Jacob’s Ladder Festival returns with a new format - review

Producing a quality three-day outdoor festival with superb facilities at prices that people could afford became just beyond the realm of possibility.

 AN IRISH music jam session at the Jacob’s Ladder festival. (photo credit: NOAM AMIR)
AN IRISH music jam session at the Jacob’s Ladder festival.
(photo credit: NOAM AMIR)

After 43 years of outdoor festivals together with 16 years of smaller indoor festivals, and following repeated postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years, the Jacob’s Ladder Festival successfully returned with a new format last weekend, to the delight of all who participated at Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the North. The loyal festival patrons never gave up, and every time the event was postponed, they simply transferred their reservations to the new date.

Producing a quality three-day outdoor festival with superb facilities at prices that people could afford became just beyond the realm of possibility in view of the draconian restrictions and regulations imposed by the authorities on events held under the starry skies and in the fresh air.

Producers and festival founders Yehudit and Menachem Vinegrad explained:

“Not wishing to give up on our life’s passion, we searched the country for the ideal venue... The festival had moved six times over the last 44 years. Our motto is, ‘the next place has to be even better.’”

The new format

In the new format, limited to 500 people, performances were held indoors on the on-site stage of the opera hall in the kibbutz’s Pastoral Hotel. Unlike at the winter festivals of the past, where the view of the stage was partly blocked by columns, the opera hall was spacious enough for people to sit comfortably, to get up and dance to Irish jigs, Rock and roll, Blues, Country and Swing, without blocking the view of people who would rather sit down.

 DOV HAMMER & the Allstars perform at the Jacob’s Ladder Festival. (credit: NOAM AMIR) DOV HAMMER & the Allstars perform at the Jacob’s Ladder Festival. (credit: NOAM AMIR)

Like all the festivals before it, there was a healthy mix of professional artists and plenty of opportunity for amateur folkies to meet up and jam and to appear on the open mic.

The rooms, grounds and lobby all lent themselves to mingling and music. As usual, people found all sorts of places to meet up and jam together. Veteran musician Shay Tochner said, “the festival should now be called Jacob’s Ladder Festival Retreat.”

The dinner hour concert of Greek music with the excellent Babesa Rebetiko Ensemble was held outside on the opera hall veranda. Attendee Ruthi Sheffer, listening to this performance in the magical background of the opera hall, one was “transported instantly to a small taverna, just lacking the ouzo.” People staying in second-floor rooms, were lucky enough to enjoy the concert from their balconies facing the opera hall, perhaps drinking their own ouzo or a bottle of wine.

"The festival should now be called Jacob’s Ladder Festival Retreat.”

Shay Tochner

On Friday, the music progressed from Scottish traditional via Americana 60s and 70s, Rebetiko, Celtic and Original, Swing and finally, before midnight, Dov Hammer and The Allstars got everyone up on their feet rocking and raving.

Activities were held for children while the adults were in the concerts. On Saturday morning on the lawn, many parents enjoyed spending time with their littlest ones, dancing and acting to music with Dorit Erel. One mother, who had grown up at Jacob’s Ladder with her parents, said that she wants her kids to grow up with the same experiences.

Afterward, the children created puppets in a character of their own choice and acted with them, led by Michal and Eliann Donnell. Charlie Sofair, beloved by all, provided juggling equipment for the kids in one corner of the lawns.

Friday and Saturday afternoons offered a games club and more creative activities.

On Saturday, the music in the opera hall included two classical performances. Spanish guitar maestro Oded Melchner, after presenting a master class, led us on a musical journey from Spain through Latin America and the Gilad Ephrat Ensemble hosted extremely talented Einav Saban Ephrat who sang in different languages, including a very moving rendition of “Adio Querida” in back-to-roots Ladino. Someone in the audience was heard to say “We come to a folk festival and are treated to classical music, too.”

People danced and had fun with Jacks of Diamond country and bluegrass band and lunch time break was devoted to jam sessions on the lawn with various artists and amateurs. The Jacob’s Ladder Irish Session Band performed in the hotel lobby in an authentic Irish pub setting.

The grand finale featured Jacobs Ladder mainstays Shay Tochner and Friends, with Gabriella Lewis singing and playing the piano, Carmel Ekman on fiddle, Betty Maoz on bass and Yonatan Bar Rashi on drums.

By the time the hour struck four o’clock, everyone had come back into the hall happy, smiling, relaxed and waiting for the final act which covered almost everyone’s favorite songs.

The next Jacob’s Ladder Festival “Retreat,” all being well, will be held on March 24-25, 2023, at the same venue. I suggest you don’t miss it.

Reservations by phone only, (04) 683-6611. For updates on the festival see www.jlfestival.com