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Sarah McLachlan hits Ruth Eckerd Hall with thoughts on motherhood, Lilith Fair and more

Sarah McLachlan will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Sunday.
Sarah McLachlan will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Sunday.
Published Mar. 26, 2015

Even a singer with the voice of an angel — the voice, in fact, behind Angel — can get a little cranky when it comes to The Kids These Days.

"I live across the street from a high school, and it drives me crazy," says singer Sarah McLachlan, calling from her home in Vancouver. "These kids all have their hoodies on, with their iPod on, and they just walk right out in the street. I don't know how many times I almost hit a kid. I honk at them and I roll down the window, and I go, 'Hey, you have to look where you're going!' You know what they do? They flip me the finger: 'F--- you!' "

No! Canadian teens actually talk like that? To saintly Queen Lilith herself?

"Oh, yeah! These kids today. I sound like a 70-year-old, I swear to god. I grew up terrified of adults. I never would have ever, ever talked back to an adult like that. And these little s---s these days, they have no fear."

Rest assured, McLachlan's ire is coming from a good place. The Grammy-winning singer, 47, has two young daughters, 13 and 7. And even though she is one of pop music's preeminent feminist role models, McLachlan cannot shake the omnipresent fear of raising girls in the modern world.

"My street is a highway," she says. "Cars barrel up it at 40 miles per hour, and I don't want my kids playing out in the street. It sounds ridiculous, but I don't think cars went as fast back then. There wasn't as much traffic, and people are on their cell phones, and they're just way more distracted now than they used to be. I don't trust anybody in that regard. For that reason, it's a lot harder to let my kids out of my sight."

The girls frequently accompany McLachlan on tour, which she says is wonderful, even though they don't care much for the glamor of pop-star livelihood.

"Regardless of the job and the workload, I'm just mom," McLachlan says. "That doesn't stop just because I get offstage at 11. I'm in the bus five minutes later, getting into my jammies and reading stories. It's like, 'Hurry up, mom!' They don't care about the show. They just want their stories read to them.

"And I kind of love that, because it's really grounding."

•••

When McLachlan plays Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Sunday, it'll be her first Tampa Bay concert in nearly a decade. But that wasn't the original plan.

In 2010, McLachlan briefly revived Lilith Fair, the ladies-first folk-pop tour she co-created and helmed for three years in the mid-'90s. The success of that tour — along with airy, angelic Top 10 hits like Building a Mystery, Adia, Sweet Surrender and I Will Remember You — made McLachlan one of the decade's defining singer-songwriters.

But about a month before the 2010 Tampa gig, the entire Lilith Fair tour was canceled.

"I was so bummed, because that was a great bill," McLachlan says. "We struggled a lot, selling tickets. A big part of that, in hindsight, was the fact that when we first did it, it was this organic thing that had a real groundswell, because of all the success of women, and because women were really coming into their own and wanting something for themselves — all these fresh-out-of-university, young, idealistic women. We came around at the perfect time.

"Fast forward 15, 20 years, and all the young women and the few men that went to the shows back in the '90s, they all have kids, jobs, responsibilities, bills to pay. It's a lot harder to get people out to spend $100-plus for a day to stand in the hot sun and listen to music."

It was always going to be tough for McLachlan to follow the original Lilith Fair and her eight-times-platinum 1997 album Surfacing. She kept releasing new music — most recently 2014's Shine On — but devoted more of her life to her family and charitable causes.

No longer content to be a den mother merely to female musicians, in 2011 she opened the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in Vancouver, which provides music education to at-risk and underserved children up to age 12. Through the school — and her experiences with her own daughters — McLachlan has seen how fragile young lives and minds can be in the age of Twitter and Instagram.

"You thought bullying was bad when we were kids?" she says. "The capacity to do so much more damage — it's massive. I look at Facebook and things like that as weapons in the hands of kids. They just don't have the psychological understanding to realize the possible damage they inflict. And there's such a degree of anonymity with it, too. You're not saying it to someone else, you're posting it. There's a level of separation where you don't really have to be responsible for it. That's the thing I am hammering into my kids ad nauseum — you have to take responsibility for your actions, good or bad. It works both ways. You f--- up, you apologize and try to fix it."

On this tour, as always, McLachlan is keeping her loved ones close. By the time she comes to Clearwater, her daughters will have returned to school in Canada, but she may be joined by her longtime boyfriend, ex-NHL player Geoff Courtnall. Together, they explore the world one city at a time, whether by surfing in Australia or renting bikes in America.

"Every opportunity I get, I go outside," she says. "If there's a place to paddle, if I'm going to paddleboard. If there's a place to surf, I'm gonna surf. If there's a great hike, I'm gonna do that." She laughs. "Basically, I work from 4 to 11, so I've got my days free. It's like a paid vacation."

And while her outlook on modern adolescence may sound caustic, McLachlan admits it isn't all storm clouds and doom. Musically, she's a fan of young troubadours like Ed Sheeran ("He's got this ability to travel across a ton of different genres and kind of nail them"), and is heartened by the "awesome" success of female artists like Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Katy Perry.

"Yes, there's still a ton of men out there having these successes as well, but there's this moment in pop history where women are dominating right now," she said. "There's a lot of great music coming out."

Maybe The Kids These Days don't have it so bad after all.