Lavin’s bite is as good as her laugh

Strumming and vocalizing her folksy way around the world, Christine Lavin brings her special brand of wit to Jacob’s Ladder.

December 3, 2010 14:22
4 minute read.
Folk singer Christine Lavin.

Christine Lavin_521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Jacob’s Ladder festival has never been short on entertainment value as thousands of satisfied patrons over the last three-plus decades would attest. However, the genre spread at the Nof Ginosar gathering appears to be extending beyond the traditional musical confines. This year’s spring bash, for example, included a lanky New Yorker by the name of Sean Altman, who incorporated some gritty comic material into his act. Altman’s gig went down a treat at the time, and next week’s Jacob’s Ladder Winter Weekend (December 10-11) will feature some more incisive entertainment fare courtesy of folkoriented singer-songwriter Christine Lavin.

Fiftysomething Lavin, based in Geneva, New York, has been strumming and vocalizing her folksy way around thousands of venues across the world, for more than three decades singing about practically any topic you can think of. “I get a lot of my ideas just from reading the newspaper,” she says. Those ideas are conveyed in a highly picturesque, if not graphic, manner in Lavin’s songs. “What Was I Thinking?” for example, jovially describes the penalty to be paid for poor judgment, while “The Moment Slipped Away” is a mellifluous angst-filled ditty about missed opportunities.Lavin increasingly includes witty and sometimes biting material in her work, which touches on many spheres of life, from politics and gastronomy to the mores of a multicultural society and the perils of parental authority. She also does her best to publicize the work of many of her professional colleagues, through radio shows and compilation albums.

Her latest release, Just One Angel (subtitled “New Holiday Classics”) is an eclectic collection of songs about Christmas, Hanukka and the Winter Solstice by more than 20 folksingers, including Janis Ian and Lavin herself. One, by Ruby & Ava Locknar, is called “Is It Hanukka or Christmas?” Sally Fongerett contributes “Jewish Kid Born on Christmas Day,” while unmarried Lavin performs “When You’re Single at Christmastime,” along with a group called by \The Accidentals. The CD blurb describes the thematic span as “from the reverent to the irreverent,” which is a pretty accurate classification of almost everything Lavin writes and performs.

Despite her moniker - her family name could easily be misinterpreted as an abridged form of Levine, though Christine is a bit difficult to explain – Lavin is not Jewish. She was once mistaken for Jewish, which turned out okay for her. “I was hired to perform at a Jewish summer camp because they were fooled by my name,” Lavin recalls. “I never ate so well in my life.”

Despite her Catholic upbringing, Lavin says she feels a kinship with Jews. “My boyfriend is Jewish, and at college I fell in with a wild bunch of Jewish kids. I feel like a Jewish girl trapped in a shikseh body.”

Food appears to be a recurring theme in Lavin’s work. In 2006 she put out a 96-page cookbook and CD package called One Meat Ball, which contains recipes and musically extols the virtues of such tasty offerings as blueberry pancakes, maple syrup - courtesy of folk icon Pete Seeger’s “Maple Syrup Time”- French toast bread pudding and wine. The artist lineup for the project is truly impressive. Besides Seeger, folk heavyweights Tom Paxton and Dave Van Ronk were also on board. The latter, a legendary figure from Greenwich Village’s golden folk era of the late 1950s and early 1960s, was also one of Lavin’s mentors. “Dave was larger than life in many ways,” Lavin recalls. “He loved life and he loved wine. I learned a lot from him.”

Lavin’s shows also include a circus element and, when time allows, a surprising extracurricular pre-performance activity. “I was a baton twirler with [renowned juggling act] The Flying Karamazov Brothers, and I sometimes do a bit of that in my shows,” she says. “I also spend a lot of my in-between time knitting, and I like to get people knitting before I get on stage if I can manage it. I knit blankets and shawls and scarves because I’m not good at fitting things to a human body. Knitters are the best people.”

Politics also finds its way into the Lavin oeuvre, and that has landed her in hot water from time to time. “I’ve been getting more hate mail than ever before because of the polarized political situation in the US,” she notes. “But I won’t do any political stuff in Israel.”

Elsewhere on the Jacob’s Ladder Winter Weekend roster, many of the regular names are in full view, including guitarist-singer Shay Tochner, the Diane Kaplan Project and Bracha Ben-Avraham. Off stage there will be dance workshops and ongoing jam sessions throughout the two days.

For more information and online booking, call (04) 685-0403 or go to:

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