Shake a leg by the Kinneret

The Merry Poppins quintet will sound high notes at next week’s Jacob’s Ladder festival at Nof Ginossar.

The Merry Poppins quintet (photo credit: STEFFI MARQUET)
The Merry Poppins quintet
(photo credit: STEFFI MARQUET)
Yes folks, it’s “that” time of the year again – when our very own Jacob’s Ladder Festival rears its inviting and beloved visage, and we all get to shake a leg down by the lake. This year’s main spring edition of the festival takes place at its perennial berth of Nof Ginossar at the northwest corner of the Kinneret, May 14 to 16.
There are plenty of the usual suspects in the entertainment lineup, and therein many feel lies the event’s charm. One of the offshore headliners is the Abrams Brothers bluegrass rock outfit from Canada – which has performed several times, in various familial guises, over the past decade or so. Also from t’other side of t’ Pond (to be read, if possible, in a Yorkshire accent) comes US singer-songwriter Sonia Rustein, professionally known as SONiA Disappear Fear; while the European contingent features Berlin-based virtuoso violinist Alexey Kochetkov and the German-Israeli Aletchko quartet, with a beguiling mix of Balkan groove, Oriental sounds and other assorted high-energy textures and rhythms.
The recently refashioned Jacob’s Ladder website places the Merry Poppins quintet, which hails from Salzburg, Austria, in the jazz genre, but that only tells part of the band’s musical tale. Another click into the site’s “artist info” section reveals that the group indeed plays a wide spectrum of styles and genres, “from Balkan pop to jazz, urban roots, reggae and blues.”
The Austrian band comprises vocalist David Lageder and guitarist Thomas Aichinger, with Robert Aichinger on drums, Mathias Vorauer on bass and Herbert Könighofer on saxophone. The latter was ready and primed for my first question: Whence comes the group’s definitively joyful and fun name? “It is [a feeling of] being a little drunk and having some ‘merry poppins,’” says the sax player with a laugh. “It’s a funny thing. What can I say? The name just came out of nowhere. The other guys – they have been friends since they were at school together – were sitting around a fire and playing with funny names, and this one just came out, and they said ‘Let’s keep it.’ That was before they really became a band. I joined in 2005, and then we started doing gigs.”
The group’s moniker may have come “out of nowhere,” but the sounds the fivesome puts out come from all kinds of places. Könighofer puts the eclectic ethos down to his and his pals’ freewheeling approach to music-making. “We are all autodidacts,” he notes. “And we are a real band. We travel together, and we have good times and bad times together.”
That collective spirit, says Könighofer, leads the group up all kinds of creative avenues. “We do this project or that project, and they we move on to the next thing. Today I can say that Merry Poppins has a sort of continuity that just keeps on happening. I think that’s good.”
The “kibbutz spirit” informs the band members’ sonic output and enriches the infectious go-with-the-flow take, both on life and their work, differing musical baggage notwithstanding. “I come from a sort of jazz background, and also avant-garde and noise music, and the other guys probably come from reggae.”
At the end of the day, the creative process just ebbs and flows as Mum Nature would have liked. “People come up with ideas for songs, and we don’t ask where they come from,” continues the saxophonist. “Every song has its own story, its own reality. Most of the songs are written by our guitar player, but you need to know your singer to write a song for them, or the singer needs to know the guitar player. There are so many possibilities to create a new song.”
However, while most of the scoring comes from Thomas Aichinger, Könighofer says all the band members put in their creative oar. “Every song is a new experience. You can’t really say that someone [specific] is writing our stuff. Sometimes it also happens that we start jamming together and then something comes out of that, too. If I have an idea and I write the notes down, and I think it suits the band, and I try to play it – that’s another story, another way of writing material we perform.”
Songs seem to crop up on all sorts of occasions, and in all kinds of circumstances. “Once we wrote a song on a trip back to Austria from Romania,” observes Könighofer, “and another time the guitar player wrote a song because he just felt something. As long as it suits the band it doesn’t matter where, or who, the song really comes from. You have different colors, and we all bring something different to the music.”
The bottom line, as far as Könighofer and his bandmates are concerned, is to get the members of their audience smiling, joyful and, if possible, up off their rear ends and doing a boogie. “We like to have fun, to entertain people, and to show just how a party can be,” he chuckles.
Elsewhere on the Jacob’s Ladder roster there are plenty of familiar names and sounds. Festival veteran singer-songwriter Diane Kaplan will team up with longtime cohort vocalist, flutist and percussionist Dana Keren – with Kaplan’s singer son Edan putting in a guest appearance – for a program of Beatles, Dylan and Carole King covers, plus some originals, while the ever-popular Larry & Mindy duo will proffer an acoustic folk rock show.
Dynamic vocalist Libi will team up with her Flashback Trio for a no doubt high-energy show of country, folk and blues music, while folk and country music stalwart Lynn Lewis will be joined by a bunch of pals for his May 16 slot. Jacob’s Ladder wouldn’t be the same without guitarist-harmonica player Shai Tochner, and his sometime singing partner Maya Johanna Menachem is also in the festival mix.
Add the regular proactive Irish dance and square-dancing workshops, and that most precious of festival components – the impromptu jam sessions that spring up all over the place – and you end up with our very own and much-treasured Jacob’s Ladder Festival.
For tickets and more information: (04) 85-0403 and