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They say nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Try telling that to any of the two or three thousand patrons of this weekend's Jacob's Ladder Festival at Nof Ginosar by the Kinneret.
The lineup for the annual affair features all the perennial genres. Billtoppers from abroad include two-generational Canadian gospel and bluegrass outfit the Abrams Brothers, top local Irish band Evergreen, French folk duo Bruno Sabalat and Olivier Milchberg, and American folksinger Steve Suffet - who is set to perform "railroad songs, union songs, old-time ballads, blues, gospel, topical/political songs and whatever else tickles his fancy," according to the program. However, for most Jacob's Ladder regulars, the undoubted main event is the long-awaited reunion of the legendary Taverners.
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For the uninitiated, the Taverners - or, to give its full professional moniker, the Jerusalem Taverners - was formed in 1976 as a folk-bluegrass-jam-as-you-like band that held weekly musical get-togethers at Jerusalem's watering hole the Tavern.
"It was just a bit of fun," recalls Canadian-born banjo player David Deckelbaum. "We never thought about doing anything professionally."
As it happened, the Tavern was frequented by UN personnel stationed in Jerusalem. The officers liked what they heard and invited the band to perform at UN headquarters in the capital's Armon Hanatziv district. Over the years, the group has included US-born fiddler Yonatan Miller, late British bass player Dave Gould, British-born ukele player Paul Moore, Sabra guitarist Shay Tochner and flutist/whistle player Elisha Avshalom, plus a few others.
The band broke up in 2002, when Deckelbaum and Miller left Israel; but in its 26-year lifetime, it played up and down the country, put out four CDs, appeared on Israeli television and became one of the Jacob's Ladder mainstays, making this weekend's sets something of a joyous time trip for all concerned.
For Deckelbaum, the reunion conjures up a strong familial feeling. "My son Ron will give a banjo master class on Saturday, and [daughter] Yael will be appearing with us." The "Yael" in question is - surprise surprise - Yael Deckelbaum, a member of the Benot Nehama all-girl trio who has begun to make a name for herself as a solo singer/songwriter. Two of her songs were recently played on American TV drama The L Word - quite an achievement, considering that Deckelbaum junior has yet to release her debut solo album.
"This will be the first time I have all my children and grandchildren together in the same place at the same time," says her dad. If nothing else, Jacob's Ladder founders and organizers Yehudit and Menahem Vinegrad have done the Deckelbaum family a good turn.
"It will be fun," says Avshalom. "We'll do some Irish songs and probably some of David's bawdy numbers. I think people have been waiting for this reunion for some time."
One of the most endearing features of the festival is its cozy ambiance. One sees the same faces year in year out, making it somewhat of an annual reunion. The sense of congeniality is further enhanced by the impromptu jam sessions in the hotel lobby and other hands-on activities. The latter include workshops on fiddle, banjo, guitar and whistling - the latter courtesy of Avshalom.
And for those who want to shake a leg or two, there is a choice of dance activities, including Irish dance, French traditional dancing and, as always, a couple of square-dance sessions with Cyrelle Forman-Soffer, spiritual dance-movement, yoga and tai chi.
Many local regulars will also grace the Jacob's Ladder stages, including veteran Galilean duo Diane and Ada, supported by Evergreen percussionist Abe Doron, Sunita Staneslow on Celtic harp and Eyal Malkinson on cello. The musical tapestry will stretch beyond the Celtic-country-folk domain, with some traditional Jewish music from The Voice of the Wanderer, with Red Meadow adding a grungier aspect with some rock, country music and a touch of the blues. Havurat Atomic will combine ragtime jazz with French chansons, and Russian, Greek and Celtic tunes.
Naturally, with the crowd including whole families, there will also be kiddies' activities such as instrument building using recycled materials, assembling various items with blocks and planks, tractor rides round Kibbutz Ginosar and DVD screenings on Friday evening. And, of course, there's always the Kinnerret. With warm weather forecast for the weekend, no doubt many will choose to take to the water between shows.
For more information about the festival, call (04) 685-0403 or visit www.jlfestival.com.
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