The annual Jacob's Ladder Festival, now entering its fourth decade, has always had something of a cozy feel about it. It may have something to do with the predominantly Anglo ambiance or the vibes put out by the folk music that dominates the event or, indeed, the personas of founders Yehudit and Menahem Vinegrad. The intimacy is even more tangible at the springtime event's junioroffshoot, the Jacob's Ladder Winter Weekend, which has taken place at the same Nof Ginosar site, on the shores of the Kinneret, for the past three years. Click for upcoming events calendar! This year's December gathering (next Friday and Saturday) has all the trademark musical and extracurricular activities, the latter including tai chi, kiddies stuff, tractor and trailer tours, and dance workshops. On the musical front, many of the festival's regulars will be gracing the Nof Ginosar Hotel's indoor stages, including Irish Cream stalwart Bracha Ben Avraham, Galileean guitarist/vocalist Diane Kaplan - of popular Galilee duo Ada & Diane - perennial guitarist/harmonica player Shay Tochner, Uri Miles's dynamic bagpipe-driven Kahol Celtic band and Ehud Nathan, evergreen leader of the country's longest-serving Celtic band, Black Velvet. In contrast with the main annual gathering, the pared-down winter festival features just one artist from abroad. The big draw of next week's two-dayer will undoubtedly be Irish born and bred US-based singer/guitarist Aoife (pronounced "Eefa") Clancy, daughter of Bobby Clancy of the legendary Clancy Brothers. Aoife hails from the quaint Irish town of Carrick-on-Suir, in Co. Tipperary, but unwittingly relocated to the States 15 years ago. "I only came to do a two-week stint, but people kept asking me to stay and offering me work, so I did," says Aoife. "I've been here ever since." In the interim Aoife (her nom de plume) has put out seven albums, both as a soloist and as a member of the popular Cherish the Ladies group. She has also been a soloist with orchestras such as the Boston Pops, collaborating with the Pops on its Grammy-nominated Celtic album. In fact, the Clancys have something of a long track record with the States. "We were here for a while when I was a kid," says Aoife, "but we had to go back to Ireland." The return to the Emerald Isle, at least in an artistic sense, was a fortuitous development. It meant that, besides her solid home musical base - Aoife's father Bobby and various uncles were renowned musicians who even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and at the White House in the early Sixties - she was exposed to all the musical influences still prevalent today throughout Ireland. "It was great being in Ireland as a child," Aoife recalls. "We'd go off to a pub or some other impromptu musical gathering and everyone would get their instruments out. I learned a lot from those sessions. My grandmother had a country pub too, and I remember my aunts playing there." One presumes that Aoife would have been exposed to many more extraneous musical areas had her family stayed on in the States. "Possibly," she says, "but I think Irish music is actually more diluted in Ireland than in the States. In Ireland they've been doing that music for so long they are looking around to embrace other things. Here in the States, people generally want the real McCoy." While appreciating that, Aoife also finds it a bit frustrating. "I like to do folk material as well. My father had a good grounding in folk music. His first love was music, and he made sure that all his children had a good balanced diet of not only Irish music but also music from different genres, especially American folk. He was a big fan of people like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Weavers." Aoife intends to use her visit here to spread her musical net. "I'll be singing a mixture of Irish songs and folk numbers at the festival. I don't get much of a chance to do the other stuff in America." More information is available on the Jacob's Ladder website: www.jlfestival.com. Tickets can be ordered by phone, Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on: (04) 685-0403, or via the website. Camping space can be reserved by calling (04) 696-2231.