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A day at the Fair

By Jen Levario
Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 21, 1999
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Not often do you find a bouncy hip-hop artist, an alternative band, an established country singer, a rock artist and a folk singer sharing a stage.

But in a diversion from the past years' shows at Phoenix's Desert Sky Pavilion -which featured headliners like Jewel, the Indigo Girls and Natalie Merchant - the Lilith Fair took a turn for the multifarious.

Opening the main stage was Lilith newcomer Mya, best known for her hip-hop songs like "Take Me There" from the "Rugrats" movie and "Ghetto Superstar." Claiming dance as her only instrument, the 19-year-old chart-topper looked to please an audience of folk fans by trading in her black platforms mid-performance for a pair of tap shoes. The other highlight of this half-hour show was an invitation to children for on-stage dancing as Mya sang "Take Me There."

Up next was a mediocre-at-best performance by Luscious Jackson. For a band who has toured with Lilith Fair before, they were surprisingly unimpressive. They bopped around and sang pretty well, but for $45, I was expecting spectacular. There really wasn't much from this act you couldn't get on MTV or VH1.

The three main attractions, each playing for about an hour, were all sensational. A distant lightning storm illuminated the sky just as Martina McBride bolted out an a capella opening to her liberating ballad, "Independence Day." The singer, known primarily in the country music circuit, earned a standing ovation and humbly graced the crowd with an encore, vowing never to forget Phoenix for its graciousness.

Sheryl Crow, the best act on the bill, was amazing. Her performance strayed more from the expected than the other artists' - bringing in a violinist and a cellist to accent a more electric sound than Crow's radio hits exhibit.

Tom Petty fans recognized veteran Benmont Tench on piano, and Wendy Melvoin displayed the guitar prowess she sharpened on classic Prince albums. Calling Lilith Fair "an everything concert," Crow also took time to pay somber tribute to John Kennedy Jr. just days after his tragic disappearance.

Sarah McLachlan didn't seem to match the energy that McBride and Crow radiated, but even on a bad day, McLachlan is phenomenal. Opening with "Possession" - the song that catapulted her to stardom - McLachlan had the audience starstruck. She let her fans carry the music with familiar songs like "Ice Cream" and "Building a Mystery."

Closing the last year of Lilith Fair was a dynamic group effort with Crow and McLachlan singing lead on the Jackie DeShannon hit "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." The rest of the artists took the stage as back-up for a quintessential closing to the final "Celebration of Women in Music."