I’m looking out at the sprawling Peace Wood stage, a generous grassy lawn dotted by august eucalyptus trees that slopes down toward a well-equipped performance platform. Much of the plot is covered by large cloth tarps that provide shade from the mid-May sun and can swing wildly when the wind kicks in.
The stage itself is flanked by a towering speaker system with enough intensity to get a crowd of 3,000 on its feet dancing while still respecting the aural sensitivities of the older generation.
It’s Jacob’s Ladder 2018 and, as you read this, the merriment at Kibbutz Ginosar on Lake Kinneret is well under way. The annual indie, folk, country, blues and bluegrass festival has been a home away from home for many of the tens of thousands of Anglos (and an increasing number of Israelis) who have pitched a tent here over the past 42 years.
My family and I are relative newbies, coming to Jacob’s Ladder only for the last decade or so. While our kids still sleep under the stars, my wife and I gave up camping for the luxuries of a simple rented room on the kibbutz with a spartan bed, a shower with passable water pressure and a functional air conditioner.
When we arrive, we have our Jacob’s Ladder rituals. First, we find a spot at the Peace Wood space to lay out our mat and plant our low rise folding chairs. It’s not a simple decision. Are we fully under the tarp? Which way is the sun moving? Would it be better to be further back with a clear view or close up but with that tree in the way?
Fortunately, once everything’s in place, Jacob’s Ladder’s reputation as Israel’s “friendliest music festival” is confirmed with this unwritten but critical rule: You can leave your stuff out all day and all night and no one will steal or move it. If someone does sit in your seat, you can nicely ask and they’ll vacate without a fight.
Next, it’s off to get our Jacob’s Ladder T-shirts, exchange cash for “scrip” (the Jacob’s Ladder funny money with which we pay for schnitzel from the food court and vegan chai from the tea shop) and a quick visit to the Kinneret to check how far the shore has receded.
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THE PEACE Wood stage is just one of four set up to accommodate all the acts at Jacob’s Ladder (there are 37 this year). The eponymously named Lawn Stage is the most laid back. The Hermon Hall inside the kibbutz hotel building is the most chill (in that it’s usually frigid from the powerful a/c). And the Balcony Stage is where Italy’s Ukus in Fabula will be leading a ukulele workshop.
For much of the past decade, the festival’s main act has been The Abrams, a country-pop Canadian boy band that exudes Evangelical love for the Holy Land. This year, The Abrams are elsewhere, replaced by home-grown Tarante Groove Machine, which promises an hour of energetic world music – a very different vibe that will undoubtedly go down well with the legions of dancing teens who have created their own Jacob’s Ladder “mosh pit.”
I asked Yehudit Vinegrad, who produces Jacob’s Ladder with her husband, Menachem, if choosing Tarante to headline this year was a nod to the next generation of festival goers. “Definitely,” she said, “though we want the 71-year-olds to dance, too. Our aim is to cater to all ages.”
And to an ever-widening demographic.
“The festival originally attracted mainly the English-speaking immigrants who came in the 1960s and 1970s,” Vinegrad told me. “In order to carry on the festival, we need to sell enough tickets, so we do our best to attract Hebrew-speakers, too.”
Another change: a special Thursday-through-Friday-afternoon-only ticket for the growing number of religious attendees.
My musical tastes tend more to indie than Irish fiddling. As a result, I’m most looking forward to two young bands. One is the six-piece Forest, which mixes up psychedelic klezmer, progressive rock, chanting, shamanism, storytelling and prayer.
The other is Kim in the Sun, a new configuration for Mika Sade, whom I praised as one of the breakout artists from Jacob’s Ladder 2017. Vinegrad was impressed enough with Sade and her Minnie Ripperton-esque trills to move her to the Peace Wood stage this year.
“Mika Sade is unique, original and overflowing with talent and surprises,” Vinegrad said.
Vinegrad also suggested I don’t miss the Ukrainian band, Spiritual Seasons, which focuses on North European folk music; Itamar Haluts, with his infectious power pop originals; English folk-music devotees The Fine Marten; and Richie and Bel, who came to Vinegrad’s attention after the lead singer “bought a ticket last year and stood on one of the main pathways and played. Lots of people stopped to listen to her.”
When the last band winds up the final notes of the traditional Jacob’s Ladder closer “Good Night Irene” Saturday afternoon, a group of stragglers who can’t get enough will head down to Lake Kinneret where, gingerly anchoring the legs of our white plastic chairs in the rocks and gently lapping waves, we’ll hold one last jam, piloting the virtual Chevy to the levee along the City of New Orleans and already dreaming of 2019.The writer’s book, Totaled:
The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com
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