Rock, folk and shofar to resound at Marin music fest

One group at the upcoming Open Circle Jewish Music Festival will play Israeli rock 'n' roll. Another will play the shofar.

"We wanted to celebrate Jewish culture with a wide range of music and appeal to a young crowd," said Elizabeth Mizrahi, assistant director of the American Jewish Committee, which is presenting the festival Sunday, June 22 at the Marin Jewish Community Center's outdoor amphitheater. "Make it real, make it loud, bring people together."

During the afternoon event, the audience will sit out in the sun and listen to six bands playing folk, klezmer, sacred music and rock 'n' roll.

"We want to give it a Lollapalooza festival feel," Mizrahi said, referring to the MTV-age rock festival.

A natural fit for that is Golah Fantasia Israeli Rock. The five-piece band has been performing at colleges around the Bay Area for the last two years, and represents the newest generation of specifically Jewish music.

"In Israel, the rock is more European than American," said Omer Berger, the 24-year-old guitarist who captains the group. Rock 'n' roll made its way into Israel more through Britain than America. It also came to Israel later than it did to the rest of the world. So in a way rock 'n' roll in Israel is more primitive than in many other countries, he said.

"What I consider Israeli rock is older rock. It's more influenced by what was happening 20 years ago than what's going on now," said Berger. In fact, a lot of his favorite American rockers date back even farther than that — including Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

While most rock songs in Israel are sung in Hebrew, Berger's group sings in English. He said Hebrew does not lend itself well to rock 'n' roll. Instead, it suggests a different time signature.

A number of influences come to bear on Israeli rock, including Arabic and Chassidic music, as well as klezmer. Also, Israel has caught up with the rest of the world on electronic music technology — caught up enough that Golah Fantasia has its own drum machine.

But another group scheduled for the Open Circle festival has no electronic instruments, and is more likely to play a synagogue than a college.

Still Now, a band comprising piano, saxophone, flute, drum, African percussion and shofar, generally plays at Los Angeles Congregation B'nai Horim.

"We're not really a performance type of band," said the band's leader Joshua Levy. "Usually we've played in a service. So we're praying through the instruments." The band's music, designed for meditation, more closely resembles liturgical melodies than songs.

But as its name implies, Still Now lives in the modern world, influenced by jazz as well as by traditional Jewish melodies. The band members are involved in many musical genres — African, traditional Caribbean, Indian, even hip-hop.

"We all grew up in Los Angeles," Levy said. "So we've heard punk and thrash."

The festival is a departure for Open Circle, which is the young people's division of the AJCommittee. Programs usually involve speakers and discussions with titles such as "Am I a Jew, am I Jewish?" and "Jewish Humor, Jewish Mind."

The festival will also include the Di Ganovim Klezmer Band. The Jewish Folk Chorus of San Francisco will sing Yiddish, Ladino and Hebrew traditional songs. Folk and contemporary music will be represented by two different acts, Joanna Selznick and the musical team of Joel and Lori Abramson.

"We have tried to give the audience everything," Mizrahi said. "Klezmer, folk, shofar and rock for a modern twist."