A stage for culture

An informal jam session in Acre that blossomed into a series of live concerts in its own venue is livening up the formerly sleepy town.

The MED Center 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
The MED Center 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Talk about a dream come true: A series of jam sessions among friends grows into a full-blown music venue, complete with financial backing, aimed at building a community among the area’s young people who share a desire to participate in music and art. And that active participation is what makes The Jam: A Home for Shared Creativity unique.
“We were a bunch of friends who got together to play music in our spare time,” says Koby Davider, 30, a member of the Dror-Israel Movement (adult graduates of Hanoar Ha’oved Vehalomed youth movement). For the past seven years he has lived in Acre, in an “Educators’ Kibbutz,” one of the movement’s many urban kibbutzim scattered around Israel.
“Most of us worked in various educational capacities in the city. We got to know people through work and if they had any musical interest we invited them to join us. At some point we thought maybe the jam sessions could be something bigger – something we could do for the city of Acre and for people our age who live in the periphery,” he says.
Singer Noa Tene, 31, was involved from the beginning.
“Now I’m a social worker, but back then I was a community worker in Acre. I got to be friends with some of the people in Dror-Israel and I’d go to the jam evenings at the kibbutz. About four years ago we had the idea: ‘Let’s bring events and performers. Let’s make it inexpensive so that anyone who wants to can participate.’” “If you live in Tel Aviv you can go out and hear good music every night.
We don’t want to go to Tel Aviv. We want to bring culture and art here. And we want to do it our way,” says Davider. “It is important to us to keep the atmosphere and the spirit of our jam sessions.”
The Acre Municipality has been supportive from the start. According to Galit Perry, project coordinator for the Acre Economic Corporation, a branch of the municipality, Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri is very supportive of the whole idea. Aside from the wellknown Acre Festival, the international theater festival held every year during Succot, the city is not known as a place to go for entertainment. Lankri wants to change that by providing all types of activities to encourage people to get out of their homes and interact with one another.
“Acre might be the only city where the mayor is looking to create nightlife,” says Perry. “And he wanted to work with Dror-Israel. They’re young and they’re enthusiastic.”
“We wanted to open The Jam up to everyone so we only charged NIS 15 per ticket for the very first shows,” Tene remembers. Early performers included Shem-Tov Levy, Rona Kenan, Noam Rotem and Eran Tzur. “They played in the Knights’ Hall or in Acre Theater.”
The Economic Corporation, which contributes a good-sized budget toward the project, has recently given them a home.
This past January The Jam moved into the basement space of the MED Center, a building on the city’s northern beachfront promenade, in an area with plenty of free parking. The performance space is comfortable and attractive. Attending a concert there is like going to a concert at a friend’s house – a friend with a huge living room, a nice bar, good lighting and a fantastic sound system.
Dror-Israel, organized as a non-profit, donates the sound system, mans the bar and takes care of ticket sales, hosts The Jam’s website and Facebook site and more, all on a voluntary basis, along with a core of about 10 people like Tene, who aren’t members of the kibbutz. Others pitch in to help as needed.
This, too, goes a long way toward keeping ticket prices affordable.
Although NIS 15 per ticket turned out to be unrealistic, tickets still cost much less than what the same performance would cost in Tel Aviv. Prices range from NIS 10 to NIS 50, depending on the event, but they’ll never go above NIS 50, promises Davider.
“The idea is to keep everything simple.
It should feel like family,” Perry explains. “The artist and the audience – anyone who wants to participate – provide the soul and the spirit of the place.”
This spirit of volunteerism is what sets The Jam apart from other music venues, and what makes it successful.
“For me, one of the best moments came at the end of Shem-Tov Levy’s concert, when he invited the audience onto the stage to jam with him,” Davider recalls. “There was such an open feeling. Since then, it’s become standard. At the end of every concert the audience is invited to jam with the artist. That’s what we’re all about: the shared experience in making music and art. Culture is for everyone.”
“We are a group that is involved in creating something together,” says Tene, “by building the space, involving the audience and the artists. Koby is responsible for dealing with the artists. He explains what we expect from them. There are musicians who don’t want to participate in what we are doing. But most are very encouraging.
Some have approached us about performing, and some have enjoyed the experience so much they’ve asked to come back.”
In an effort to widen the audience base among both Arabs and Jews, The Jam is making an effort to move beyond the usual offering of rockand- roll. Billed as “Between Cultures – Meeting on the Road of Live Music” the first such concert featured violinist and oud player Yair Dalal, performing with percussionist Avi Agababa. An Israeli of Iraqi descent, Dalal is influenced by Jewish and Arab musical traditions.
After the “official” concert ended, close to midnight, Dalal and Agababa continued to play, now accompanied by a bouzouki and a saxophone.
“This setup isn’t the most typical,” Gilad Perry, 35, from Kibbutz Eshbol, commented before he joined them onstage with his electric guitar. “For the regular jam sessions we usually have the chairs set up in a big circle.”
As part of the same effort, The Bridge Project will perform later this month. According to the flyer, the band consists of an Israeli, an Australian and a Turkish/French musician, who have only played together over the Internet. They will meet for the first time in person during a short concert tour around Israel.
“We also have themed jam sessions,” Tene explains. “For instance, in June there will be a ‘Poets’ Evening’ in honor of Hebrew Book Week. It’s a type of ‘open mike.’ People sign up ahead of time; a band will form for that specific event.”
“I don’t play a musical instrument but I come every couple of weeks. I like the music and the atmosphere,” says Eyal Tarchitzky, 29, from Kibbutz Hanaton in the Western Galilee.
“We had a ‘Women Rock’ night for International Women’s Day,” recalls Sivan Bamberger, 29, from Hadera.
“And the Beatles Night was really fun.”
During May and June there is a complete line-up of performances and events, including an evening of Pink Floyd and a performance by singersongwriter Efrat Gosh.
Dror-Israel’s Educators’ Kibbutz in Acre is the driving force behind the whole project, along with the Economic Corporation, which is also involved in the bureaucracy of managing a public venue, dealing with such issues as police, insurance and legal matters. Other organizations also contribute to the success of the project: Acre Theater Center, the Acre Municipality, the Center for Youth and the network of Community Centers.
Perry, who worked in various media capacities before she joined the Economic Corporation, was born in Acre and is a firm believer in the project.
“Acre is a very beautiful and a very complicated city. When I was growing up there was no nightlife, no clubs or pubs – no culture. Right now The Jam is at the very beginning. If you ask me how I see the future: In three years I see us as a central body with the goal of supporting developing artists. We will give them a stage. And not just musicians. A painter or a photographer who is looking for a place to showcase his or her work, for instance, would come to us.”
“I didn’t have any experience organizing shows before this but I don’t think I’d do anything differently,” says Davider, who mentions that other Dror-Israel kibbutzim, in Holon, Sderot, Mitzpe Ramon and Tiberias are using The Jam as a model.
“I’m happy with the way The Jam is developing. It fits in with the ideology of Dror-Israel. Culture should be open and available to everyone.
Anyone who wants should be able to participate. So far, that’s exactly what is happening. I’d like to see us branch into other areas – offer workshops in art and music, open an art gallery, a coffee shop, sports clubs. We love Acre and we want to do something positive in the city. Our goal is to encourage people to meet; and to provide a fun and productive context for them to meet. I think we’re moving in that direction.”