Strike up the bands: Yidstock 2023 brings new music and a range of events to the Yiddish Book Center

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 07-13-2023 11:19 AM

Just as the Yiddish Book Center has played a key role in revitalizing interest in the study of Yiddish literature and language, the Amherst center also has done its part to keep alive one of the liveliest parts of Yiddish culture: music.

Now in its 11th season, “Yidstock: The Festival of New Yiddish Music” returns to Amherst July 13-16 for four days of song, film, talks and workshops, though the focus in on the the breadth of Yiddish music, from Klezmer to the variations on that traditional sound that have emerged in the last several decades.

Organizers of Yidstock say the festival also offers a great opportunity for the musicians themselves to do some improvising with different ensembles.

As Seth Rogovy, the festival’s artistic director, puts it, “We look forward to the magic and surprises that can only happen at a live event, which often provides a platform for spontaneous cross-pollination and jamming between performers.”

There’s already some cross-pollination afoot in a number of the groups, such as Forshpil, a Latvian quintet that merges electric guitars and other rock dynamics with Klezmer’s traditional Eastern European rhythms; they make their Yidstock debut on July 16 at 3 p.m.

According to program notes, “If Pink Floyd and the Doors had ever jammed together at a Jewish wedding, it would have sounded something like this.”

Another ensemble that mixes all manner of eclectic sounds is Mazel Tov Cocktail Party, a six-member group led by clarinetist David Krakauer and keyboard/accordion player Kathleen Tag. Among the other members are Iranian percussionist Martin Shamoonpour and Montreal-based rapper Sarah MK.

Krakauer, who lives in New York, has won acclaim for his work in classical music, jazz, and especially klezmer; NPR calls him a “genre-fluid clarinet genius.”

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But during a recent phone interview, he said he and Tag were spurred in the last few years to create a new multi-ethnic ensemble as a response to the polarization and negativity that seem to dominate so much of modern life.

Mazel Tov Cocktail Party “is not a uniquely Jewish music project,” Krakauer said. “What it does offer is music as a common denominator, something that brings us together. The idea is, let’s have a party, meet your neighbors, just show up and have a good time … it’s one step toward making things better.”

And, Krakauer added with a laugh, “Musically somehow it all makes sense. It’s traditional dance forms that have been completely recast.” (The band includes jazz bassist Jerome Harris and guitarist/oud player Yoshie Fruchter.)

Krakauer has played at some previous Yidstock festivals, though with different ensembles. This will be Mazel Tov Cocktail Party’s first gig in Amherst; the group performs July 15 at 8 p.m.

“Yidstock has always been a lot of fun,” he said.

On a local note, acclaimed jazz drummer Richie Barshay, who splits his time between Northampton and New York, will be playing with a number of groups at Yidstock, including the Klezmatics, the Grammy Award-winning modern Klezmer band and a Yidstock favorite.

In fact, the Klezmatics are so popular that their July 13 show was sold out.

For a full schedule of events, and to purchase tickets (for some events, tickets must be purchased in advance), visit yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock.

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