The women of Jacob’s Ladder: indie artists rock the Sea of Galilee

by Brian on June 4, 2017

in Music,Reviews

The 41st annual Jacob’s Ladder music festival, which was held on the Sea of Galilee last weekend, was characterized by two surprises: the event’s first-ever thunderstorm, which turned the end of the Abrams’ final act into a Woodstockian frenzy of soggy joy and hapless umbrellas; and a standout preponderance of indie folk acts fronted by women.

There was plenty of classic Jacob’s Ladder on hand: bluegrass and Irish fiddling, 60s folk singalongs and harmonicas on nearly every stage. But I’m always more interested in the newcomers who play at the fringes of the festival. These are the artists to watch in the coming years as Jacob’s Ladder has become a showcase for future indie darlings – Jane Bordeaux, Lola Marsh and Maya Isacowitz have all appeared.

My picks for this year: Judy Antebi, Mika Sade, Dorin Yanni, Nefesh Mountain and Forest.

Judy Antebi had one of the early Thursday afternoon slots, meaning many festival-goers hadn’t yet arrived. Which was a shame, because the enchanting Antebi played a shimmering selection of her indie-pop songs in Hebrew and English, from her ethereal first album “Hadarim” and the more upbeat “As I Walk” from 2017.

Antebi works as a music therapist and guitar teacher when she’s not on stage. She lives in Tel Aviv but has deep Jerusalem roots: starting in the 1930s, her grandmother was for many years the secretary to the editor of The Palestine (later Jerusalem) Post. Antebi’s next shows in June at the Ozen Bar in Tel Aviv and the Post Hostel in Jerusalem will feature a full band.

Singer-songwriter Mika Sade had a bigger crowd to match her even bigger smile. Indeed, Sade is all about the smile, which shines through her songs and powers her peppy trill of a voice which reminded me of a young Kate Bush, with a bit of Minnie Ripperton for good measure. And who can resist Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” played on a ukulele.

Sade was a newcomer to Jacob’s Ladder but she’s been performing in Israel for the last decade and has collaborated with Israeli artists Geva Alon, Avi Singolda and Ester Rada. Her crowdfunded album “Birds & Guitars” is “in the folk genre,” she said,” but the next one will be more electronic and psychedelic.”

It was Dorin Yanni’s second time at the festival, but her first on the main stage where she appeared with her six-piece band. If you dig energetic indie folk bands like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros or Mumford and Sons, with the pop of a trumpet for punctuation and a fiddle to keep the country vibe going, then you’ll go gaga for lady Yanni, whose voice closely channels Of Monsters and Men lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir.

Yanni describes the band’s music as “Israeli indie-folk with western, Irish and Indian influences.” Yanni was a participant on the third season of the Israeli TV show “The Voice.” Dorin Yanni and the Band have a new single coming out in July.

My wife Jody and I were eager to see Nefesh Mountain, a duo visiting from the U.S., fronted by the wild-eyed Doni Zasloff and her husband Eric Lindberg and billed as “Jewish bluegrass.” But when we heard them sing “Hinei Ma Tov” during their sound check itself, Jody shook her head as if to say, “let’s get out of here.” We’re not big fans of what often passes for kitschy American “Jewish” music.

That turned out to be a mistake. Because when we returned a few minutes later (after the band we’d gone to see instead turned out to be a dud), we instantly fell in love with Doni’s feel good vibe sung in perfectly accented Hebrew (she spent a high school semester here and later volunteered in the army).

Nefesh Mountain somehow makes the weird mashup between banjo and bible work. Plus they were just so happy to be in Israel. “I want to make aliyah someday,” Doni confided to me afterward. “There is a different feeling that I get in Israel. I always feel as if I’m walking a little bit above the ground,” she said.

My favorite act of this year’s Jacob’s Ladder was not a “discovery,” at least not for me – I was in fact responsible for getting the band Forest to the festival after seeing them twice in Jerusalem.

The six-piece ensemble’s music is all over the place – in a good way. Many of their songs start slowly, with a spiritual message of “oneness,” before transforming into full-on progressive rock, complete with soaring guitar solos alternating with Nadav Fast’s insanely fast violin. (I’d like to see him in a duo someday with fellow Israeli fiddler Michael Greilsammer.)

Forest lead singer Orka Teppler has an irrepressible vitality – whether that’s leading the audience in a Yiddish-inspired “ya-di-di-da” melody or climbing to the top of the amplifiers to cheer on the crowd during the band’s closing Irish rock jig. Flautist Ruth Danon brought a healthy dose of Jethro Tull to the progressive side of their music.

I was anxious about how Forest would be received: they were given the dreaded 9:00 PM slot on Thursday – the bands at that hour in the previous two festivals had a hard time holding the audience’s attention. What if Forest bombed? Would I lose my Jacob’s Ladder credibility?

They didn’t and I didn’t. So check out some of the indie bands from this year’s show. You can enjoy them even without an umbrella.

I first reviewed this year’s Jacob’s Ladder at The Jerusalem Post.

Mika Sade picture credit Hila Magic.

Nefesh Mountain picture credit Bianca Bourgeois and Anne-Michele Mallory of Bam Photography.

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