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Nof Ginosar, by the gently lapping waters of the Kinerret, will host the fourth annual Jacob's Ladder Winter Weekend next Friday. As a scaled-down version of the 31-year-old annual spring bash, the winter event features just a single foreign guest alongside many familiar local faces.
The import at this year's Winter Weekend is singer/songwriter/storyteller Colum Sands, who has made several forays to this part of the world from his native Northern Ireland.
"This will be my fourth trip to Israel since 2000," said Sands from his home near Belfast, "although it will be my first visit to the Sea of Galilee. I believe it is something quite special."
Like many of his compatriots, Sands honed his professional skills from an early age. "Storytelling was always a part of our family's life, as it has been for many people in Ireland," he explains. "People would come round and we'd sit around listening to their stories and telling our own."
Mind you, the Sands family had the added advantage of not having too many technological distractions. "We lived on a farm outside a village a few miles from Belfast. Other people had electricity but we didn't. We had a radio that ran on a wet battery that only lasted two or three hours, so radio time was rationed. A man used to deliver bread and a battery once a week."
For Sands, music and storytelling have always had a value beyond pure entertainment. "Music and stories can bring people together, even if they have diverse opinions about many things. I don't preach to people. Songs and stories help people see themselves as people, and not pigeonholed with whatever tags others may hang on them. It is important to acknowledge the differences between us, but not to the point of anyone believing they are superior to others, and certainly not to the point of wanting to kill someone else just because they are different."
While 56-year-old Sands is primarily a musician, he says storytelling is playing an increasing role. "In the old days people would deliver a three-minute number and that would be that. I started introducingy my songs, and gradually the introductions grew and grew and became stories."
Sands uses the word "stories" loosely. "In Ireland, people can come into a pub, sit down and just talk about what happened to them that day, or on the way to the pub. It's not just the 'Once upon a time' thing." However, that almost innate storytelling ability of the Irish can also be a bit distracting. "When I perform I sometimes have to prove to some members of the audience that my stories are more entertaining than theirs."
Sands occupies two slots in the Winter Weekend lineup (Friday 8:45 p.m. and the last item on Saturday at 4 p.m.), with the rest of the program featuring the tried and proven mix of folk, blues, ethnic and even some pop- and rock-oriented items. The festival will get off to a suitably traditional start with the Jerusalem-based Epstein Family Singers, who will preside over a kabalat shabbat ceremony followed by a show of American folk songs.
Fans of Fifties folk music and spirituals should enjoy the Saturday morning show of perennial Galilee duo Diane Kaplan and Ada Moriel together with fellow songstress Marcie Schreier. Kaplan also teams up with Jacob's Ladder guitar playing/singing fixture Shay Tochner and fiddler/mandolin player Adam Mader in the Forever Young trio's country music Friday berth.
In recent years Jacob's Ladder has stepped somewhat outside the Anglo folk beat and begun to embrace the world music scene. Next Friday the Israeli Ethnic Ensemble will duly perform "exciting Balkan, gypsy and world music", with Trio Lotem traversing wide musical and cultural terrain on the morrow with a folk agenda that culls everything from renaissance music to reggae. Meanwhile, the festival's many regular patrons who will never see 40 again will be happy with the TRiAD Unplugged show based on Beatles songs. Add storytelling sessions for kiddies and parents, early morning tai chi, dance workshops and a crafts fair, and you have a well-rounded weekend program.
Accommodations have also been augmented this year, with camping facilities now offered in the wood by the beach. Mind you, campers will only have cold showers... but of course there is still some water left in the Kinneret.
For more information about the Jacob's Ladder Winter Weekend go to: www.jlfestival.com
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