It’s summer, so why not head... for the desert?

For three years, Eran Doron has been putting his money where his mouth is by producing Moon Nights in the Desert.

Geva Alon 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Geva Alon 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If Eran Doron had his way, the Negev would be full of visitors from other parts of the country throughout the year. And, naturally, he aims to convince the rest of us who live elsewhere in Israel that it is perfectly OK – nay, sane – to head for the desert in the summer.
“Most people see the desert as a hot place which should be avoided at this time of the year,” says Doron. “But the truth of the matter is that the weather in lots of places in the Negev is pretty comfortable.
“Mitzpe Ramon, for example, is high up and the air there is fantastic. And there are places like Har Hanegev and Sde Boker that are really good places to visit in the summer. The evenings there are cool, and the desert sky at night is a wonder to behold.
“The weather is certainly a lot more comfortable in the Negev than, for example, in Tel Aviv in the summer.”
Doron has been putting his money where his mouth is for the last three years by producing the Moon Nights in the Desert rock festival at the Beduin-style Sfinat Hamidbar venue near Park Golda, 20 kilometers out of Beersheba.
The musical content is patently tailor-made to bring in the crowds, with both Mashina and Shalom Hanoch in the lineup of the festival, which takes place on July 29 and 30.
While Ben-Gurion was probably not a keen rock music fan, one presumes that he would have approved of Doron’s efforts. The festival producer sees the Moon Nights in the Desert event as part of a three-pronged plan to entice Israelis to the region – something that was dear to B-G’s heart.
First, there is the aforementioned tourism drive – simply to get people to dip their feet in the area rather than rejecting checking out the desert, especially at the hottest time of the year, as a bad move. Then there is the cultural side.
“We want people to come to see Israeli musicians and bands perform here,” says Doron. “We go for mainstream entertainment, but not just the stars like Hanoch and Mashina. We are also using the festival to give younger artists a chance to show the public what they can do.”
ONE OF the latter, who has received a considerable amount of public exposure of late, is 29-year-old Jerusalemite singer-violinist-guitarist Michael Greilsammer, who mixes reggae with soft rock, and is the warm-up act for Mashina on July 29.
On the morrow, Hanoch will take the Sfinat Hamidbar stage after a commensurately rousing opener courtesy of 31-year-old rock-blues guitarist-vocalist Geva Alon, who sings in English.
This, it must be said, is a pretty powerful lineup, to which rock fans from the center of the country would presumably flock were it on offer at a Tel Aviv or Jerusalem venue. It remains to be seen just how many will make the trek southward.
In addition to the front-liner Sfinat Hamidbar program, there will be a host of lesser-known acts performing at smaller venues dotted around the vicinity, such as at the sumptuously appointed Naveh Hamidbar spa center.
With Shalom Hanoch front and center at Moon Nights in the Desert, it seems only natural to have Arik Einstein along, too. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the icon himself won’t be putting in an appearance, but the young Hashablulim band, which focuses entirely on songs recorded and performed by Einstein, is on the festival roster and should provide the audience with plenty of fun entertainment, while evoking not a little nostalgia.
Jazz fans should also dig the show by one of Mitzpe Ramon’s finest, the Jazzert young jazz combo, which frequently plies its trade at the Mitzpe Ramon jazz club run by Gadi Lybrock. Much of the musical and other artistic activity in the Negev is supported by Mirage Foundations Israel, which encourages creative work and community building in the region.
The Moon Nights in the Desert gathering is not just about having a fun evening or two out under the myriad stars. There is a strong ecological message to be had, and Doron and his fellow festival organizers have covered numerous green bases while making the event as user-friendly as possible, too.
For starters, despite the perceived remoteness of the festival venue, free transport will be laid on from various cities across the country, including Beersheba, Ra’anana and Tel Aviv.
“It’s not just a matter of people getting a bit wiser about how to take care of the environment while they are in the Negev,” explains Doron. “It is also about keeping the festival’s carbon footprint down to a minimum, giving people food for thought about how to travel in a more environmentally-friendly way.”
The free bus trip also comes with a discount on concert tickets.
“Five hundred people got to last year’s festival on our free buses, and I’m hoping there’ll be even more this time,” says Doron. “We all know we have to cut down on pollution, and this is a good way of conveying the issue and helping people come to the festival too.”
The event’s carbon footprint is also being minimized by obtaining goods for the festival from as close to home as possible.
“We want to give local suppliers work – like food producers and people who produce wine,” continues Doron. “It makes good sense in environmental terms, and also helps to boost the local economy. I think it’s a clear win-win situation.”
The festival program also features hands-on and informative green activities, such as talks about agricultural work taking place in this seemingly arid landscape. These include free visits to the Ramat Negev Desert AgroResearch Center (RNDARC), where the public will be enlightened about farming in the south, much of which is based on brackish water taken from an enormous subterranean reservoir in the Negev.
“Ninety percent of agriculture here uses this water source,” says Doron. “There are around 70 billion cubic meters of water there, which have remained unused for billions of years. We use the water to grow things like pomegranates, olives, peppers and tomatoes.
We get good yields, with very sweet tomatoes and olives with a high oil content.
“Research is also taking place into developing vineyards using brackish water. In Byzantine times, there were vineyards in the Negev, but the climate was different – wetter – back then.”
JUST TO put things into perspective, the Negev reservoir dwarfs the Kinneret by some way. Even when our precious sweetwater northern lake is full, it contains only around 4 billion cubic meters of water.
There will also be trips to the Nitzana Rural Educational Community, which runs a large active solar park, and to the Ayalim student village at Ashalim, where the buildings are made exclusively of mud bricks.
Elsewhere on the festival’s green front, there will be special recycling facilities, with separate repositories for glass, plastic and paper. Food will be sold on biodegradable plates, information about ecological house construction will be available, and there will be bike trips along 200 kilometers of trails, including parts of the legendary Spice Route used by the Nabateans over 2,000 years ago.
“The trails avoid the region’s nature reserves,” Doron explains, “so cyclists can enjoy the wonderful landscape here without disturbing nature.”
For people looking to stay the whole weekend, a wide variety of accommodation is on offer, tailored to suit all pockets and comfort zones – from free camping in Golda Park, through paid camping facilities at Sfinat Hamidbar and inexpensive indoor facilities at various B&Bs and field schools, to hotel accommodation in Mitzpe Ramon.
With a wide range of musical entertainment laid on, including DJs, and green-oriented informational and down-and-dirty program slots, Moon Nights in the Desert offers plenty reasons for getting on down to the Negev for the weekend – summer or no.
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