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Not so many years ago, New Age-style festivals were the 'in' thing. Gatherings like Boombamela, Shantipi, Sagol and Beresheet were all the rage - not just for the twenty-something crowd looking to revive the spirit of their post-army trips in the Far East, but also for growing numbers of families and even over-50s who latched onto the alternative vibe with gusto.
After five or six years of increasing popularity, however, the scene seemed to have reached a meltdown point. Shantipi, for example, scaled down its seaside event near Akhziv a couple of months ago, accommodating only around 5,000 patrons - way down from the nearly 30,000 it took in when the festival was located near Beit She'an, the second intifada notwithstanding. The forthcoming Sagol festival happening at Dor Beach between October 19 and 21, albeit always one of the smaller ones in the New Age fraternity, will allow only 1,500 paying guests through its gates.
Has the New Age bubble finally burst?
According to Beresheet festival producer Gili Tabachnik, his event is going from strength to strength. Now in its ninth year, Tabachnik expects over 15,000 people at the Dugit Beach on the shores of the Kinneret between October 6 and 8 - an impressive increment on last year's 12,000, although still way down from the 25,000 all-time high in 2001.
Tabachnik says New Age festivals have long since been embraced by the Israeli public.
"We are definitely part of the mainstream now. We are a business enterprise, and we're always looking forward and trying to develop our product. We always want to give value for money."
Indeed, over the years, Beresheet has offered a wide range of commercial musical entertainment, including such stellar acts as Aviv Geffen, Shalom Hanokh and Ahinoam Nini (Noa) besides some of the names more readily associated with the alternative scene, including the likes of Sheva, Shotei Hanevua and Gaia. "Those [latter] guys started with Beresheet," adds Tabachnik proudly, "and they became part of the mainstream music scene."
Popularity and acceptance by mainstream Israel can have its drawbacks.
"We've had a nudist section at the festival before," says Tabachnik, "but we're part of the mainstream now; that's not something we can allow ourselves to do now."
In a way, that's something of a shame. Part of Beresheet's charm has been its embrace of the full spectrum of Israeli society. In years gone by, one end of the compound was occupied by several dozen people in their birthday suits while at the other end Habadniks and other patently Orthodox Jews - the now disgraced and absconded Rabbi Mordehai Gafni was a central figure for years - have hosted Talmud study and chug zemirot.
Still, big musical acts notwithstanding, plenty of the "alternative" fills the Beresheet agenda. The Holistic Village, for example, offers the always delightful Angels' Walk at sunset which involves much dispensing of brotherly and sisterly love and dancing, and the second day's program features the Relaxed Day session which will help patrons unwind and recharge their spiritual and physical batteries.
Activities in the village include a chance to blow your guts out on a didgeridoo, take part in an Ethiopian coffee ritual and a Shamanic rain ceremony, learn some of the secrets of solar cooking or relax in a peace succa.
As always, the Beresheet organizers have taken pains to accommodate parents and kids. While mom and dad groove to live music, discover the richness of their inner world or learn how to make environmentally friendly bio-diesel fuel, their offspring can be kept gleefully employed at the Children's Village, aka the Kindergarten of Teva Hadvarim. There they can take part in junior yoga sessions, learn something about recycling, or do some impromptu theater and stand-up comedy.
There's plenty to be had on the musical side too. The mainstream sector will include golden oldies, former members of the Kaveret supergroup Alon Alearchik, Yithak Klepter and Ephraim Shamir, with Din Din Aviv and Dudu Tassa representing the younger end of the pop-soft rock market.
Meanwhile, Anglos should enjoy the Friday concert of the Nanunchka rock threesome that performs in English and recently returned from a highly successful debut in New York.
If you're looking for something more on the edgy side, punk rockers Useless ID should deliver the goods just after midnight on Friday. DJ sounds will also be available in abundance, with disc-spinning events starting at 4 p.m. Friday and continuing until the wee hours.
Besides the environmental, alternative and soul-enriching activities laid on at Beresheet, Tabachnikis is also proud of the Muza talent contest run in recent years. This year's competition was won by the Ayalon Tzafon rock band, which will perform on the main stage at Beresheet.
By all accounts the contest appears to be answering a market need. "Last year we had over 100 entries, but quite a lot were not up to standard," says Muza chief Yehudah Almog. "This year we had around 70 bands, and the standard was very high."
"Shotei Hanevua, Gaia, Mosh Ben-Ari, they all started at Beresheet," he says. "Beresheet has always offered bands a stage and a chance to show the public what they can do. Music is part of getting away from the routine of everyday life - especially after the war in Lebanon."
For Tabachnik too, this year's festival has a special significance in the light of this summer's events. "The manager of Dugit Beach was killed in the war. We want to get back to life."
Details (also in English) at www.beresheet.co.il
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