It's been a year since I've moved back to Philadelphia full-time to embark on this journey to create more, look at screens less, and feel fulfilled in what I throw my heart into.
It was such a treat to play this favorite song with my friend Sammy at Old City Coffee!
It was a brutally cold Thursday night at Old City Coffee as locavorish arts appreciators piled into the forty seat house to see harp-centric power folk bands, Liz and the Lost Boys and Snow Caps. The show, co-sponsored by Café Olam and Moishe House Philadelphia, was in celebration of Tu B’shvat, the birthday of the trees. This celebration is quite relevant to Café Olam because of its mission as “a cultural space, rooted in Jewish ethics and social responsibility that will serve as a source of engagement for the Jewish and general community to help strengthen connections.” Honoring the living things in our world, or "olam" in Hebrew, is a very direct way of furthering environmental responsibility. The woman behind this organization is founder and Jewish non-profit guru, Laurel Klein. This was and is a major passion project that was developed further by the Tribe 12 Fellowship in 2011. In an effort to support this emerging Jewish organization, proceeds from the concert went to directly to Café Olam. Next steps for the organization are to secure a permanent home for on-sight beer brewing and to continue to bring young urban Jews together. Andrew Keller, singer-songwriter in Snow Caps remarked “…the fact that the show was a benefit really made me happy. I wish Cafe Olam much success!”
Moishe House, the second of the two organizations, “(envisions itself) as the global leader of pluralistic Jewish life for adults in their twenties. (They) facilitate a wide range of experiences, so that they have the leadership, knowledge and community to enrich their Jewish journeys.” Philadelphia’s house, of which your author is a resident of, organizes at least seven events per month in exchange for a program budget, a rent subsidy, and other opportunities for professional and spiritual development. The concert at Old City Coffee is an example of a typical program in the sense that it celebrates a traditional festivity in an innovative way. It is unusual to an extent because it is an arts-focused event completely orchestrated by residents. Over the last nine months, Moishe House Philly has increasingly organized arts events both at their home and at local venues such as the National Museum of American Jewish History and The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. One house show even featured Snow Caps, which was so very exciting!
Keller and his band mates, Spencer Carrow, Yianni Kourmadas, Darian Scatton, and Roger Martinez opened the show with a set of original songs featuring lush string arrangements for harp and guitar and warm clarinet parts that were fittingly modal, neurotic, and introspective. Snow Caps as a full band often sounded nostalgic like twenty first century sea-faring pirate types sailing down Baltimore Avenue. Particularly haunting refrains stood out throughout the set, notably in Snow Caps' finale song. Keller sang "make it sing, make it sing, sing a thing, make it sing" as Martinez echoed enigmatically with a wistful, rising clarinet. At times the songs sound like regal court dances while others get down with a funky stomp driving fast-paced lyrics. Harmonic complexity reigns throughout. Keller reflected, “It was a treat to perform at Old City Coffee. We were overwhelmed by the amount of people there, and everyone in the audience was very attentive and patient, even between songs. It was also nice to see some fresh faces. I knew a few people, but most of the audience was seeing Snow Caps for the first time. I also just think it's really great that there is a Jewish holiday to celebrate trees.” The fresh faces Keller mentioned are new to his music most likely because they heard of the event through its promotion by the two Jewish organizations.
Liz Ciavolino, singer-songwriter of Liz and the Lost Boys, is no stranger to the Jewish community. She reflected “I don't feel like an outsider in Jewish communities too often. My dad's side of the family is Jewish and so I grew up around some Jewish culture. My aunt and uncle lead a klezmer band for a long time and I celebrated a handful of Jewish holidays. Though I'm not practicing, I definitely see it as part of my heritage and I enjoy participating in it. This event in particular was very welcoming and supportive.” Ciavolino also shared that some of her songs even contain biblical themes. She “grew up in a Christian home… and attended church weekly for (her) entire childhood, memorized a lot of scripture, and sang lots of hymns. It's still a part of who (she is) and always will be.” One of her songs even has a few explicit Old Testament references. She continued, “Since I grew up with it from an early age, biblical references have a strong, deep meaning for me.”
Liz and the Lost Boys features Ciavolino on lead vocals and harp with mostly original songs composed with a mathy, jazz influence with sprinkles of heartache mixed in mostly on harp minus the uber-feminine angel imagery. This is clearly evidenced in a medley with a working title “Whole Tone/Unravel” composed on a twelve-tone scale that boasts the lyrics “only a good man can break your heart and only the best ones will leave a star”. In addition to her harp and piano driven songwriting, one of Liz’s other signatures is that her band of lost boys is constantly evolving. They are often literally quite lost. Performing this time were Dane Galloway and Joel Sephy of My Son Bison, Will Wright and Matt Scarano. This particular iteration of the band was especially tight. Wright on bass and Galloway on guitar were really playing with each other and seemed to be very conscious of how their intricate parts drove the songs together. Liz, sporting a gamine but powerful pixie cut, is the diva.
So what made this show Jewish other than the sponsoring organizations? What was the connection between the music performances and the holiday Tu B’shvat? The point illustrated by this concert and other similar programming from Café Olam and Moishe House, is that the Jewishness of youthful community gatherings should be constantly evolving. While this is not completely true for all members of the young Jewish community, a significant handful does value innovation in programming and observance over tradition. For example, at a recent Moishe House event co-sponsored by LGBTQ Jewish group Spectrum Philly, event participants openly talked about their frustrations with the typical Jewish singles events and how alienating they can be. How is the future of Judaism going to work if every single self-identifying Jew isn’t one-hundred per cent included? The artistic and social success of this concert is a testament to the fact that young Jews today can both celebrate a very traditional holiday, Tu B’shvat, while also celebrating the breadth of sub-identities within “Jewish”.
To learn more about Café Olam, check out http://www.cafeolamphilly.org. To stay up to date with Moishe House Philadelphia events, connect with the calendar and social media through http://www.moishehouse.org/houses_a.asp?HouseID=14. Snow Caps albums can be listened to and purchased here http://www.sgmgrecords.com/snowcaps.html. Their album “Baby Bird” is sold out, but the stellar “Moonbreak” is still available! Liz and the Lost Boys, who are releasing a new album in June, have music here http://lizandthelostboys.bandcamp.com. The host venue for this concert was coffee roaster and café, Old City Coffee. For information about beans and treats, happenings and tastings check www.oldcitycoffee.com.
I have an assignment to write for the Moishe House blog this month, which I felt I should practice for here, on the blog that no one really reads terribly often. There are very few people who make me proud to be a human, let alone a Jew. The people on this list are rare birds that bring a lot of light into the world.
Judd Greenstein, one of the three co-directors of New Amsterdam Records, is an award-winning, self-described indie-classical composer based in Brooklyn. Not only the creator of contemporary, relevant composed music, Greenstein also promotes his comrades such as Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Annie Clark (St. Vincent), and Merrill Garbus (Tune-Yards), among others. He is curator of the Ecstatic Music Festival, an annual event which brings together seemingly disparate artists to create incredible, moving collaborations. Most Jewish in his list of accomplishments is Greenstein's Six Points Fellowship where he spent a year composing the full-length work, Solomon, which was performed by a group he assembled called Yehudim. To learn more about this fellowship, check out http://sixpointsfellowship.org/.
Amy Klein, also known as Amy Rebecca Klein, also known as the front woman of Leda and Hilly Eye, also known as the unofficial founder of Permanent Wave, also formerly of Titus Andronicus, is a goddess in Jewish feminism today. Educated, brilliant, talented, literary, and loud, Amy has accomplished so much in her twenty-seven years, including the unofficial founding of Permanent Wave. This non-wave feminist arts collective seeks to "challenge gender inequality as it manifests itself in art, politics, and personal lives." It was inspired in part by violence against women in Amy's immediate environment, in addition to the inequality between men and women in the music industry. Since its founding in late 2010, Permanent Wave has spread from New York to the San Francisco Bay, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, and even Omaha, Nebraska. A hallmark of Permanent Wave is the organization of music shows featuring all female-identifying, queer, people of color, and youth performers.
Mirah, born Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn, in Philadelphia is a singer-songwriter known for writing classic works on K Records in the Pacific Northwest during the golden age of lady rock. While at Evergreen State College, Mirah began a fruitful collaboration with Phil Elvrum of Mt. Eerie/The Microphones releasing early solo albums with songs such as "The Garden", "Nobody Has to Stay", "Jerusalem", and "Don't Die in Me". More recently, Mirah has released an incredible collaborative music effort with Thao Nguyen, who recently toured with the boys of WNYC's Radiolab. An icon in the making known for rocking short Betty Page bangs and kimono tops, Mirah will certainly be remembered for being a cult musical diva as well as the Leonard Cohen of her generation. She was definitely born with the Jewish, eloquent literati gene.
Alicia Jo Rabins is a musician, poet, Torah scholar, mother, and slightly obscure folk-rock star based in Brooklyn and Portland. I first heard of her music in the form of her masters thesis (in Jewish Womens Studies at JTS no less) turned band Girls in Trouble in the year her all-Jewish record label, JDub, unsurprisingly went under. This record label really had no chance at succeeding unfortunately, but at least their artists are still chugging along and releasing work. As a poet, Rabins has been published in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, 6x6, Court Green, anthologies from NYU Press and Knopf, and Artscape Press. Like Judd Greenstein, Alicia Jo is also a recent Six Points Fellow who created "an experimental rock opera about the spiritual implications of the current financial crisis, examining the figure of Bernard Madoff (and the system he represents) through the lens of rabbinic Jewish texts about financial ethics, the meaning of wealth, and the inevitability of cycles."
Schmekel is now not only Yiddish for "tiny penis", but also the name of the first queer Jewcore band ever. Based in Brooklyn, Nogga Schwartz, Ricky Riot, Lucian Kahn, and Simcha Halpert-Hanson are a quartet of transgendered Jews who pen songs about their experiences in a very borscht belt, bathroom humor sort of way. Their songs celebrate their bar mitzvahs, which has been a major marketing tool in their journey (you can buy a t-shirt that says "I survived Schmekel's Bar Mitzvah"), which I find really poignant. When the musicians in Schmekel were thirteen, they had Bat Mitzvot, which was not the correct prefix for any of their Mitzvot, then or now. The reason this band is on this list is because of the grace with which Schmekel unapologetically owns their trans and Jewish identities with a strong sense of humor. Schmekel shows are never a pity party or an angst-ridden fest, they always capture the authentic, loud, jubilant personalities of the band mates.
The Shondes (too controversial to write about for MoHo, but I LOVE them anyway. Same with Jenna Peters-Golden, not a musician but still awesome).
Are you an amazing Jewish contributor to music today too? Are you not on this very short list? Please holler at me, or challah at me if that's easier, and I'll gladly book you in Philly! In a perfect world, my Moishe House would, can, and has definitely doubled as a welcoming yet cutting edge house show venue.
I've thought about doing NaNo for years, but never feeling I had any business dealing with expressing myself through language in complete sentences in a proper order. I've always been embarrassed with my creative prose, I think mostly out of laziness and cynicism. This year, my take on NaNo will be through music, a simple baby step towards perfecting a hobby that really makes me happy. Thus, the beginning of my month of learning and perfecting a new song everyday using my voice, melodica, piano, drums, and anything I can find. Eventually I will record them all for myself and if you'd like to hear them I suppose you can check them out too.
November 1 - "I Eat Dinner", Kate and Anna McGarrigle
November 2 - "Nantes" - Beirut
November 3 - "You Don't Own Me" - Leslie Gore
November 4 - "Sky Phenomenon" - Jens Lekman
November 5 - "Time Has Told Me" - Nick Drake
November 6 - "Farewell to Nova Scotia" - Traditional Canadian
November 7 - "Fruit Tree" - Nick Drake
November 8 - "Alice" - Cocteau Twins
November 9 - "Barbarella" - The Bongos
November 10 - "Vals Liepaja" - DVA
November 11 - "My Town" - Kate and Anna McGarrigle
November 12 - "Cheminant a la Ville" - Kate and Anna McGarrigle
November 13 - "Bigger Bolder" - Love is All
November 14 - "Rising" - Llasa de Sela
November 15 - "Oh the divorces" - Tracey Thorn
November 16 - "Stone's Ode" - Mount Eerie
November 17 - "Chega de Saudade" - Elizete Cardoso
November 18 - "Molino Molero" - Susana Baca
November 19 - "Take my breath away" - Berlin
November 20 - "Femme Fatale" - The Velvet Underground
November 21 - "Bells" - Electrelane
November 22 - "Rivers and Roads" - The Head and the Heart
November 23 - "Dig a Pony" - The Beatles
November 24 - "Dream a Little Dream of Me" - Ella Fitzgerald
November 25 - "Peach Plum Pear" - Joanna Newsom
November 26 - "Gay Messiah" - Rufus Wainwright
November 27 - "Already Home" - Jay-Z
November 28 - "O Superman" - Laurie Anderson
November 29 - "This Pimp's A Tourist" - MC D-Feld
November 30 - "Proserpina" - Kate McGarrigle