Music: Free and easy in Arad

The 33rd edition of the Arad Festival is, as always, festooned with some of the biggest names in the local pop, folk and rock communities, such as Matti Caspi, Nurit Hirsh and others in the scene.

Eitan Campbell (front, left) and friends. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Eitan Campbell (front, left) and friends.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eitan Campbell has come a long way en route to taking an active role in the upcoming Arad Festival, which will take place August 17 to 20.
The 57-year-old Campbell, who hails from Wilmington, Delaware, moved to Israel with his devout Christian family at the age of 12. While the physical and meteorological transition to the desert took some getting used to, the teenager quickly found a common language with his Sabra counterparts – a love of music. “I started playing music a bit back in the States, and it was a good time to come here,” he recalls. “We came to Israel just after Woodstock happened; and when the movie came out, we went to see it again and again. There was only one cinema in Arad at the time. It wasn’t a magnificent place – you sort of had to bring your own chair with you from home,” laughs Campbell. “They ran the same movie twice a day for a whole week. When Woodstock came, we’d watch it and then go back afterwards to see it a second time, every day for the whole week.”
That love of rock and roll, as well as other American commercial music, soon led to some active expression in Campbell’s new town. In 1973, he and his brother Ilan and a bunch of other like- minded Arad youngsters got together and formed the Gypsy band. The group played at various local venues and even ventured out of town for around 15 years and built up a cult following. “There were people in Arad who were crazy about us,” says Campbell. “If we played outside Arad, they’d all come to the show.” After a decade and a half of earnest gigging, the band broke up, as most of the members moved to other places around the country, and one even moved abroad. “But we still got together every so often,” says Campbell, “and we had a big reunion gig a couple of years ago. That was great. We took out a license for an audience of 850, and we got a crowd of 3,500.”
The gang will, once again, reunite at the Arad Festival when multi-instrumentalist Campbell will be joined by his brother, electric guitarist Amos Aharoni, keyboardist Avinoam Michaeli, bass guitarist Kobi Moshe Wallach and drummer Tal Cohen for one more round of rock and roll and blues-infused numbers. The second reunion show will take place at Musa on the last day of the festival. “Most of the show will be rock numbers,” says Campbell. “There will be a few songs in Hebrew, but it is still more comfortable to sing rock in the mother tongue,” he adds, referring both to his own mother tongue and the original language of the genre.
Despite having the requisite cultural background, plenty of accrued stage time and playing several instruments – guitar, flute, harmonica and mandolin – and singing, Campbell says he is still not much more than an enthused amateur. "Yes, I play all kinds of instruments, but none of them well. My brother Ilan is the real musician among us. The owner of Musa always used to say that I shouldn’t give up my day job,” Campbell adds with a chuckle. In fact, Campbell is a prominent figure in the environs of Arad and the Dead Sea and, for the last 30 years or so, he has overseen the day- to-day running of the historic site of Masada. Keyboardist Michaeli is also on the Masada staff and runs the sound and light show there.
Besides holding down his daytime job at the desert outcrop, Campbell will have his work cut out for him at the festival, as he is also involved in a tribute show to Sasha Argov, which will take place at 10 p.m. on the first evening of the four-day program. Despite his American roots, Campbell says he feels a strong professional bond with the iconic Russian-born Israeli Prize laureate composer-pianist. “You know, Argov was a bank clerk for many years. That means that the music came from some other place. It wasn’t a matter of trying to earn a living from it. His music came from somewhere pure, without any financial considerations,” he says.
Campbell also identifies with Argov as someone who made aliya and managed to immerse himself fully in Israeli culture.
“He came from Russia, but he grasped the full meaning of the Israeli zeitgeist,” he notes. “Every song he wrote has a special element to it, which relates to life in Israel.” Argov also took in wider cultural domains. “He wrote songs in all kinds of styles,” Campbell continues. “There are South American style songs in his oeuvre and even Eastern style numbers.”
Two decades after his death, Argov continues to have a presence here and to impact on people of all stripes and ages. “You see the youngsters involved in this Argov production, and they are so enthusiastic and into it,” says Campbell. “Argov was something special, and it is a privilege to be in the show.”
The 33rd edition of the Arad Festival is, as always, festooned with some of the biggest names in the local pop, folk and rock communities, such as Matti Caspi, Nurit Hirsh, Nurit Galron, the Giraffes, Hatikva 6 and the Najd Hamada rock outfit, which comprises a bunch of media professionals who also happen to like strutting their stuff on stages up and down the country when they’re not disseminating current affairs.
Arad Mayor Nissan Ben-Ham is, naturally, enthused about the upcoming festival. “For over three decades Arad has shown, each and every year, that it is the capital of Hebrew song. I invite all fans of song to be our guests for a fantastic four-day festival,” he says.
All shows are free. For more information: (08) 995- 1776 and