Cultivating local indie acts at Jacob's Ladder music festival


The Jacob’s Ladder music festival, held twice a year at the Nof Ginosar kibbutz along the Sea of Galilee, and which just concluded its spring session this past weekend, has been quietly transforming itself from a groovy environment in which to hear interesting and enjoyable music into a growing platform that cultivates and helps launch local indie acts.


At the most recent Jacob’s Ladder, three bands that played smaller halls over the last few years, with seating for just tens and hundreds, made it to the main stage, where they could now be discovered by thousands. And one musician, who has been developing a fan base singing covers and folk tributes on the main stage, moved in the other direction, debuting a set of haunting originals in a smaller space. (She was so popular, a second show was scheduled to handle the overflow.)


Gil Landau and Yael Shoshana Cohen of LolaMarsh


Of the first three, the clear standout was LolaMarsh, a band fronted by Yael Shoshana Cohen, who came to national prominence in 2012 as a contestant on the Israeli music competition TV show “The Voice.” At last year’s Jacob’s Ladder, it was just her, a couple of mates and a loop machine; on Friday night, Cohen had a full electric band and was, as my Jerusalem Post colleague David Brinn said after the band performed their indie hit “Stranger to My Past,” one of the best bands he has seen at Jacob’s Ladder…ever. I would agree. Here''s a link to a video of that song.


Cohen has a voice that evokes a young Kate Bush and her musical style alternates between more introspective numbers and over-the-top bombast with a strong indie rock flavor and the occasional taste of 70s progressive (sometimes all in the same song). Her stage presence is delightful, something I confirmed when I ran into her wandering the kibbutz lawns later. (Jacob’s Ladder exudes that kind of laid back vibe.)


Carli Fairburn (photo credit: Lee Fogel)


The “Carli and Yosi” band also jumped up to the main stage this year, in the same evening spot as LolaMarsh but on Thursday. Carli Fairburn is the voice and spunk of what the festival program called “hypnotic folk groove.” I was blown away by the Australian-born singer’s mastery of a “loop station” last year. (A loop station is a device that basically records what you sing and starts repeating it. The performer “plays” it like an instrument, turning it on and off and adding layers of sound – a guitar riff, a bit of percussion, a repeated chant – and then sings along to it.)


This year, Fairburn and her Israeli husband Yosi Chopen had the audience provide backing vocals for some of her songs. It was an exhilarating, participatory way to launch the three-day festival.


Jenny Pakman and Gilad Bloom of Red Sun Project (photo credit: Lee Fogel)


Red Sun Project was the third of the indie bands to “graduate” in 2014 and they might be the sweetest success story. I first saw them four years ago when they were an acoustic folk due known only by their first names, Jenny and Gilad. They were playing the open mic stage in the kibbutz hotel lobby to just several dozen people. In subsequent years, they moved up to a proper hall, added some percussion and, this year, made their biggest leap, with a mostly electric show that evoked Coldplay with Gilad’s ringing guitar work. The lead singers’ delicious harmonies continue to make this band one of my Jacob’s Ladder favorites.


I’ve gotten to know both Jenny and Gilad personally over the years – I’ve played them several times on my Internet radio show, and Gilad and I share a last name (we’re not related) – so I was excited to hear how they evolved. Their performance at Jacob’s Ladder, in fact, was their first ever as a full band, not surprising given that Gilad only returned earlier this year from a six month post-army trip to India where he grew his formerly military crew cut to a suitably indie curly main and added a little facial hair for extra style. They played songs mainly from their only album “Liquid Moments.” I am looking forward to where their career takes them next.


Maya Johanna (photo credit: Lee Fogel)


Perhaps the biggest discovery of the weekend was Maya Johanna, who also appeared in The Voice. Johanna, 29, has built a name for herself at the festival, singing 60s and 70s folk standards with her mentor, Jacob’s Ladder veteran guitarist and harmonica player Shay Tochner. (Indeed, on Thursday night they performed a tribute to the late Pete Seeger on the main stage.) But on Friday afternoon, Johanna sang her own material, which she dubbed, (with a hat nod to Carli and Yossi…or was it the other way around?), “magical indie folk rock.” The result was stunning.


Much of Johanna’s new work takes a contemplative, quiet stance, her delicate voice often quivering as the music seems to emerge from some place deep within. While she rocked out a couple of times, she was shy, even nervous on stage in-between songs, which only contributed to the impression that the audience was being given an early peek at a fascinating future. With collaborator Sun Tailor (a stage name for Arnon Naor), she is closing in on finishing “Shallow Waters,” her first album. She’s set up a Kickstarter-like campaign on an Israeli site – – to help fund the final cut. She’s already topped her NIS 40,000 goal. Here’s a link to the video for Shallow Waters.


I’m rooting for Johanna to join the ranks of fellow Maya (Isacowitz) who also got her start at Jacob’s Ladder and whose first album has received considerable Israeli airplay. Isacowitz headlined Thursday night last year at Jacob’s Ladder. This year, she couldn’t make it – she’s in New York recording her second album. I reviewed her live show for The Jerusalem Post here.


The rest of Jacob’s Ladder was its usual mix of fiddle-friendly country, folk and pop, this year featuring two overseas bands on the main stage, the Toronto bluegrass boy band The Slocan Ramblers (similar to the Jacob’s Ladder “house band” of the Abrams Brothers but not quite as charming) and The Jammin’ Divas, a quartet of women from around the world – Australia, Ireland, the U.S. and Israel – who were sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and reminded me of a more serious version of The Roches.


The Jammin’ Divas were part of a probably unintentional trend: nearly all the bands who took to the main stage had women lead singers. That included The Betty Bears who did a full show of Dixieland, swing and New Orleans classics from the 1920s and 30s; Sawyer, which whipped the teen and young adults at Jacob’s Ladder into a late night dancing frenzy; and DBlues which has a full horn section to funk up a Saturday afternoon. Over on the lawn stage, Tamar Capsuto, who performed solo last year, returned as part of a tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell. Even the Nava Tehila-led Kabbalat Shabbat had a woman, Ayelet Kagan, on lead vocals. The standout male of the show: Gal Nisman, who wow’d the crowd with his spot-on tribute to Eric Clapton and Ray Charles.


Who will make it to the main stage in 2015? Check back then when I write my review of the next Jacob''s Ladder.