/BY BRAM BESSOFF/ //AJT CONTRIBUTOR//
We are sitting at Manny’s in the Highlands like we do every year the first Thursday after each AJMF Spring Festival, a tradition where the board meets for lunch and reviews what just went down. We all deemed it a huge success.
AJMF5, the 5th annual Spring Festival, was not only a first for many triumphs, but exceeded all expectations with a turnout of about 2,600 people attending our public and private events combined. That is more than all who attended the past four years combined.
AJMF5 was the first time we expanded the festival over two weekends, allowing us to produce more events than ever before. We debuted Basya Schechter and Mikey Pauker to Atlanta, premiered an album release with The Afro-Semitic Experience’s new record “Jazz Souls on Fire,” produced a fully musical Shabbat service centered around Kirtan Chanting, and collaborated with the MJCCA to present a multi-stage event that included performances from nationally recognized Jewish music icons and local teen artists.
If you were unable to attend any of the events here’s some of the highlights you missed:
OPENING NIGHT 03/20 – Steve’s Live Music
With the second consecutive year of selling out Opening Night, the evening featured a fusion of jazz, soul, funk, klezmer and cantorial sounds from The Afro-Semitic Experience.
The band members were as eclectic as the music they created. A diverse crowd of mostly non-Jewish music lovers witnessed the coming together of black and Jewish cultures. Some of the evening’s highlights included a lesson in funk as led by the band’s drummer Alvin Benjamin Carter, Jr. as he explained how you know you’ve been affected by the funk.
Although led by pianist Warren Byrd and bassist David Chevan, the horns took center stage. Saskia Laroo’s unique approach to trumpet sounds had the audience – or at least me – mesmerized.
Most horn sections get bathed in reverb, but Saskia took it to whole new level. She incorporates guitar effect pedals in real time by strapping them to a belt around her waist. As she plays with one hand, she tweaks knobs and settings on a chorus pedal and envelope filter to create sounds usually reserved for acts like Phish and the Grateful dead.
Get a taste of what The Afro-Semitic Experience is all about by listening to some live moments form the evening here: soundcloud.com/atlantajmf/5th-ajmf-opening-night.
SACRED NIGHT 03/21 – Congregation Bet Haverim
AJMF5 returned to CBH to feature original melodies from Atlanta’s own chant leaders Michael and Bonnie Levine, Gayanne Geurin, and Will Robertson who performed in what is becoming a wildly popular approach to prayer and worship, known as Kirtan, chanting to a packed house.
If you have never attend a chanting service before, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to get lost in the music. After each a prayer, the congregation took a moment of silence to reflect upon what just occurred.
As I surveyed the room, I saw people engaged in a way that is uncommon to most services I attend. All were singing, there was little to no banter among the audience and there was a true expression of emotion on most of our faces.
It was AJMF’s goal this year to present a mostly musical service and the usual Kabanote was at a minimum. You can get a taste of what this service was all about with the latest release from the CBH ensemble “Wheels Within Wheels” record here: congregationbethaverim.org/Wheels
FAMILY DAY 03/23 – MJCCA
Sundays at Zaban Park are bananas and we just added to the mayhem. On Main Street, the corridor of the MJCCA, AJMF5 featured arts and crafts for the little ones, an interactive photo booth, our silent auction, free magnet photos and a special performance from the Shtetl People featuring true old world Klezmer and Jewish song.
In the main auditorium, the day began with Miss Emily entertaining the tots, followed by an interactive drum circle and then three sets featuring the best of our teen performers JR Stein, Justin Goren, Miles Cohen and No Komment from our ever popular Teen Open Mic series.
The day carried on with two rollicking sets, indie band Boomfox stepped up the beat with solid pop-rock songs featuring Hannah Zale on lead vocals whose set of pipes extended the music beyond the walls of the auditorium.
And the day closed with a spiritual and uplifting performance from nationally acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, Josh Nelson. A personal highlight of the day was when Josh took a moment to sit at the edge of the stage and explain how he pulls inspiration from Jewish text to write songs before pouring out a heartfelt solo performance featuring his talents on the acoustic guitar. You can catch some of this performance by checking out the @atlantajmf twitter feed.
SHABBAT CELEBRATION 03/28 – MJCCA
AJMF5 returned to the MJCCA for a two part Shabbat celebration. The first show was for the kids and they swarmed to the front row like KISS was in town. We had stage crashers, guest musicians and audience participation usually reserved for rock concerts, let alone a celebration of Shabbat.
Led by Rabbi Brian Glusman and Mikey Pauker, I got my first chance to perform an AJMF event sitting in on percussion with a crowd of 150 kids and parents in attendance. The second half of the evening featured Mikey Pauker as song leader, his second set of the day as one of the private events of AJMF featured him leading the preschool’s morning Shabbat sing.
Highlights of the service included Mikey’s super-sticky rendition of Hiney Matov set to a reggae beat and laden with a hooky chorus everyone could sing. Watch the video for this track on Mikey Pauker’s Youtube page at youtube.com/user/mikeypauker.
MAIN EVENT 03/29 – Variety Playhouse
Basya Schecter warmed the ears of an overwhelmingly large turnout of early arrivers with her power trio featuring Avi Fox Rosen, of Pharaoh’s Daughter on guitar and guest percussionist Rich Stein.
Highlights from her set included an amazing drum solo performed with sticks and hands on a combination of cymbals, a dejembe and cajon only to be followed by Basya performing with a kazoo where she traded fours back and forth with Rich Stein.
Up next, Mikey Pauker warmed the bodies by getting the capacity crowd to their feet with the help of his music supervisor Josh Goldberg and an ensemble of local talent featuring Nick Edelstein on lead guitar, AJMF’s own board member Eli Sperling on bass and returning AJMF guest drummer DJ Burel.
By the time the headliner hit the stage, Variety Playhouse was packed 750 people strong and Yo La Tengo led the captured audience through more than 100 minutes of sights and sounds that featured constant switching of instruments between players, a flurry of dynamic sounds and songs as vast as front man Ira Kaplan’s pedal board (see my twitter feed for how many pedals this cat plays with).
The evening was perfectly stitched together with DJ Camille spinning between sets and highlights included celebrity faces like Bill Paxton showing up to join in the fun.
The evening was topped with our experimental on-demand concert t-shirts, commemorative posters and free photo magnets for all in attendance. Missed out? Audio clips are available here: soundcloud.com/atlantajmf
As always, The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival can only happen with the support of our Jewish community and all the volunteers who graciously donate their time and money to make this special moment happen every year.
Consider supporting the AJMF by donating before the end of this month as we were blessed with a last minute match from the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Visit ww.atlantajmf.org to find out more or better yet, join our mailing list and learn about the other events we produce year round. Join here: www.facebook.com/atlantajmf under “Join AJMF’s Email list.”
Next up for AJMF events, Teen Open Mic returns Sun., April 13 at Fuego Mundo 4-5 p.m. See you there!
Bram Bessoff is a drummer and musician. When not onstage, Bram is a performance coach and music industry entrepreneur helping artists get the most out of their live shows and chart on Billboard. He sits on the board of directors as VP for The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. Follow Bram’s experiences on, off and backstage @bram_rocks. Interact with him at #InItForTheMoment to share thoughts, comments and ideas about this column.