AMERICAN BLUES musician Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton (third from left) performs at a impromptu Irish jam session at Jacob’s Ladder Festival..
(photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
The latest edition of the winter version of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival was, as usual, a far cozier and more intimate gathering than the much larger main spring bash. And therein lies the “offseason” event’s charm.
For starters, for those of us who opted to camp out – there was a grand total of three tents on the lush, recently rained-on lawns – it was not a matter of squeezing betwixt and between the thousands of other campers, or trying to grab a relatively shaded spot. It was a “pitch wherever you wish” sort of affair.
Naturally, the more modest scale of the winter event means there are less acts to catch, but that is fine too. Last weekend’s offering of Irish, Scottish and English folk songs, blues, country music, and ’60s and ’70s retro sing-alongs offered ample entertainment.
The star of the two-dayer was undoubtedly Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton. The 25-year-old New Yorker multi-instrumentalist and vocalist plays the blues, country and other homespun styles like a veteran of the Delta. The generously proportioned, ever-smiling young musician charmed us all as he reeled off numbers that conjured up a palpable sense of the Deep South of yesteryear, with plenty of comic turns in the gig mix, too, moving seamlessly between guitar, banjo, fiddle and harmonica. Paxton seemed to be ever more present as the festival evolved, turning up at the trademark Jacob’s Ladder impromptu hotel lobby jam sessions at will, in addition to his two shows and workshop.
Gal Nisman and Eyal Kedoshim’s blues and r&b tribute to Eric Clapton and Ray Charles also hit the spot, with Kedoshim’s harmonica wizardry being particularly convincing.
The perennial Larry & Mindy sing-along was fun, while double bass player Gilad Ephrat and his trio added some welcome classical music textures and timbre to the proceedings.
But, for me, the magic of Jacob’s Ladder is to be found in the aforementioned informal musical tete-a-tetes. Sitting in the hotel lobby, minding one’s own business, and taking a quiet breather, one is suddenly aware that a banjo has struck up, and is gradually joined by a guitar, fiddle, flute, bodhran, you-name-it, and the guys and gals are soon up and running on another Celtic free-for-all.
Roll on the spring festival.