I first heard Sarah McLachlan’s voice in 1990.  I was teaching at an outdoor education school in the Santa Cruz Mountains and my housemate had a cassette tape of her first album. It was love at first blush. Her work was raw then; it wasn’t until four years later, when she released Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, that she became a global sensation.

I’ve long admired Sarah for her integrity, openness and sincerity in an industry that makes it hard to maintain those qualities. But most of all I admire her for her work. Her songs are meaningful and transporting, and ultimately uplifting.

She’s also the founder and principal fundraiser of the Vancouver-based Sarah McLachlan School of Music, which provides music instruction and mentoring for about 1,000 at-risk youth. “I wanted to give back in some way to show my gratitude to the universe,” McLachlan said.

But perhaps the effort she’s most identified with is the women-centric music festival she founded that bucked industry norms. McLachlan launched the Lilith Fair in 1997 after being told by a promoter that tickets wouldn’t sell with two women on the same bill.

The Lilith concerts raised millions of dollars for women’s shelters and other women-focused support agencies. McLachlan sometimes hand-delivered checks to shelters of up to $30,000, often the largest donation they’d ever received. “They would say, ‘This is going to keep women away from their abusive husbands or off the street. This is going to give them a second chance.’ Just knowing I was part of that was incredibly gratifying.”

Sarah was kind enough to meet me backstage before the show and hugged me like an old friend.