IVRI LIDER will perform in this year’s Arad Festival. (photo credit: ALON LEVIN)
IVRI LIDER will perform in this year’s Arad Festival.
(photo credit: ALON LEVIN)

Israel's Arad Festival turns 40 with 5-day music party


Monty Python’s classic Four Yorkshiremen sketch comes to mind at all sorts of quotidian junctures. The hilarious skit references the three decades that have elapsed since the now well-to-do northern folk lived in far less glamorous circumstances.

The Arad Festival can go one better, at least in terms of longevity, as it marks its 40th anniversary this year with a five-day rollout at the hilltop southern town starting on August 20. 

Marina Glazer has been involved in the festival, in a variety of guises, for around 20 years, including 15 as artistic director. She bows out when the lights go out on this year’s final show, on August 24, which is as good a time as any to take a look back at some of the highlights of her decade-and-a-half tenure.

Over the years, the festival has hosted the biggest names on the local pop and rock scene, and has become a fixture on many a local music fan’s cultural calendar. Glazer says she hopes this year’s edition will top the 2022 accumulative audience figure of 12,000, drawing culture consumers from all around the country.

She has done her best to give herself and the festival the best chance of achieving the incremental ticket sales objective. The roster includes plenty of front-grid rock and pop acts, including Ivri Lider, Rita, and Danny Sanderson. There are also a handful of salutes to giants of Israeli culture, including tributes to pop icon Zvika Pick, and to legendary songwriter, poet, satirist, and playwright Yehonatan Gefen, both of whom passed away in the past year.

 RITA will take the main stage.  (credit: May Moshe)
RITA will take the main stage. (credit: May Moshe)

Saluting Israeli giants at the Arad Festival's 40th anniversary

Hale and hearty 79-year-old Middle Eastern-leaning singer Daklon also gets a timely accolade, just months after receiving the Israel Prize for his six decade-plus, and counting, career. Singer-songwriter Asaf Amdursky adds a personal touch with a long-running show based on his late father Benny Amdursky’s popular repertoire. 

Glazer says recognizing the work of our top artists is an integral part of the Arad Festival way. “We are very strong in the tribute area. Last year we had a show dedicated to [late iconic Mizrachi singer] Zohar Argov.” 

With 40 years of sterling work in the Israeli song business, the festival’s predilection for honoring the titans of the industry stands to reason. “When the festival started in 1983, it was the first [major Hebrew music event],” Glazer notes. “There wasn’t really a Hebrew song festival yet. Yes, there was Tzemach. But it wasn’t really institutionalized.” That references the Night of Love one-dayer on the eastern shore of the Kinneret, which ran for around 30 years from 1978. 

“The Arad Festival was the first festival that saluted Hebrew song exclusively. This festival carefully preserves its tradition. That is what Zecharia Liraz set out to do when he founded this festival.” Liraz was a Romanian-born cultural entrepreneur who founded music events all over the country, including in Arad and Beersheba, as well as the Klezmer Festival in Safed. “That was also what legendary Arad mayor [Avraham] Baiga [Shochat] wanted back in 1983. That was what they wanted. They wanted sing-a-longs. They had clear-cut goals for the festival.”

GLAZER EXPLAINS that it wasn’t just about protecting the country’s musical heritage. “They wanted to give young artists opportunities to perform, to allow them to take the stage for the first time. The festival was also designed to unveil new songs to the public.” That sounds pretty revolutionary for a country that was still largely conservative in so many areas of life. But it seems to have worked out pretty well from the start. “No one raised an eyebrow,” says Glazer. “The public was happy with what the festival offered them.”

When Glazer settled into the hot seat she was determined to keep the roots and innovation balancing act in place. “When I became artistic director I took great pains to ensure we remembered the titans of Israeli music, and gave them their due. People say that we have forgotten the artists of the past. Not us. Not at the Arad Festival. We always have veteran artists on our stages. And we always have room for artists who are just starting out.”

She cites the name of a neophyte to watch out for in this year’s lineup. “We have [singer-songwriter] Avihai Hollender, who is an artist who is just beginning to develop a career.” Hollender gets his chance to shine as the opening act for stellar Mediterranean-style vocalist Eden Hason. Not a bad gig although, it must be said, Hollender has performed elsewhere in the past and gained some airplay on various radio stations. Still, Arad is a pretty significant step in his burgeoning career. For Glazer, that also infers the festival’s open-ended approach, and a desire to proffer a helping hand and help the younger crowd make some incremental strides. 

That also follows a reciprocal synergetic trail. “These connections are important - connecting someone who performs music that is also pop and rock but also Mizrachi, and putting them together with a novice who writes and sings, that helps. Avihai gets an opportunity to perform next to someone who has already made it, and brings his experience with him. I hope Avihai gets a push in the right direction, opening for Eden.”

There are other novel confluences in the festival’s back catalog. “A few years ago I put [Greek music star Shlomo] Saranga together with [veteran Turkish-rooted] rock-pop guitarist-singer Miki Gavrielov,” Glazer recalls. On that occasion, there were some doubters about the exercise. “Lots of people raised eyebrows,” she says. Considering the common Middle Eastern-Mediterranean baggage, one would have thought that was a perfectly natural matchup. And so it proved to be. “It was a fantastic show,” Glazer continues. “These fusions are so wonderful. They bring old Israeli music together with groundbreaking material. I think that is good for everyone.”

ONE OF several philosophical observations, that compares life with cycling, claims that if you don’t move, you fall over. Glazer and the festival have clearly been making tracks, if not waves, over the years and, presumably, that will continue to be the case when the new artistic director takes over the programming berth.

Arad also offers a rare boon slap-bang in the middle of the seemingly never-ending summer. Sitting over 600 meters above sea level, that’s over 1,000 meters above the Dead Sea, once the sun dips below the western horizon, the air cools appreciably. “When I invite people to the festival, I tell them to bring a sweatshirt with them,” Glazer laughs. “There is also this special ambiance and tranquility here.”

It’s not just about the music. “There are breweries here, and homemade food – in people’s homes – art and all sorts of workshops, guided tours, Xtreme sport, guided tours, yoga, meditation,” says Glazer, clearly keen to spread the region’s tourism appeal as far and wide as possible. “I get people’s amazement when I tell them about comfortable weather here in the summer and all the things we have to offer here. I tell them they won’t regret coming to Arad.”

That goes for the artists, patrons, and anyone who digs Israeli music too. “Without this festival, the music scene in this country would have been different,” Glazer proudly posits. “Over the years, the Arad Festival has offered a stage to everyone.” And she makes no apologies for keeping to the domestic sector. “People ask why we don’t bring stars from abroad. I tell them I have no right to mess around with something that is so beloved and has been successful for so long. Anyway, we have so many gifted artists here. I don’t think we need to look anywhere else.”

Glazer also, poignantly, mentions the advances achieved in efficiency and professionalism on the management side of the event. “We pay special attention to safety and security. We check on that very carefully. We are proud of that.” That was a thinly veiled reference to the disaster that took place at the 1995 edition of the festival when too many tickets were sold and, tragically, three youngsters were crushed to death at one of the concerts. It took a while for the festival to recover but it is now well and truly back on the entertainment map. 

For tickets and more information: https://bit.ly/43ahmxE 

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