As the COVID-19 vaccination numbers escalate, the country begins to look toward returning to some degree of everyday life normalcy. That includes the cultural sphere which, sadly and some say criminally, was largely neglected by the authorities since the outbreak of the pandemic.
But now, finally, Israelis with “green passports” can begin to, once again, consider the possibility of scheduling an evening of live music in their weekly agenda. News of planned festivals, and a variety of onstage artistic fare, are filtering through with steadily increasing regularity.
Of course, as they say, we should still expect the unexpected but, if all goes as the powers that be suggest, and the coronavirus morbidity rate does, indeed, decline as more people opt for a jab, we can look forward to a host of live gigs across the country.
Last week, the Zappa club chain resumed performances in front of an actual corporeal audience with stellar rock artist Aviv Gefen strutting his stuff to 300 paying customers. And there is plenty more where that came from in the Zappa pipeline.
The Tel Aviv Municipality is also at the vanguard of getting back to speed on the live entertainment front. An open-air concert at Wohl Amphitheater, starring seasoned pop-rock singer Nurit Galron, attracted an audience limited to 300 senior citizen “Green Pass” bearers.
By all accounts a good relaxed time was had by one and all. “It provides protection, but also a feeling of comfort to sit among people who are vaccinated,” Doron Zicher, a retired businessman, told Reuters. “After a year staying at home in a sort of isolated environment it feels great to go out and experience public shows and activities.”
Others at the show expressed their sense of relief at being able to get out for some good old live musical entertainment, in what they consider to be a corporeally healthy environment. “If I need to go to a cultural place where they don’t ask for the green passport I wouldn’t go,” said Michal Porat, 66. “I want to know and to be sure that all the people that are next to me are already immune and vaccinated, and I wouldn’t trust people who are not.”
The vast majority of artists from across the disciplinary spectrum are itching to get back on stage, and to get away from the sterile setting of Zoom-facilitated presentations. David Broza is certainly up for it. The veteran guitarist-vocalist is scheduled to set the ball rolling at the Red Sea Guitar Festival due to take place in Eilat April 29-May 1.
Broza has been crisscrossing the globe for many a moon now, splitting his time between residences in Tel Aviv and New York, and cramming in a packed gigging itinerary right through the year. The pandemic found him holed up in the Big Apple, biding his time with mounting frustration, and he is delighted to have the opportunity to resume his live work here. Mind you, the Eilat commission, and other slots he has lined up over here in the near future, did catch him somewhat unawares. “The past year was, to say the least, a disaster for all performers,” he notes. “The funny thing is that last week I was asked on an interview for The Jerusalem Post podcast when do I think shows will resume and my immediate answer was, ‘It will still take a long time.’ The next day my office In Tel Aviv sent me dates for shows in March and April.”
It is, he says, not a moment too soon. “I am very, very happy to perform again and to get the adrenaline and the music flowing in my blood and out to the audience! My first big show will be opening of the Guitar Festival in Eilat on April 29th featuring songs from the album Ha’isha Sheiti, and with special guest the great [ladino and flamenco singer] Yasmin Levy.” Should be a blast for all concerned down South.
Some artists have, betwixt lockdowns, managed to fit in some live work on a cozier scale. New York-born singer, songwriter and guitarist Lazer Lloyd has been offering his special mix of acoustic and electric Americana, rock, folk, blues and psychedelia to audiences around the world for close to four decades.
While Lloyd wants to return to the professional Full Monty as soon as he can, he clearly has not been twiddling his thumbs since the pandemic shuffled the pack for him and his colleagues. “I did a lot of smaller things in the summer,” he says, noting he was surprised by the added value of the intimate setup, and that, rather than clipping his creative wings, the “purple badge” guidelines led him into uncharted territory he would probably otherwise not have encountered. “So many wonderful people around the country were organizing these 20-40 people events. I found so many new fans, in places I’d never been to,” he chuckles.
Word got around, as did Lloyd. “One person would tell another about me, and I was doing gigs in people’s backyard, on kibbutzim. Then before Rosh Hashanah it all closed down again. That was hard. And then it opened up a little bit, and then it was totally dry for around two months. There was nothing.”
But better times are looming. “Thank God it’s starting again. I’m already starting next week with a private event and I have this big Red Sea Guitar Festival show.” Lloyd is on the latter roster, alongside Broza and a host of other front grid performers, including Berry Sakharof, Dudu Tassa, Yehuda Keisar, Shlomo Mizrahi and Danny Sanderson. There’s more. “It looks I’m going to be playing the Yellow Submarine [in Jerusalem] on March 25, with a [Purple Badge] limited audience of around 70-80.”
MIND YOU, not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of hosting smaller audiences. Shaul Mizrahi, who runs the major rock-pop Barby venue in Tel Aviv, says he will not be reopening the club just yet. “It’s crazy,” he exclaims. “In June we opened based on a limit of 50% capacity, not exceeding 500 people, and that’s without vaccinations. Now there are vaccinations and they have cut us down to a third of our capacity.”
Shem-Tov Levi has been around the show biz block a few times over the past half century. But while the pianist-vocalist-flutist says he is happy things are beginning to open up again, he is in no hurry to get back to major venues. “I did a lot of small shows over the past year, you know, with up to 20 people.”
He says that in addition to helping with his cash flow, that gave him a new perspective on how to do his thing. “The shows were more intimate and you get to see people’s faces in the crowd,” he notes. “I had conversations with people and I even came across some fantastic amateur musicians, who ended up playing with me a bit. I really like that direct contact and I think I am going to continue with that, even after full-blown live entertainment resumes.”
Arnon Naor, aka Sun Tailor, also said he had a change of professional tack in the wake of the pandemic strictures. “I have a home studio and I got into production work,” says the singer songwriter, who spent several years honing his craft in London before returning to these shores.
He is also spearheading efforts to try to get the state to offer more support to the thousands of music industry workers, including backstage crews and composers, who have been going through some desperate times. “I am one of the founders of Tzlilim, the new musicians’ union which seeks to protect the rights, and livelihood, of around 15,000 artists, producers and other workers,” Naor notes. “The shutdown we went through, and the fact that we are still not back at work, showed us how badly we are ignored by the government and other bodies. We felt abandoned. We still feel that, even with the initial signs that things may be reawakening. We feel we are the last in line.”
Naor says he is bewildered by the lack of help from the authorities. “Our job is to create the Israeli soundtrack. What would people do without music?” What indeed.
For now, Naor is looking forward to his first post-third lockdown gig, a solo spot in Tel Aviv on March 18 and, like the rest of the entertainment sector, hopes things will improve before too long. Meanwhile, Lloyd, ever the sunny soul, says he is gazing expectantly toward the horizon although he is not at all sure it is all plain sailing from here on in. “Let’s say we’re reservedly optimistic.”
Reuters contributed to this report.