"As one door closes, another one opens.”
Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan invoked that old homily while discussing changes in the music business, but it could just as easily describe her recent experiences with divorce and trying to revive her groundbreaking Lilith Fair tour.
Lilith, the traveling concert festival McLachlan founded and headlined in the 1990s, proved an all-female bill could indeed sell tickets -- it broke records at several venues -- and even opened the minds of radio programmers that had refused to play two songs in a row by women artists.
But it didn't fare so well in the festival-saturated, economically lousy summer of 2010. At least a dozen tour dates were canceled, and Lilith was part of a long list of tours (including the Eagles, Jonas Brothers and the Country Throwdown festival package) that canceled dates and became prime examples of the downturn in last summer's concert season.
Still, McLachlan's first album of new material in seven years, "Laws of Illusion," was well received (and grabbed the No. 2 spot on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart after its June 2010 debut). That apparently created opportunities for McLachlan to morph Lilith into the "Taste of Lilith" tour she took to Australia in the fall, and build the "Sarah and Friends" tour she debuted in November and continues with a six-week run of stateside dates this winter, followed by a month-long Canadian tour in March. The tour includes a Valentine's Day stop at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Monday.
"I love touring live," McLachlan said in a recent interview. "To me, that's where I shine."
Booked into theaters, the "Friends" shows allow McLachlan to showcase songs from "Illusions," her first album since going through a traumatic divorce from her former drummer, Ashwin Sood. She couldn't do that with her Lilith slot, which came at the end of a long day for fans. By then, she said, they want to hear songs they already know and love, and don't have the patience to sit through a lot of unfamiliar material.
By now, however, they've had more exposure to the album's songs. The intimate theater settings for the "Friends" tour also better lends itself to mixing new in with old. McLachlan also holds a Q&A with these audiences -- offering a rare opportunity for direct interaction with the eight-time Juno- and three-time Grammy winner -- and shines the spotlight on Lilith accompanists Butterfly Boucher and Melissa McClelland. Dubbed "burgeoning troubadours" by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, these two singer-songwriters each get a short set of their own.
Of course, McLachlan isn't ignoring her back catalog on the "Friends" tour, either, which makes sense considering the considerable success this native of Nova Scotia has enjoyed over what is now a two-decade career.
That career began in 1988, when McLachlan, then just 20, released her debut CD, "Touch." The CD pointed the way toward the sound she would develop, with its delicate piano-laced ballads and McLachlan's expressive and airy vocals.
But it wasn't until her third CD, 1993's "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy," that McLachlan broke through commercially. That album featured such singles as "Possession" and "Good Enough," and set the stage for even bigger success with her fourth CD, "Surfacing," which arrived in 1997. That CD featured hits like "Building a Mystery" and "Angel," and took McLachlan's career to heights where she could headline her own arena shows, as well as anchor what by then was a solidly established Lilith Fair.
But after the 1999 run, she put Lilith on hiatus and also announced that she was taking an extended break from music, during which time she married Sood and had her first daughter.
It took another four years before McLachlan resurfaced with the CD "Afterglow." But that CD proved that her popularity had endured. Like "Surfacing," it reached the No. 2 slot on "Billboard's" album chart and yielded three hit singles -- "Fallen," Stupid" and "World on Fire."
But after touring behind the "Afterglow" CD and releasing a 2004 DVD/CD, "Afterglow Live," McLachlan again retreated from the public eye for much of the next six years.
She's back in the spotlight now, and she's seizing the momentum the 2010 Lilith Fair and the "Illusions" CD have built by following up Lilith with the headlining tours.
McLachlan knows selling tickets to live shows is still one of the best ways to sell CDs and keep her career moving. She also can share cathartic moments with live audiences that neither could experience any other way.
"People connect to my songs on a really human, visceral, emotional level," said McLachlan. "Getting to sing those songs in front of people, whether it's a large audience or a small audience, it's exciting because, just judging from the feedback and the people you get to talk to, they connect to my songs on a really personal level. I always hear, 'You're talking to me about my feelings.'
"It is from a very personal point of view," she explained, "but I'm just basically writing about emotions, simple things that we all go through in some form or another. That's why other people connect with it."
Of the sometimes nakedly emotional tracks on "Illusions," she admitted, "I had no idea what kind of record I was going to write. I never do. I don't start out with any preconceived notions, I just write what comes out."
Though the songs are autobiographical, she said, "There is a lot of creative license." Despite the anguish contained in lyrics about love's dissolution, there's also euphoria on "Illusion"; it's captured in songs like "Loving You is Easy," within the lines, "'Cause I'm alive and I'm on fire/Shot like a starburst into the sky/Ah the fury of desire, it burns so bright, electrifies/You light me up, you take me higher."
Interestingly, though, McLachlan dismissed the notion of wrapping herself up in love again -- at least, not now.
"There was a time when I felt real sorry for myself and thought, 'I've just turned 40, I've got two small kids.' That's a tricky place to be in," she said. "But I have a really full, fantastic life. I have great friends, a great family. I'm happily single right now. I couldn't imagine being involved in a new relationship right now because I've got too much going on.
"And you know what?" she added. "It'll happen when it happens. I'm not searching it out because my life is really full. If it happens, great, if not, that's OK, too."
Asked if she had any advice for musicians when it comes to dating band members, she said, "Honestly, I'm loathe to give anyone advice about anything. I guess my only advice would be follow your heart, and make sure you're doing the right thing."
People are going to make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes provide great lessons, she noted.
"But if there's anything I've learned about love and relationships," McLachlan added, "people do exactly what they want, no matter what people tell 'em."