Getting on 40 now, the Jacob’s Ladder Festival showed no signs of slowing down, or middle- aged spread, as the music rocked and rolled and the feel-good vibes just kept on coming last weekend at Nof Ginnosar by the Kinneret.
On the main stage, the festival continued its successful three-pronged approach – some traditional folk and bluegrass, some rock and soul oldies revues, and some original homegrown English-language alternative pop. It insures that not everybody will like everything, but that everybody will like something.
Jacob’s Ladder is probably the only festival where you can hear the British Isles folk-rock of ‘60s-’70s hippies Lindisfarne, a rousing version of Led Zepplin’s “Rock and Roll,” the bluegrass standard “Dark Hollow” and four-part female harmony on the “Red Cliffs of Dover” coexisting on the same stage.
The festival’s headliners, The Slocan Ramblers from Canada, weren’t as lively and pop-friendly as their fellow countrymen The Abrams Brothers, who have frequently been the show closers in recent years, but their engaging New Riders-meets-Doc Watson style provided a fitting sound that connected the festival to its past.
Other highlights included the ethereal harmonies of the internationally-flavored The Jammin’ Divas, and local folk-rockers Jokers and Thieves, who impressed both on covers (creating medleys out of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and The Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones,” and CSNY’s “Ohio” with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” respectively) as well as tasty originals.
In fact, although the acts like Déjà vu, Dblues and Jamming Joplin all admirably performed their much-loved oldies sets and were crowd-pleasers of the Friday night and Saturday afternoon performances, the Israeli-bred acts featuring original material were the reason why Jacob’s Ladder is just not a relaxing exercise in nostalgia.
Maya Johanna, performing edgy acoustic folk with partner and producer Sun Tailor, captivated the smaller Hermon Room on Friday. Later that night on the main stage, the festival’s revelation took place when Lola Marsh, featuring the stunning vocals of The Voice alumni Yael Shoshana-Cohen, offered an unexpectedly poignant set that answers the question of what Kate Bush would sound like fronting OK Computer- era Radiohead. And the indie folk pop of Red Sun Project provided a welcome spacy respite to the generally rollicking Saturday afternoon sounds.
Meanwhile, Delmark Goldfarb’s Mississippi- drenched blues set in the Harmon Room was the real McCoy. The man has mixed it with some of the greats of the blues fraternity across the ages, and his instrumental and vocal performance got the music and sentiment across to an enthralled audience. His in-between- number patter, delivered with a convincing dues-paid drawl helped to get us in the mood.
And on the instructional side of the program, the workshop delivered by The Jammin’ Divas afforded the festival faithful some intriguing insight into how an Irish woman, an American an Australian and an Israeli manage to keep their creative juices flowing harmoniously, and their egos in check, to get the recording and live performance job done over the years.
Eli “Dr. Blues” Marcus let us in on some of the secrets of blues guitar playing, while former Taverners member Paul Moore played some mean ukulele, and did his one-man-band-extraordinaire turn, complete with sturdy washboard stroking, and producing amazingly flexible sounds from a tin teapot, with aplomb.
Meanwhile, the unique Jacob’s Ladder added value was in full flow throughout. As you moved between the main stage and the lawn stage, or made your way down from the Hermon Hall or balcony stage you were met by the jolly sounds and hubbub of yet another impromptu musical confluence.
There must have been as many instruments cases as tents around over the three days, as three clarinet players ensconced in one corner of the hotel lobby navigated their way through the intricacies of a jig, while nearer the reception area a banjo player, guitarist, bodhran player and mandolin player did their own drop-of-a-hat thing while the non-playing paying patrons gathered around and applauded.
Everyone appeared to be having a grand time, and the pervading sense of bonhomie and joie de vivre almost made the cheesy jokes of some of the devoted stage managers more palatable.
Only just over six months to go, until the winter edition is upon us...