On the day I spoke to Sarah McLachlan by phone, an online gossip site had published an article chastising pop superstar Taylor Swift for her charity donations. Not that Swift hasn’t given enough, but that she had given too little to some and too much to others – in this website’s opinion. I asked McLachlan if she had ever been taken to task for her charity work.
“No, thankfully,” she said. “We’re pretty transparent, so I can’t imagine anyone taking me to task, but they’re certainly welcome to try. You know, it’s really easy to throw stones when you’re hiding behind a computer screen, but at least (Swift) is standing up and doing something.”
The Canadian musician has been taking stands for various issues since she first broke onto American radio in the 1990s. The former mainstay of pop music charts and alt-rock stations, set to take the stage Thursday at the Durham Performing Arts Center, has worked with various charities since she was young and has seen firsthand the difference between struggles in developed countries and those facing life-or-death struggles for basic needs.
Doing more for others
“When I was 21, I took a trip to Thailand and Cambodia with a Canadian nonprofit organization to help shoot a documentary to showcase the work they were doing over there, and coming from a real conservative middle-class Canadian upbringing I was truly shocked by what I saw,” she said. “I came back with a profound sense of gratitude for my life, and for clean water and food and a roof over my head and medicine when I need it – just all of these things that we take for granted. It really impacted my life, and I said, ‘If I have more, I’m going to give what I can.’ To this day I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t think I should be doing more, but I do what I can.”
One charity she has given time and effort to, to the consternation of many, is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. While many would argue that it is a worthy organization, McLachlan is well aware of the online comments taking her to task for an ad campaign that some feel is, well, too sad.
“I had a friend on the board of the charity who asked, ‘Hey, do you have any free time where you could come and shoot a commercial for us?’ I told them I’d be happy to, and it was maybe nine hours of my time, but it generated $30 million for them. ... I understand that there was a lot of talk about whether that was spent wisely, and that has nothing to do with me. I think their comments say way more about them than me, so it really doesn’t bother me.”
Music still first love
Yet, with so much time spent helping others, music is still the singer’s first love.
Her new tour, titled “An Evening with Sarah McLachlan,” is intimate in setting, packing fans in theaters around the country. Those shows stand in contrast to the thus-far zenith of her career – packing amphitheaters in the late ’90s with the traveling music festival she founded, Lilith Fair. Although it was a huge success during its first few years of touring, McLachlan declared the concept infeasible in 2011, one year after a disastrous attempt to replicate the earlier success.
She stands by that decision, perhaps even more strongly now after a few years of introspection.
“Hindsight teaches us lots, and one thing it taught me was that there wasn’t a lot of due diligence done to the fact that a lot of the young women who came to our performances in the ’90s were childless, perhaps single, and had a fair amount of disposable income,” McLachlan said. “Now they may be two or three children in, with a job and a mortgage. When you have those kinds of responsibilities, a music festival isn’t as easy of a sell. Also at that time we were in the middle of a recession, there was a glut of performers touring; no shows were doing well that year. It was just a perfect storm.”
‘A casual vibe’
McLachlan’s new tour has been developed with an eye toward offering a memorable night out for people looking for both a little time away from the kids and a bit of interaction with a performer they’ve loved for years.
“I sort of feel like I want to break the fourth wall that is keeping us separated,” she said. “We should all be in this together. I want a casual vibe that says, ‘Hey, we’re just hanging out, making music together.’”
Who: Sarah McLachlan
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com