Is it really brave to travel alone to an unfamiliar city, with nobody to meet at the destination? Don’t people do that all the time? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that I look about five years younger than I am, based on one recent estimate. Young and naive. But whatever other people may think, for me, this trip did take a lot of planning and anxiety and doubt. So maybe it was an act of bravery, after all. I'm still trying to decide.
When I first drafted this, I was on a train rattling its way through the mountains of Pennsylvania. I was still far from home. The Alleghenies are beautiful green hills at this time of year, dotted with small valley towns, and I hope someday to find an excuse to visit them again by rail. In the fall. They must be breathtaking. You have to be patient, but the train is an amazing way to travel.
My weeklong vacation to Pennsylvania was all a successful effort to attend the Lilith concert in Philadelphia. Technically, it was across the river in Camden, New Jersey, but everybody knows where The City of Brotherly Love is located. Camden, not so much. Of course, there was a much closer Lilith concert in Detroit, too, but the lineup wasn’t quite as interesting. I wanted to choose one, however, and all of Missy Higgins’s (Yes, I would cross state lines to see her in concert, thank you.) tour dates were on the Eastern Seaboard. Philadelphia was the second closest of those. Washington, D.C. was first, but not by enough to really matter. Besides, I’d been there before. So, inspired to “steer,” I made my way to Lilith by car, bus, train and subway.
Waiting outside the Susquehanna Bank Center (formerly the Tweeter Center, by which it is still known to the locals), enjoying the breeze off the river and sharing sunscreen with other concertgoers, meant meeting women of all ages. Most of them were from New Jersey. Each looked forward to their favorite artists. It was outside, waiting for the gates to open, that I met (among others) Michelle and Michelle, two women in their middle years, Lilith Fair vets and rural Garden State citizens. They may have been a couple, though I never asked. We chatted about call-in radio contests, and country versus city air, and they reminisced about the old Lilith, lamenting the lack of late ‘90s artists. Though I never went to a ‘90s Lilith (something I regret), I enjoy the associated artists, too. Just the same, the more current artists that dominated the Philly/Camden lineup were mostly amazing.
I stuck with the Michelles for a while, having found in learning the train system that much of steering involves asking questions and following the lead of people who know what they are doing. (Not for nothing are we humans frequently compared to sheep.) I stopped at a tent, ate a sample of fair trade chocolate, and joined them at a blue metal picnic table, where we chatted some more, and sipped beer, water, and water doctored with samples the Crystal Lite people were desperate to unload. This was at the Village Stage. Apparently there was an earlier act at the ABC Stage on the other side of the amphitheater, but I missed that as Marié Digby appeared nowhere on any schedule. The first act I saw was Joy Ike. Her voice was rich and soulful (a common theme at this concert), accompanied by keyboard, drums, ‘cello, string bass, and so much warmth you don’t even know. And I’m not talking about the weather, though that was plenty warm, too.
The crowds weren’t huge early in the day, and outdoor mingling agrees with me more than indoor. It contributes to the festival atmosphere, makes it not just a concert, but a celebration.
After Joy’s set, I temporarily said goodbye to the Michelles and went in search of the ABC Stage and Zee Avi. Who I eventually found, but not before acquiring more sponsor samples (they were everywhere) and missing her first song or two. Zee is from Malaysia which may partly (I don’t know) explain her breezy island pop sound. (One way or another, the island comes through in the music. See also: Heather Nova.) She’s crazy talented on guitar and ukelele, and her "Honey Bee" song is kind of bittersweet and mostly adorable. I thoroughly enjoyed Zee.
In spite of that, I left the set a bit early, because I’d been listening to a Lilith 2010 sampler on the way to Philly, and loving “Keeper” by Butterfly Boucher. I did not want to miss her, and she was back on the Village Stage. So I rejoined the Michelles, who had been waiting for this performance back at the table, and stuck with the Village Stage for the rest of the opening acts. Butterfly rocks. And excels at onstage banter, in spite of sunglasses she’d forgotten to remove and later regretted. I honestly didn’t think about it at the time, but then, I was off to the side and out of eye contact range.
Part of the banter was actually between Butterfly and surprise guest vocalist Sarah McLachlan. It was about morning breath. You probably had to be there.
After that performance, I skipped Anjulie (who was back over at the ABC Stage) in favor of getting Scary Fragile signed, and meeting Butterfly. Briefly, of course, but she is very nice. Oh, and then there was meeting Georgi and her daughter. We chatted about music, mostly, including country which is slightly more my cuppa than I used to think. It’s interesting how life events shape our connections to different genres and artists... I had not brought a camera with me, in accordance with the rules I’d found online regarding the venue. Apparently they’d relaxed the camera thing, though, and Georgi’s daughter wanted to get a photo with Butterfly. When the line had cleared, she did that, and Georgi kindly took one for me, too. We exchanged e-mails, so that she could send it to me later.
Thank you, Georgi and Butterfly!
By that time, I had completely lost track of the Michelles. I couldn’t find them at the Main Stage, either, but I hope they had fun!
Next on the Village Stage was Jill Hennessy. I was a huge fan of Crossing Jordan for years (before it started crossing over with Las Vegas and entering whole new levels of weird), and during that time I apparently gained a lot of knowledge about Jill. Nothing creepy, just major roles, busking past and identical twin status. Which was still way more than the woman (not Georgi, someone else) sitting next to me knew when she asked who was playing up there. Jill’s voice is interesting, deep but feminine with a faster vibrato than you’d expect. She was not the strongest vocalist at Lilith, but she made up for it with charisma. She’s an actress. Why not? Jill was joined for part of her set by Martie Maguire of the Courtyard Hounds. There was more banter and some wicked fiddling. I snuck away during the set long enough to grab a hotdog and refill my water bottle for perhaps the third time so I could make it through the Main Stage acts. But I didn’t miss much. I don’t think. I’d go to see Jill Hennessy again live, but I don’t know how interested I am in her album. And I do have two tracks of hers on my iPod already, from the Crossing Jordan soundtrack. (I said I used to be a fan of that show, right?) No rush.
Somewhere between Jill and the Main Stage, I lost track of Georgi and her daughter. (This losing track of people thing had become a theme early on, specifically at Union Station in Chicago.) I did, however, meet a young couple from the one county in Pennsylvania I’d heard of. And, well, we chatted. They were where that five-years-too-young age estimate came from. She was looking forward to Missy Higgins as much as I was, which for some reason surprised me. Missy isn’t that big a name in the States, really, and wasn’t bumped to the Main Stage until Kelly Clarkson (definitely a big name) withdrew from the concert series. I was glad not to be alone. Her boyfriend seemed interested in the music, too. He certainly didn't begrudge being there. We chatted about music and (of all things) smoking. And about how I would get back across the river. I’d taken the PATCO train to Jersey, but didn’t feel comfortable enough with Camden to negotiate it in the late evening. They offered to take me across the river if the ferry wasn’t running, which was extremely generous of them.
Eventually, we said our goodbyes and went off to find our respective seats. Mine was fairly close to the front and slightly off to the right, which coincidentally mirrored my vantage point at the side stages. It was not a bad place to be.
When Serena Ryder came on, it was not in front of a full house. Sad, really, because she rocked. People did not know what they were missing. She has an alt-country/folk-rock thing going on that I still haven’t quite pegged, but whatever her official genre, she rocked, the fringe on her black shirt shimmering as she danced and head-banged (no, really, it works, look it up on YouTube), making excellent use of her hair. And her voice. It’s powerful and smoky and true, chock full of emotion. She owns the stage and she loves it. This may sound blasphemous, considering, but of the four Canadians performing at Lilith, Philadelphia she may have been my favorite. I was disappointed that Janelle Monae had to pull out of the concert, but not that Serena got to take center stage in her place.
Then there was a break, with ads on the screens next to the stage, which I mostly ignored. More seats filled in, and it became clear that the beer had been flowing. And Missy Higgins, with one accompanist, came on stage. Audience conversation and shouted requests marred Missy’s set a bit, at least for me. I blame my upbringing in theater etiquette. That sort of thing is hard to ignore, especially when your favorite artist’s set is so quiet to begin with. But hey, I’d come all that way for it, so I did my best to ignore the women in front of me. And the ones at the other end of my row, the ones shouting requests. The set was primarily drawn from On A Clear Night, with the exception of “The Special Two,” a beautiful song, but a loud and obnoxious request from the yellers. Missy pulled that off in spite of being a bit sheepish about her older material. (She did, in fact, remember all the words.) The set also included, to the best of my memory, “Where I Stood,” “Sugarcane,” “Secret,” “Angela,” “Peachy,” and “Going North.” Not in that order -- I used the track listing on my iPod to jog my memory -- but you get the idea. (Much later, the setlist was posted on Twitter. If you’re curious.) With the exception of “Peachy,” they were some of Missy’s quiet songs which, to be fair, make up the majority of her catalog. She would have played “The Wrong Girl” instead of “Angela,” if not for a faulty electronic device on the necessary guitar. Needless to say, the song was gracefully aborted due to technical difficulties (That’s how you know it’s live.), and a new guitar and more upbeat song were chosen. I really did enjoy the music, and someday I hope to see Missy play in a smaller venue, a place more conducive to jazzy acoustic pop. Preferably a dry venue.
I think the break between Missy and Sara Bareilles included the showing of a new sitcom on those screens. But I can’t be certain. It wasn’t very good, whatever it was. Once I'd remembered where I'd seen the lead actress before (Crossing Jordan. Really.), I ignored it completely.
Sara is technically an excellent live performer. Her music has just never clicked with me for whatever reason. I couldn’t tell you why, and nothing has really changed since seeing her perform. My favorite part of her set was actually her cover of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” mostly because it was both well-done and unexpected. But the thing I remember most was Sara talking about how emotional she was. She mentioned this two or three times. And it’s not like every performer before her, or after her, hadn’t said something about being honored and excited to be at the concert, or about loving their jobs, but... I guess I just didn’t hear her emotion in song the way I had the others. Ahh well.
After Sara came the Court Yard Hounds, the only mainstream country act at the show. I was not that familiar with them, though I have liked what little I’ve heard of the Dixie Chicks. This is a spin-off group, so at least I had some idea. I can’t tell you much about the first part of their set because I was very distracted by a couple who’d taken seats in the row in front of me. Both were pretty inebriated. She was standing up, half swaying, half dancing. (I switched seats temporarily so I could actually see the stage instead of just her back and hips.) At some point, I do believe she was stroking the hair of the woman in front of her. Her (soon-to-be ex?) boyfriend or hubby was sitting down, and snapping at her to sit down as well. I think. I didn’t actually hear them, but you could tell he was frustrated. So was she. What a happy couple. Eventually security kicked them out, possibly due to the hair stroking thing, and I was able to focus on the stage, which was considerably less dramatic but much more fun. Country vocals didn’t do much for me, but I loved the instrumentals. And the fact that Jill Hennessy got to join Martie and Emily for a song or two.
Before the grand finale of the evening, and the seats were really filling in by then, I went off to purchase a t-shirt (That was a small mission of mine, to procure a concert t-shirt.), and a fresh bottle of water. I doubted I’d have time afterwards, what with the need to get back to Philly and everything. At that point I was glad I hadn’t sprung for a VIP ticket. After all, I had met an artist, if not the one that would show up for the VIP meet and greet (I wonder who did?), and didn’t have to contend with lines at the merchandise booth after all. My not-so-important-person ticket was perfect. Anyway, I was back to my seat in plenty of time for Sarah McLachlan, who regaled us with old favorites (including “Building a Mystery” and, of course, “Possession”) and new, dramatic lighting, and a performance that... Well, she lived up to her reputation. A lot. I’d tell you more about it, but what is there to say? She is Sarah McLachlan, and she is awesome.
After that, there was encore of “Ice Cream,” (much like on the live album Mirrorball, including the audience sing-along part, so I guess some things just don't change all that much) and another of... I’m not sure what the song was, but it was a vaguely familiar cover, and it was performed by... well, a lot of different people.
And before I knew it, it was time to go. Naturally, I’d lost track of the Pennsylvania couple. Luckily, with the help of other concert-goers on the way to the ferry (which was in fact still running), I was able to get back across the river safe and sound. It was much more pleasant than the subway. I was also able to get back to the hotel safely. To the Pennsylvania couple who insisted I share their cab rather than wait alone for another (they were few and far between, the taxis at Penn’s Landing), thank you. You have no idea what that meant to me. City of Brotherly Love, indeed!
I’d tell you more about the touristy things I did (Yes, of course I saw the Liberty Bell!) or the my favorite train station (30th Street in Philadelphia), or the train rides themselves (not fast, but fun), but the concert was my primary goal. I did meet a lot of people along the way, though. Not just at Lilith, either, but at the stations and on the trains. Many of them were willing guides. Others just liked to chat. There were the women I passed the time with at the Pittsburgh station on the way home, when our train was delayed for three hours (finally coming in at three in the morning.) There is not a lot to do in the Pittsburgh station, and I don’t know about the nightlife in the city proper, so we talked. A lot. To the retired relocated Texas schoolteacher and her mother, and to the woman from Oregon who let me play with her Kindle so I could help her learn to use it, I had a lot of fun talking about cats and Sudoku and I don’t remember what else (it was very late), and I hope you are all well and reached your destinations safely. To the other couple I met at the Pittsburgh station when I was going the other way, the one with children in all four corners of the States, I hope your lengthy trip went well! For all I know it is still going. To the retired music teacher I met at the Battle Creek station and lost track of in Chicago, I hope you are well, too, and that your eventual time in the Windy City was grand. To the mother and daughter headed home to New York, who I met in the station in East Lansing, I hope you made it home safely without much further delay. (The train out of Battle Creek was about an hour and a half late.) It was fun to meet you both! To the new music teacher headed out to Nevada, who I met on the train from Philly to Pittsburgh, I hope you enjoy your new home, and that your job goes well. I wish I could connect you to the teacher I met in Battle Creek. That would be so cool. To the retired professor I met on the train from Chicago to Pittsburgh, I hope you are well, and discover what you are looking for. I am still not sure what that is. But it was an interesting conversation, at least. To the woman on the train from Pittsburgh to Toledo who moved her stuff so I could take my assigned seat and get a bit of sleep... well, there is no way you are actually reading this. No thanks for confusing the heck out of me when I was exhausted at three in the morning and thinking I was in the wrong car because my seat appeared to be taken, but thanks for moving your stuff for me. Really. Seriously, though, people who ride trains seem to be an agreeable, patient bunch. Makes sense to me!
To all of my guides, thank you. Lilith may have been a solo journey for me, but it was not taken alone, and the people I met along the way were just as important as the concert itself. I may not remember all of your names, if I ever got them, and you may not have even gotten mine, but that’s the way it seems to work. It is entirely possible to lose track of people without forgetting them. (It has been two weeks since the concert, as I type this up, and I know I have forgotten names, but not faces. So I think I’m doing okay.)
To the artists: You rock. Butterfly has a new fan for life, I think. Serena does, too, and I’m seriously considering going to see her live again, soon. It would be a total of four hours or so of highway driving, and I am not at all used to highway driving, so I don’t know for certain that I will go. But I do have more confidence about traveling now. I know that I can steer, literally and figuratively. And for that, thank you to Missy Higgins for the inspiration and the motivation. It really means a lot. And that was a most excellent vacation. Hm. Maybe I'll try it again next summer...