Lakeside entertainment

From klezmer to Celtic and singles to sing-alongs, the Jacob’s Ladder Festival is awash with acts and activities everyone can enjoy.

Oy Division 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Oy Division 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This year’s spring edition of Jacob’s Ladder Festival (May 19-21) will open on Thursday with a bang. Punters looking to spread their Kinneret-side experience over the event’s full three days and – for campers – grab a convenient and shaded tent spot in the bargain will get their money’s worth from the start with a full and varied program of entertainment on the first evening.
The musical program kicks off with returning Irish troubadour Ben Sands (6 p.m.), followed by some homespun Celtic fare from the Tzalool fiddle-harp duo, with violinist Gal Shahar and Jacob’s Ladder perennial harpist Sunita Staneslow joined by former River Dance percussionist Abe Doron (8 p.m.). Off stage, the festival activities start with a varied offering of storytelling for kids, all sorts of juggling and handicrafts, yoga, a good old-fashioned sing-along and a singles gathering.
The second imported act of the threeday agenda, American culture-spanning Notorious twosome of fiddler Eden MacAdam-Somer and guitarist-banjo player Larry Unger takes the main stage at 9 p.m.
Then early patrons can expect the energy ante to rise several notches at 10 p.m.
when crazy klezmer bunch Oy Division hits the main stage, led by vocalist-violinist Gershon Leizerson. His footloose brothers in arms include accordionist Assaf Talmudi, clarinetist-vocalist Eyal Talmudi, drummeraccordionist- vocalist Noam Inbar and bass player Avichai Tuchman.
As the band’s name implies there’s a strong typically Jewish oxymoronic joygloom spirit to what it does. “There’s that eternal Jewish ‘oy.’ What characterizes our music is that however happy you make it, even if it’s wedding music, there will always be a sad element to it,” explains Leizerson.
“There will always be an ‘oy’ in there.”
Things have gone well for Oy Division since they started out five years ago. They have done their homework and have appeared at some of the most important music festivals, of various styles and hues, across the globe. “We’ve read everything there is to read about klezmer music and we’ve spoken to older Jews who remember the music being played at home and in their community, and Ukrainians who played with Gypsies, but now we’ve gotten to a sort of stage of satiation. We’ve played all the Jewish music there is.”
Leizerson says, inherent gloomy musical properties notwithstanding, that he and the rest of the band were drawn to klezmer simply to play it. “It didn’t start out with any ideology to preserve this music. We just loved it intuitively.”
Oy Division is a blend of diverse if not disparate musical worlds. “I started out as a classical violinist, and all the other guys in the band come from rock ‘n’ roll,” explains Leizerson. “Eyal Talmudi has played with people like Rona Keinan and [Benny] Amdursky, and with [Gypsy, Mediterranean, hip hop outfit] Balkan Beat Box. In general, I suppose you could say I bring something a bit softer, and they bring the raw energy to what we do. We are also all very different in terms of our ideologies and lifestyle, and that also has a bearing on what we do as a group. But when we started out, it was just a matter of enjoying what we were doing – maybe there’s something genetic in there. Now we are delving deeper into Jewish music.”
That also involves finding one’s own path through the multifarious world of klezmer and Jewish music. “We’ve started writing our own material in our own style,” says Leizerson. “We’ll do some of that at Jacob’s Ladder.
Klezmer music feeds off the past, and we want to bring something contemporary to what we do. I hope the audience likes it.”
Elsewhere over the three days of the festival there are familiar faces, from both the international and domestic scene. Acclaimed veteran Dutch bluesman Hans Theessink makes a welcome return, as does family-based bluegrass band The Abrams Brothers, as well as Baltimore-born folk-pop singer songwriter Sonia. Meanwhile, American folk singer-songwriter twosome Alisa Fineman and Kimball Hurd are the new non-Israeli faces – and voices – at this year’s festival.
Other local returnees include blues duo CG & The Hammer; vocalistguitarist Diane Kaplan and her trio with material from her latest CD, Ke’zeit Ra’anan; long-running Scottish folk quintet Jug O’ Punch; and staple Jacob’s Ladder folkie Shay Tochner.
Add to that lot music workshops, dance workshops, yoga, tai chi and children’s activities, and you get a well-appointed three-day entertainment and recreation package by the lake.
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