Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple, Sarah McLachlan, and Joan Osborne discuss the summer music festival

It’s not difficult to see why contemporary women musicians might take to heart the legend of Lilith, a character found in extrabiblical Jewish folklore. As one version of the ancient story goes, Lilith was actually the founder of the First Wives Club, tossed out of Eden and summarily replaced by trophy spouse Eve after refusing to bow to husband Adam’s patriarchal spirit.

So far, so proto-feminist. But then there’s the less precious part of the myth, wherein the banished ex comes back as a vengeful spirit, haunting the happy couple, killing innocents in their sleep, and generally wreaking as much Edenic havoc as a spectral woman scorned can.

You won’t be hearing much about that Lilith — the murderous retaliatory one — from the non-fatale femmes at the blockbuster pop-music festival bearing her name this summer. Lilith Fair, we’re reminded, is about celebration, not comeuppance. Yet you might wonder whether her score-settling spirit is hovering around the sales charts, where young female artists with such singularly memorable names as Alanis, Gwen, Celine, Erykah, Jewel, and LeAnn now dominate like never before, commandeering the top 10 in a fashion that collectively announces: Adam, I’m madam.

The story’s much the same in the concert sheds as in record stores. While early reports from promoters suggest that established tour packages like aggro-fest Lollapalooza and jam-happy H.O.R.D.E. (neither one claiming a single major female act) will play to under-capacity amphitheaters in many cities, first-year Lilith Fair — the brainchild of Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan — is looking like the summer’s surest fest bet. When McLachlan first announced the idea of a female-led caravan tour a year ago, it seemed like an interesting novelty. Now, given the gender-balance reversal on the charts, it’s almost possible to ignore the exclusion of male artists and think of Lilith as a savvy packaging of the hottest or most promising acts mining the singer-songwriter field.

Unlike Lolla or H.O.R.D.E., Lilith has a revolving door of artists scheduled throughout its 7-week, 35-city trek, due in part to previous commitments and a desire to feature more acts than a cemented bill would allow. Only McLachlan is playing every town; other commitments range from Sheryl Crow’s 2 gigs (she was already booked for Europe, you understand) to Jewel’s 20. Tagging along for lengths somewhere in between are Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin, the Cardigans, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Cassandra Wilson, Victoria Williams, and roughly two dozen others.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY asked McLachlan, Crow, Osborne, and Apple — the four women who’ve arguably had the most significant commercial and critical breakout albums of the last five years — to meet at Manhattan’s Pier 59 Studios and chat informally before the tour’s opening dates this week in the Northwest, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. McLachlan most of all was heartened by the chance to get a head start on what she hopes will happen backstage: up close rapport replacing any hint of rivalry from afar.