AS IF LAST YEAR'S LILITH FAIR SECOND STAGE tryouts weren't maddening enough, with their narrow idea of what a female musician should look and sound like, this year's open audition nearly sent me into the stratosphere. Auditioners were explicitly instructed that all acts must include no more than three pieces, contain no amplification, and feature no drums. Although I champion anything that gives women musicians a chance to shine, the thought of women putting constraints on other women's creativity, or excluding free-thinking individuals altogether, lights a fire under my ass something fierce.

Which is exactly why I found myself at the Crocodile two Tuesdays ago observing these tryouts. Last year--after serving as a judge for the very same proceedings, and witnessing some of the region's most interesting female talents floundering in vain in the face of cookie-cutter Sarah McLachlans and whiny, strummy Jewels--I had thrown a hissy fit both at the event and afterwards, in these pages.

To be fair, the women who won last year's competition--at least one of them--was far and away the most compelling performer of the evening. But I was appalled at the high scores and whooping applause being handed out to plain, mediocre talent; women who seem to sing only because their voices are pretty, not because they have anything to say. And Jesus, I've asked it before and I'm asking it again: Why do women feel that in order to write a powerful song, their lyrics must refer to some guy fucking them over?

I wish I could say things were different this year. I wish I could say that all of these voices broke free of the competition's ridiculous, insulting confines, and celebrated the privilege and good fortune it is to be born female, but only a few of the 21 artists actually did. I walked in the door as a skinny, long-haired waif was potty-mouthing her way through the most by-the-numbers Alanis impersonation I've ever seen, and exited upon realizing that the two tube-top-sporting, tanning-bed queens were in fact not some KMTT DJ's concubines, but contenders for the Lilith prize. Somehow, Nicole from Strange Voices managed to win, probably because she reminded the room of Lauren Hill. She deserved it. I wish I could say the same for the other winner, whose originality can be summed up in one word. All right, two: Fucking Jewel.

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