Veteran patrons of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival have become used to the ever-increasing spread of the event’s musical program over the last three-plus decades. This year’s spring bash, which will take place at the now regular venue of Nof Ginossar by the Sea of Galilee from May 22 to 24, is no different. And judging by one of the main foreign draws, festival founders Yehudit and Menachem Vinegrad are looking to flex the entertainment festivities a mite further.

For starters, the members of the Jammin’ Divas female quartet, whose visit to these shores is being sponsored by the American Embassy, come from four different countries. Irish-born Grammy Award-nominated singerpercussionist Aoife Clancy brings the popular Celtic element to the band’s offerings; singer-pianist Nicole Zuraitis is the American representative; and singer-guitarist Kath Buckell hails from Australia. And Israeli-born Hadar Noiberg is on flute. It makes for a heady mix of sounds, rhythms and colors fueled by a multi-layered cultural background. Zuraitis, the newest member of the group, adds a rich earthy bluesy-gospel-soul sensibility, while Noiberg, who also serves as musical director, broadens the quartet’s sonic spread with jazz and Middle Eastern material. Meanwhile, Buckell feeds off a more folksy part of the musical spectrum.

According to Buckell, the upshot of all of that is an undisguised intent to explore as wide a swath of sounds as possible, which clearly sprout from the roots of each respective culture but are also very much in the here and now.

“When we originally formed, we wanted to bring music that comes from each of our cultures, both traditional and contemporary original music,” she notes. “We wanted to combine those two elements and make it into a really contemporary-sounding group.”

That makes for an interesting creative process when the four women get around to planning a new CD or a new concert program.

“We basically bring together some of the traditional songs from Ireland, which Aoife is a great interpreter of,” says Buckell.

Considering her aristocratic music breeding, that is hardly a surprise. She is the daughter of Bobby Clancy, who was a member of the legendary Clancy Brothers Irish folk group, which is often credited with popularizing Irish traditional music in the US and revitalizing it in Ireland, paving the way for an Irish folk boom with groups like The Dubliners and later The Wolfe Tones.

”She’s been singing those traditional songs for many years in country pubs in Ireland, and we wanted to contemporize those traditional songs because we are not a traditional band by any means. We wanted to make the songs more modern, and accessible to the younger generations,” she says.

That certainly comes across in the band’s two albums to date – Across the Stoney Ridges, followed by November Wind. “I Know You Rider” on the later release opens with Zuraitis unleashing an unbridled vocal gospel riff that launches the time-honored blues number – it was written in 1934 – straight into a careening adventure powered by Zuraitis’s percussive keyboard work and Noiberg’s driving flute playing. Add some syncopated Celtic seasoning courtesy of Clancy’s bodhran offering, and you end up with a fetching, catchy and captivating number.

Then Buckell’s “To Forgive and Accept” takes the proceedings into the realms of pop-folksy endeavor, while there is no mistaking that “Shades of Gloria” comes straight from the Emerald Isle.

Presumably Clancy was responsible for the latter. While she doesn’t pen any original material herself, she brings an abundance of Irish songs to the band’s discussion table when a new project is in the offing, including numbers that were composed by family members or others she knows personally.

Buckell, on the other hand, churns plenty of her own offerings, some of which originate from Down Under, from across a very broad temporal and cultural sweep.

“Aoife interprets those songs, and I bring my own songs,” says the guitarist-vocalist. “I did a project when I took traditional Australian poetry and put it to original music. This was poetry that was written from the early 1800s up to the 1960s.”

Buckell went for the work of three iconic Australian people of letters whose lives and careers spanned the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century – Dame Mary Gilmore, Henry Lawson and Andrew Barton Patterson.

“I wanted to create some kind of preservation process for their poetry. So I put it to original music and made it contemporary but so that it still has the roots of that traditional sound,” she says.

The songs “I Span and Eve Span” and “Weary Drover,” from Across the Stoney Ridges, are both based on Australian poems.

Zuraitis hails from a very different cultural-musical mindset.

“Nicole grew up on a lot of soul and blues music, and jazz,” says Buckell. “She is also a singer songwriter, and she is a great interpreter of original music. On our new album, we did a cover of the Grateful Dead’s version of ‘I Know You Rider,’ which Nicole reinterpreted. So we have a lot going on when we get together, to email each other with new material.”

Ultimately, it falls to Noiberg to ensure there is a coherent thread running through it all.

“Hadar uses her experiences and genres so we get a little bit more of a fusion of all our styles,” explains Buckell.

Judging by the band’s output to date, across all the above styles and genres and delivered with watertight vocal harmonies, the system works well. The band’s appearance at Jacob’s Ladder will also be something of a homecoming, not just for Noiberg but also for Clancy and Buckell, who first met at the event eight years ago when each performed with her own band.

As always, The Jacob’s Ladder lineup is jam-packed with goodies from across numerous areas of musical exploration. The Canada-based Slocan Ramblers bring their polished bluegrass skills to the fray, while the Betty Bears quintet will no doubt get the festival patrons up and dancing to the high-energy insouciance of their Dixieland and swing jazz sounds.

Things are likely to get a little raunchier with the Damaged Goods Band’s mix of groove, funk and blues. And the younger crowd and young at heart should dig the red hot danceable country, rock, grunge and fuzz vibes of the five-piece Sawyer group, while fans of blues and rock will enjoy the Janis Joplin tribute fronted by singer Meytal Nirel.

And there will be plenty of familiar faces and voices on the festival stages, such as Jacob’s Ladder mainstay guitarist-harmonica player Shai Tochner, everentertaining jazz-blues guitarist and singer Delmark Goldfarb, spectacular one-man band Paul Moore and Scottish folk trio Jug O’ Punch.

There will also be all the usual hands-on activities, and then some, including Diane and Edan Kaplan’s Singing in Harmony session; Eli “Dr. Blues” Marcus’s Ragtime Blues and Hokum slot; and a native American flute music encounter with Adam Riviere. Naturally, Cyrelle Forman-Soffer will run her charges through the rudiments of square dancing, and the gravitation-defying Manny Emanueli will put us through our Irish dance paces.

See you by the lake…

For tickets and more information: (04) 685-0403 and www.jlfestival.com

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger