Amid all the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, it’s important to note that all the attempts to recreate its magic have failed miserably. It was therefore left up to other festivals such as Lollapalooza to bring that communal energy to subsequent generations, although the one that arguably came closest to capturing Woodstock’s original spirit was Lilith Fair.
As the brainchild of Sarah McLachlan and her management team at Nettwerk Records, Lilith Fair’s three-year existence from 1997-1999 marked a watershed moment for women in popular music. One of them is Bif Naked who was part of the ’99 tour, an experience she has continued to draw strength from as she has battled to overcome serious health issues since then.
As one of the few rockers on the Lilith bill that year, gaining the support of other female artists also spurred her work to inspire others in difficult circumstances, as chronicled in her best-selling memoir I, Bificus and her latest collaboration with the web series Cypher, in which she talks about the effect that a cancer diagnosis has on mental health and her journey from care recipient to caregiver.
We caught up with Bif Naked as she was promoting Cypher, which has also featured other artists ranging from Jann Arden and PUP discussing the connections between music and mental health.
What are you up to at the moment?
Currently, I am happily working on new music and finalizing mixes for the upcoming new Bif Naked releases. I also have a new book of poetry and other essays, as well as a work-in-progress book about cancer and staying alive. On top of that, there are some new artists with whom I am working in a management capacity. I just love life and staying busy.
You talk about being part of Lilith Fair on your Cypher episode and the effect it had on you. What your strongest memories of that tour?
For me, it’s all about the female energy and collective efforts each day to ensure that the concert was a safe place for women. I loved being a part of this legendary tour. It was empowering and validating for me at that time, as an artist and as a female. It was a wonderful experience.
How do you gauge the legacy of Lilith Fair today?
Well, it hasn’t been paralleled ever since. At the time it was a great response to the lack of female representation on the radio—in my case rock radio—and the fact that so many industry big shots said a tour with too many female artists would not be popular, or make money. They could not have been more wrong. Sarah McLachlan created an amazing tour that brought together millions of people and raised millions of dollars for local charities.
You've overcome a lot of personal hardship in recent years. What is your best advice to anyone dealing with problems they feel are insurmountable?
I don't think my challenges were worse than anyone else's, whether it is cancer or heart surgery or divorce, deaths of parents or pets—we all experience these. My breast cancer was what showed me the way to becoming a volunteer, for example, and my heart surgery made me believe my heartbeats were rewritten and I decided to be open to falling in love again after my divorce. There is always a blessing in every hardship, and I think that the best advice for anyone who is facing adversities or hardship is to never give up. Not ever. No matter how daunting an obstacle or how low we feel we have sand, there is always a seed of hope we still have in our hearts. And it will grow. Never give up and never lose hope, just believe with all of your heart that you will overcome it, no matter how long it takes. And just put one foot in front of the other and start taking the steps.
Is there anything you would add or change on your Wikipedia page?
That’s a good question as I find my Wikipedia page very bewildering and inaccurate in some places. In an abstract sense, I wouldn't change a thing about my life or my history, but it makes me wish I had made an audiobook out of I, Bificus. My reading would, of course, include snort-laughing and whispers!