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SARAH MCLACHLAN
IT'S BEEN A GREAT YEAR FOR THE SINGER/SONGWRITER

Turning 30 can be more than a milestone on the calendar of life. For some, the big 3-0 is the final line between adolescence and maturity.

Sarah McLachlan recently celebrated her 30th birthday, and in the past year has achieved personal and professional heights. She was married; made the biggest-selling album of her career, "Surfacing"; won two Grammy Awards, and was named the top female singer in Canada.

To top it off, McLachlan started the Lilith Fair tour to showcase women performers, and it turned out to be the biggest concert package tour of last summer.

McLachlan, who performs at Marine Midland Arena on Saturday, savors such triumphs and hopes they will spur creativity.

"Even if it may not be tangible in my songs, all this has helped bring a sort of final confidence to me," McLachlan said in a telephone interview from a tour stop in Louisville, Ky. "So many things have culminated in the past year for me.

"It has led me to a place where I'm finally so comfortable with myself. It's an amazing feeling, very settling and very calming. I never felt this way before," says the singer, who is scheduled for an upcoming cover appearance on Rolling Stone magazine.

In a sense, McLachlan's personal journey may be detailed in her recent hit "Building a Mystery." She has described that song as being about wearing masks to hide insecurities, and now no longer has to live the lyric about not looking out a window, "without your shadow getting in the way."

McLachlan grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the third child of Jack McLachlan, a marine biologist from the United States, and his wife, Dorice, another American.

McLachlan studied classical guitar and piano and made her first album a decade ago. Her music was often deep and moody, and it reflected her search for meaning in her life.

A turning point came a few years ago when McLachlan made a world tour with World Vision charity to Cambodia and Thailand, and saw firsthand the ravages of war, AIDS and poverty.

Since then, such albums as "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" and "Surfacing," which has sold more than 2 million copies, shed new light on McLachlan and her music. The growth process included constant touring and battling the music industry machine for her independence.

"I've had a lot of fun and a lot of horrible times, but I don't believe in regret or mistakes," McLachlan said. "To regret something ultimately is useless. You have to look at mistakes as something positive and learn something from it.

"Sure, there are things I might have done differently, but because of who I am I learned from those experiences."

McLachlan's music now reaches a mass audience. "She's always been a talented songwriter and singer, but the industry has become more open to women artists in the past couple of years," said Jay Nachlis of WLCE-FM, known as Alice, which plays a steady diet of McLachlan's songs.

"Now that Sarah has gotten the exposure, everybody knows about her," Nachlis said. "She deserves all this success. Her voice is golden."

Besides that golden voice, McLachlan is an extraordinary guitar player, and she won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance on the song "Last Dance." She also won for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Building a Mystery."

McLachlan, though, seems most proud of the success of Lilith Fair, which came to the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in July. It was a revolutionary step for her to organize women into their own tour.

"It depends on how you measure success," she said. "I started out with the concept of putting on a great musical show.

"If we did that, I knew people would love it. That's how I measure success. To me, the media blew it up because of the financial success. That was a surprise to me, too, only because ignorance is bliss, and I don't think about those things. My manager does."

Lilith Fair will tour again starting in late June. "We're doing it the next two years; we started out with a three-year plan. The only pressure is to put on a great show and not be pushed by outside influences."

Lilith Fair has been criticized for a lack of variety of musical performers, especially hard rock, R & B and hip-hop. "Ultimately, you're going to have some people who aren't happy with the lineup for whatever reason," McLachlan said. "Some people will say there isn't enough of this or there's too much of that.

"You can't please everybody all the time, and if you try, you will never please yourself."

McLachlan has other critics, who find her songs too emotional and mopey.

"There's no denying that Sarah McLachlan's music is made with passion," critic James Sullivan wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. "How it ends up sounding so blanched and bloodless is an utter mystery."

McLachlan looks at her music differently. Music, she says, is "about communication and connections. I want to connect with people on a spiritual level.

"You may not be physically talking to them, but you're going into something deeper. When something that you see or you hear resonates in your own life very strongly, and makes you feel something and brings you closer to your own self and your emotions, you feel less alone.

"For me, music is that; music is faith and religion. It's what I'm drawn to, to give me strength."