The Sands of song

Jacob’s Ladder Winter Weekend warmly welcomes intriguing musicians from near and far.

The Sands of song (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Sands of song
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The family name of Sands has been quite a feature at the Jacob’s Ladder Festival over the years, with Irish brothers Ben, Tommy and Colum all appearing at both the main spring event and the Winter Weekend over the years. Of the four musical Sands siblings – there are three more who did not become professional musicians – only sister Anne has yet to perform here. Next week guitarist-singer Colum Sands is the main foreign draw at the ninth edition of the Jacob’s Ladder Winter Weekend, which will take place at Nof Ginosar by the Kinneret on Friday and Saturday.
The Irish tradition of getting together for some music and storytelling and just sharing time bears a strong resemblance to the hafla custom from this part of the world. Sands, who travels the globe playing timeworn airs from the Emerald Isle, as well as his own original material, and telling stories, says that is a strong common bond among all sorts of cultures. “That is probably more universal than people think,” says Sands of informal musical get-togethers, adding that the rapid development of hi-tech has put something of a spoke in the works. “That seems to have been overtaken by technology and has left less opportunity in the modern world to have the time to be together and exchange experiences and things from our own lives.”
Mind you, in that respect, 61- year-old Sands and his siblings had an advantage growing up. “We lived in a remote farming area, and electricity didn’t arrive until the 1970s, which seems quite incredible to a lot people,” he recalls.
That meant that after sundown, the nine members of the Sands family, and plenty of their neighbors, settled down to some rip-roaring musical sessions, with the odd yarn or two betwixt. The Sands home became a meeting place for the neighborhood.
“At the time, I didn’t really know how wonderful all of that was, but I certainly appreciate it today. Of course, we didn’t have a TV, so instead of people sitting around looking at a picture in the corner, they’d look at each other and talk to each other. So we had that tradition of music and song and stories and neighbors dropping in to share that on most days.”
Sands’s father was an enthusiastic fiddler, and brother Ben says there was always music around the family. So it was perfectly natural for Colum to try his hand at the violin at an early age. “I wasn’t very good at that,” he admits, “but I later moved on to guitar, and that has stayed with me.”
That happened when Sands was 12 and he and his musical siblings have been playing and performing, sometimes together, for around 40 years.
“Even if we weren’t on the stage, we’d always be playing music together, with each other or with people from the area,” he says. “That has always been part of my life.”
Sands says those early domestic musical experiences inform everything he does musically and that he and his brothers and sister try to replicate that cozy ambience when they play in a definitively impersonal auditorium.
“When you walk onto a stage, it’s important to communicate with your audience. You know, people can feel intimidated when they’re in an audience. They may not know what to expect, and it may be difficult for them to sort of connect and open to the music and the people around them. That can happen in any audience anywhere in the world. But even if they have had some terrible experience or they are in a bad mood, hearing a song or a story can have a wonderful effect on them and somehow make them feel at home.”
That can equally apply to the performer. “It can be wonderful to walk out on the stage and to share some of the stories and experiences you have had on your travels, sharing that and watching how an audience can relax into it and feel at home, and not feel worried about anything for a while,” he says.
It is more than likely that Sand’s audience at Nof Ginosar next weekend will have a similarly positive experience with the Irish troubadour.
US folkie Debra Cowan is the other import at this year’s Winter Weekend. Guitarist-vocalist Cowan blends Celtic and Appalachian material in her output and sings a wide range of traditional and contemporary folk material with her own guitar accompaniment, as well as a cappella.
As always, there will be plenty of familiar faces and voices on stage over the two days, such as festival mainstay guitarist-harmonica player-singer Shai Tochner and current onstage sidekick, young singer Maya Johanna. They will be joined by irrepressible violinist USborn Yonatan Miller who now lives Stateside but for many years was an integral part of the Jerusalem-based folk-bluegrass band The Taverners.
Buzuk and Afghani rebab player and vocalist Yaron Peer will stretch the cultural spread of the program with a show of Gujarati folk songs from Indian, set to Hebrew texts. He will be joined by guitarist-vocalist Adi Arnon, who performs with popular folk-Gypsy band La Vache Qui Rit, saxophonist Michael Ben-Shimon, as well as bass player Nitzan Peri and percussionist Amit Shani.
Blues fans will no doubt be delighted to see singer and harmonica player Dov Hammer, guitarist and dobro player Sagi “CG” Shorer and dobro player Ori Beanstock in the lineup, while the The Bloomers trio should get some toes tapping with their traditional Irish fare.
And there will be lots to be getting on with at more hands-on activities, with Bracha Ben-Avraham leading the Irish Session workshop, the perennial blast from the past of Larry and Mindy’s 1960s and ‘70s Singalong, tai chi and yoga slots, and the ever-popular square dancing workshop led by Cyrelle Forman-Soffer. The junior crowd will also be catered to, with an interactive puppet show courtesy of Michal and Frank Donnel and all sorts of games, handicrafts and creative activities for children of all ages, overseen by Leah Singer.
For tickets and more information: (04) 685-0403, [email protected] and