SURFING THE crowd. (photo credit: Amir Weiss)
SURFING THE crowd. (photo credit: Amir Weiss)
InDnegev, Israel's most innovative music festival, celebrates 15 years

Wheelers and dealers in financial circles often state that the best time to invest, say, in stocks and bonds is when the market is at its nadir. After all, when you hit rock bottom the only way to go is upwards and onwards.

The InDnegev pop and rock festival has been there and done that over the years. Now, a decade and a half after it was founded by Asaf Ben David and Asaf Kazado, it appears to be heading for stratospheric realms, with at least 12,000 music fans and tranquility seekers due to flock down to Mitzpeh Gevulot, in the remote reaches of the Western Negev, for the three-day bash, which began on Thursday and continues through Saturday night.

The cast of acts makes for impressive and intriguing perusal. International artists like Afghan Whigs and Tess Parks will be rubbing shoulders with some of the big guns of the local pop and rock scenes, like Noga Erez, The Angelcy, Kutiman, Lucille Crew, Evyatar Banai and Shlomi Shaban.

But InDnegev is not just about the proven box office draws. Bands such as bluesy rockers Yuval Mendelson and the Trip to Poland, rapper Eden Derso, singer-songwriter Jenny Penkin and experimental bunch Illiane Pansensoy’s Tropical Orchestra are hardly in the stadium-filling league.

That is part of the fabric and charm of the festival, that in its 15th year, can genuinely boast about being one of Israel’s top annual musical gatherings. It is a generous accommodating philosophy Ben David and Kazado have followed from the off. “We have always wanted to give opportunities to young artists to get some stage experience and public exposure,” says Kazado. There is an abundance of scope for that, with the festival organizers verily inundated with applications from artists and bands from all over the country and across a broad spectrum of styles and subgenres. “We get requests from over a thousand artists [to play at InDNegev],” Kazado continues, adding that he and his colleagues do their best to give each a fair hearing. “We sit down and listen to all of them.”

“We get requests from over a thousand artists [to play at InDNegev]. We sit down and listen to all of them.”

Asaf Kazado
 LOLA MARSH appears at a past InDnegev festival. (credit: GUY PRIBAS) LOLA MARSH appears at a past InDnegev festival. (credit: GUY PRIBAS)

Quality is, naturally, a consideration but it is not the programming be-all and end-all. “We don’t necessarily focus on who is good and who is not. We try to create some kind of musical narrative. We want it to be interesting for the people who come here.”

That also suggests the creation of a special ambiance, both on and off the stage. It also puts one – of a certain vintage – in mind of the heyday of the New Agey festival scene here, in the late 1990s to early Noughties, with events such as Beresheet and Shantipi feeding off the vibes of post-army service Israeli backpackers who had let their hair down in the Far East and South America and were looking to keep the lovin’ relaxed dynamics going back home too.

Times have changed. “That was a different era,” Kazado notes. “There were a lot more festivals around back then. They had a lot of stages, and accommodation facilities and whatnot. It was a sort of holistic experience. It wasn’t like just popping out of the house to catch a show.”

Times have changed for music festivals in Israel

THAT GOES for InDnegev – a.k.a. IndieNegev – too. Having a festival far from the urban madding crowd generates all sorts of logistical challenges but it also offers the invaluable advantage of a site that physically and spiritually affords a few days of quality downtime. There is little in the way of bright lights at Mitzpeh Gevulot and the desert air is just about as unpolluted as you can find these days. The perfect getaway. The ideal spot for forgetting all your troubles and cares, to cite from Petula Clark’s timeless Sixties pop hit “Downtown.”

With all the music around – there are over 100 shows with A-listers and up-and-coming acts on the bill – the festival is first and foremost about having a good carefree time. I went so far as to suggest that there is a whiff or two of Woodstock about the InDnegev venture. I thought Kazado might shy away from comparisons with the legendary 1969 music, peace and love gathering, but he and Ben David seem to embrace and fully endorse those rarified soul-enriching elements, with some added value. “We want everyone who comes to feel comfortable, safe and free,” says Kazado. “People can come here, get away from their daily routines, have three days of fun and take all of that home with them again.”

InDNegev has grown incrementally since its founding, with the curtain raiser drawing an aggregate audience of around 1,000, back in 2007. And while opting for the desert location certainly helps with the chill-out factor, being so close to the Gaza Strip can be trying, too. In 2014, with Operation Protective Edge raging and Hamas rockets landing all over the place, Kazado and Ben David were close to cutting their losses and canceling the festival. “You never know how long ceasefires are going to hold,” Kazado observed at the time. In the end, the festival went ahead and all and sundry had fun and returned home safe and sound.

As any artistic director and festival organizer will say, you are never really sure things are going according to plan until the box office starts to tick over. “We were anxious the first year,” Kazado recalls, “but only that time. Since then, we have established a sort of tradition and we are confident that enough people will come to the festival to make it all worthwhile.”

There are music industry gains, too, with some novice performers getting their foot in the marketing door and taking off from there. Ester Rada, now an internationally acclaimed singer and actress, debuted at InDNegev. Since then, she has appeared at the feted Glastonbury Festival in the UK and performed at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Maccabiah Games.

Kazado is quick to point out that InDnegev may be a good place for young artists to get a taste of the real thing but it is no reality show. “This is not A Star is Born [TV talent show]. The festival really helps to develop the Israeli music market. Our audiences are hungry to catch new things. That’s great.”

Kazado says InDnegev is here to stay and grow. “We’ve been through some tough times but we have survived. We get great feedback from the artists and the audiences. That is very satisfying.”

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