven, self-directed performances of songs from their latest album, Root Cause, in an installation called the Black American Circus. I envision Cleo Reed and their crew performing the heavy drum- and synth-based track "Problem Kid," provoking hefty headbangs and sending the audience into blissful catharsis. —Ashley Pointer

Mannequin Pussy, "I Got Heaven"

Mannequin Pussy's music is often grueling and gorgeous, swarming with punk snarl and shoegaze swoon. Marisa Dabice's lyrics play with themes of the pious and the perverse, knowing that they're often the same, in order to understand how we relate to each other in desperate times. In a live setting, Mannequin Pussy occupies that sonic space, but leans into the scream whether felt or exhumed. —Lars Gotrich

Madi Diaz, "God Person"

The women of Lilith Fair may have been expert at artfully exposing their feelings, but they weren't just confessionalists. Often, they were downright philosophical — think of Jewel chasing wandering souls, Sarah McLachlan building mysteries, Joan Osborne seeing God on a bus. Madi Diaz picks up this seeker's staff on her wholly remarkable album Weird Faith, in songs that zoom galaxywide even when they're about plain old heartache. "God Person" is one of the best, a chamber-pop meditation on tentative, hungry agnosticism that ends up in a place of grace that Diaz accepts but does not need to name. —Ann Powers

Lo Steele, "Another Life"

Portland-based songwriter Lo Steele recently debuted a beautiful ode to motherhood based on a tweet she read about a caring maternal role reversal: choosing to be your own mother's mom and watch them grow. For her festival set, Steele would sing the track with her mom and, during swells of its "choose you every time" chorus, other artists who've recently become mamas or who have expressed a bond with their matriarchs — Kali Uchis, Cleo Sol, Victoria Monét, Jazmine Sullivan, Mereba — would harmonize as they join her on stage. —Sidney Madden

Say She She, "C'est Si Bon"

Say She She can light up any dance floor. But beyond the anthemic opening chant and funky bass line of "C'est Si Bon," the trio's whimsical harmonies give way to a glittery celebration of girlhood — one that winks back at the past just as easily as it boogies into the future. —Isabella Gomez Sarmiento

Waxahatchee, "Bored"

In 2017, The New York Times published a piece titled "Rock's Not Dead: It's Ruled By Women," citing Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield and her sister Allison as "crucial in helping to build this movement." Waxahatchee has since gone through a bit of a revolution; her songs sound airy and fresh-yet-classic, free from any genre constraints. She said of her new single, "Bored": "I hope you listen to it before you go quit your job, dump some jerk you're dating, feel heinously, egregiously, unbelievably wronged or are genuinely so over a bad situation that you've grown bored of it. Turn it up loud, windows down, I would love to be your friend in that moment." I get goosebumps just thinking of the catharsis of shouting along to "I get boooooored!" alongside a Lilith Fair crowd. —Elle Mannion

Gaby Moreno, "Solid Ground"

I have seen Gaby Moreno bring a rowdy crowd to pin-drop quiet with just an acoustic guitar and her voice, an instrument of extraordinary range. The bilingual Guatemalan singer-songwriter is a restless sound seeker, seamlessly working in bluesy rock, country, folk, traditional jazz and pop. As Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras sums up: "She has enormous musical depth" and knows how to hush our unsettled hearts and rev our souls. —Lars Gotrich

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Hazel Cills
Hazel Cills is an editor at NPR Music, where she edits breaking music news, reviews, essays and interviews. Before coming to NPR in 2021, Hazel was a culture reporter at Jezebel, where she wrote about music and popular culture. She was also a writer for MTV News and a founding staff writer for the teen publication Rookie magazine.
Ashley Pointer
Ashley Pointer is a news assistant for NPR Music.
Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
Sidney Madden is a reporter and editor for NPR Music. As someone who always gravitated towards the artforms of music, prose and dance to communicate, Madden entered the world of music journalism as a means to authentically marry her passions and platform marginalized voices who do the same.
Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.