Empty Bobbins: The Musicians Who Raised Me

A while back I discovered Pandora online, and I later downloaded the app on my phone.  In addition to their pre-made stations, you can make your own, liking or disliking songs to fine-tune the algorithm.  I made several different ones: Broadway, 90’s pop, Classic Rock, movie soundtracks.  Heck, I was even in a “dark chocolate” mood one day and made a Danny Elfman station.  But by far my favorite station, and the one I curate the most, is a station I named “Lilith Fair”.

My Lilith Fair Pandora Station

Lilith Fair was a music festival from 1997-99 with a revival in 2010.  It was a celebration of female singer-song writers and musicians.  Check out the names on the main stage from that first 1997 festival!

Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne, The Cardigans, Emmylou Harris, Lisa Loeb
Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Meredith Brooks, Tracy Bonham, India Arie, and Natalie Merchant.

The second and third stages also had some powerful names as well.  I know I spotted my beloved Dar Williams and Dido on those lists.

These ladies and many others fill my Pandora station.  And I love listening to it while I’m quilting.  It’s a neat dynamic, really, creating and crafting in this traditional art form while listening to the restless voices of these beautiful women.

As I listened one day, I realized exactly how lucky I was to come of age during this musical chapter.  The 90’s had a lot of issues, and I refuse to romanticize it.  But the nostalgia attached to the music is real and makes me pine for the time when the fanciest people out there had bag phones they used in their cars with an antenna they placed on top of their car with a cord that kept you from fully rolling up your window.  Long before names like Nokia and Verizon invaded every aspect of life.

I remember being in middle school and listening to Alanis Morissette’s album Jagged Little Pill. Her frustration and heartbreak, especially on the hidden track, spoke to middle school me in a way I didn’t yet understand.


But Alanis was only the beginning.  As I listened to this station, I recognized, as an adult, how different their messages were and how they’d resounded with me throughout my life.  From Paula Cole’s disillusionment with her husband in “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” to Tracy Chapman’s disappointment and longing in “Fast Car”, I grew up with a diet of women challenging the status quo and demanding something better.


Jewel taught me to get indignant when I was being taken for granted, “Well excuse me, guess I’ve mistaken you for somebody else.  Somebody who gave a damn. Somebody more like myself.”

Sheryl Crow taught me that “everyday was a winding road” and to keep on trying.


Melissa Ethridge taught me that sometimes folks need to be reminded of how damned awesome I can be in “I’m the Only One.”

Natalie Merchant’s album Tigerlily was one repeat as soon as I bought the CD.  She taught me about love and loss in “My Beloved Wife” and that sometimes I am just beyond common understandings and destined for more in “Wonder.”


Meredith Brooks taught me that I don’t always have to be predictable and that it was ok to be a mixed bag in her song “Bitch.”

I remember when Sarah McLaughlin’s song “Angel” wasn’t associated with animals needing help OR Nicolas Cage!

The Spice Girls taught me all about friendship.

TLC taught me all about self love right as I headed off to college.


So yeah, the 90’s weren’t without their issues.  We had drug epidemics, race riots, and wished “Peace in the Middle East” to one another in our 5th grade classes.  But the music?  It was one of the things that I was lucky to have.  And I can see on my station where those women paved the way for others, and I welcome them to my Lilith Fair station.  They’re in it and fit in nicely with their 90’s sisters.

Related posts and blogs:

The women’s music book, she lives!

Myths about women’s music and culture: they shoot men at women’s festivals, right?

Building a Mystery by Judith Fitzgerald








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