Going Dutch at Jacob’s Ladder

“We were living in the US, and I was pursuing the singer/songwriter path, and Craig was in a Celtic punk band out of Chicago,” explains Holland.

Going Dutch at Jacob ladder (photo credit: Courtesy)
Going Dutch at Jacob ladder
(photo credit: Courtesy)
To paraphrase Monty Python’s legendary Parrot Sketch, Jacob’s Ladder is not dead, it’s just resting – that is, resting for around a year between events. The main spring festival has been around for over 40 years now, but 15 years ago, festival founders Yehudit and Menachem Vinegrad initiated a winter slot. The next edition will take place at Nof Ginosar, at the northwestern corner of the Sea of Galilee, on December 6-7.
The winter festival is a scaled-down, more intimate affair, and, sadly, it will now be the only opportunity the Jacob’s Ladder faithful will have to enjoy the trademark mix of bluegrass, folk, blues, Celtic, pop, rock and country music that the Vinegrads have championed year in and year out since the festival’s inception at Kibbutz Mahanayim back in 1978.
“The king is dead, long live the king!” might be an appropriate catchphrase to apply here; and, rather than bemoan the passing of the spring event – the Vinegrads recently announced the main festival, held annually in May, has ceased to be – let’s focus on what the Anglo, and Anglophile, community still has to enjoy.
There will be familiar faces on the festival stages next week, as bassist Gilad Ephrat returns with a new program of ethnic and classical music, and even some jazz, while ubiquitous evergreen guitarist-harmonica player and occasional singer Shai Tochner joins forces with singing brace Maya and Gabriella for a rendition of folk and country songs from the British Isles and the US, across contemporary and traditional musical terrain.
MOST EDITIONS of the festival also include at least one freshman act, and this time it’s a family troupe called The Hollands! the members of which, in fact, hail from Australia and the States. As the group’s website succinctly puts it, [The Hollands!] are 21st-century nomads, and frolic in the Americana/Folk Revival scene.”
That leaves them with plenty of stylistic and sonic room for maneuver.
“‘Folk/Americana’ is a generic term that incorporates many different genres of traditional music from the West, creating a mosaic of sound that is new but still offers a sense of familiarity. The blend could incorporate Celtic, blues, country, gospel, old-time, bluegrass or jazz,” says mandolin and banjo player, and guitarist-vocalist, and mother, Jana Holland. “I grew up listening to gospel and old-time music, especially groups with three- and four-part harmonies. This plays into my music-making, but is not the only element I fall back on. I also enjoy pulling from other traditions, like Celtic, country and blues.”
They bring a variety of musical baggage and intent to the common fray, individually and collectively.
“We were living in the US, and I was pursuing the singer/songwriter path, and Craig was in a Celtic punk band out of Chicago,” explains Holland.
Craig eventually forsook the wild and woolly rock scene and joined Holland in earnest creative endeavor.
“In 2008 Craig began writing and performing with me,” says Holland.
The next generation soon joined in the music-making fun. “Graciana, who was 12 years old at the time, also began to join us, offering her delicate harmonies,” Holland continues. One thing led to another. “In 2009, the three of us went into the studio for the first time, to record To Holland, With Love. The album was meant to be released under my name, Jana Holland, However, once in the studio, it was clear that the movement from singer/songwriter had shifted to a group project. And so, we had a serious conversation about becoming a band, and that is when The Hollands! was born.”
The group moniker is the result of a natural progression.
“We mulled over all sorts of names, but in the end we decided to keep our surname as the band name,” says Holland, although they felt a modicum of titular pizazz was in order. “The exclamation point was added for distinction, and to offer a little excitement and anticipation to the name. In 2010, our son Banjo, then eight years old, began to make cameo appearances on the cajón drum.”
It was time to get serious. “In 2011, we gave all of our possessions away and bought a tour bus. We hit the road, in the US, touring full-time. Since then, we have recorded four full-length albums and toured throughout the US, Canada, Australia, southeast Asia and Europe. The bus stays in the US. Graciana and Banjo are now 23 and 18.”
The Hollands try to keep things open, musically and culturally, picking up sounds, narratives and vibes as they go along.
“Collectively and individually, we listen to a broad spectrum of music and have been influenced in some way, shape or form by most of what we have listened to,” Holland notes. “However, our greatest influence is the stories we have heard along the way, the poetry and sacred texts we have been introduced to, and personal experiences. The sounds we make to accompany that writing is built upon the foundation of Western traditional instrumentation, including the acoustic guitar, ukulele, mandolin, banjo, and cajón. In recent years, Graciana has added the piano, which has given the music an even broader appeal.”
Everyone pitches in with the meandering creative process.
“Graciana and I are the main writers-composers,” notes Holland. “Craig is also a contributor musically, setting the foundation of many of the songs with his brawny rhythms. The songs take form in a variety of ways. Some songs are written individually, and some collectively. Regardless of the beginning, everyone has an opportunity to offer input as the song comes to fruition.”
Holland says The Hollands! is a work in constant progress. “The development over the last 10 years is vast, which you can hear if you listen to all four albums in succession. The first album, To Holland, With Love, marries Craig’s electric guitar and my singer-songwriter style. The second album, Ashes to Beauty, begins to move towards a niche sound, incorporating more strings and folk traditions. The third album, Over Land and Leas, has a signature Americana sound, incorporating elements of Celtic, country and bluegrass traditions. Also, Graciana starts to take a more present role in songwriting and vocals. And, by the fourth album, The Last Dance, there is a blend that is cohesive and clear, as all four family members contribute to the final product, creating the sound that is familiar to the ear but uniquely The Hollands!”
The group, naturally, has a genetic advantage. Many groups talk about how they develop a family ambiance over the years, and get to know each other so well their creativity becomes an almost telepathic process. The Hollands had that from the start, although more than a little nurturing was required.
“It is a delicate balance being a family and being a band, especially with growing children,” Holland notes. “Over the years, the most important element in our music has always been that everyone is heard, understood and valued. Sometimes this has meant compromising, but we can see that, 10 years later, the fruit of that sacrifice is now blooming, as we all step into the fullness of our sound.”
Holland says all the members of the family bring their accrued life experiences into the music they write, record and perform. It is a journey for one and all, in more senses than one.
“Traveling full-time and music-making has broken down prejudices and barriers in us; it has taught us that humans are beautiful, creative and inspiring creatures,” says Holland, adding that it isn’t all roses. “Of course, we can see the brokenness of a self-focused, destructive world around us, and we know the complications of sitting in that brokenness, wounded and angry, waiting for justice.”
But lessons have been learned, enlightenment has been gained, and their musical bottom line is only the richer for all of that. “Yet, in the face of adversity we have seen, time and again, people from all walks of life who have overcome difficult situations through the power of humility and sacrificial love. We have learned to pay attention to these stories, for they influence and shape our music, and these are the stories we carry from place to place, hopefully inspiring our fellow kinfolk to see that we are all in this together.”
The family has traveled a long and winding road to get to Nof Ginosar, and the festival consumers will benefit from the fruits of all those labors and odysseys. Holland says all the family members are excited about their forthcoming trip over here.
“Jacob’s Ladder will be our big finale to a yearlong, 180-show, 35,000-mile tour around the world! We are looking forward to bringing our merrymaking music! We will be pulling from a few of our albums, but the main feature will be songs from our most recent release, The Last Dance, a collection of songs about love and coming home, lullabies and songs that advocate for better days to come.”
As the main spring festival format fades into the sunset, positive messages of that ilk are only too welcome.
For tickets and more information: (04) 685-0403 and https://www.jlfestival.com