GINOSAR, Israel – In Israel, the month of May means it’s time for the Jacob’s Ladder Festival, an international music extravaganza.
The annual three-day festival, which this year took place at the beginning of May, features folk rock, country, indie pop, Irish and Celtic, blues, bluegrass and world music. Jacob’s Ladder is one of the most anticipated weekends of the year.
“I came 10,000 miles to get here,” bass player Freebo – who’s known for his work with Bonnie Raitt – told The CJN. “It’s a great festival. It’s three days of this special vibe.”
Jacob’s Ladder takes place at Kibbutz Ginosar, just north of Tiberias. Organizers Menachem and Yehudit Vinegrad – who immigrated from England – launched the festival in 1978 for the English-speaking community but have seen their “baby” evolve over 37 years into a family event for everyone.
The atmosphere is relaxed. People are courteous. There’s a no-smoking rule in place – unheard of in Israel – and people abide by it!
From the outset, the festival could be seen as just one of a growing number of musical happenings taking place across Israel. But even though there’s more Hebrew than English now spoken at Jacob’s Ladder, this event has a unique vibe.
“The atmosphere is like going abroad. We’re proud of our prevalent Anglo-Saxon culture and behaviour. People who come into it see the example around them and act fittingly. If you go into a calm atmosphere, then you’re calm,” Yehudit Vinegrad said. “What we do at the festival is our contribution to Israeli society – it’s for everyone.”
The festival is all about music – concerts, impromptu jam sessions and workshops. There are also dance classes, a story tent for children, yoga and tai chi, swimming (in the Kinneret or swimming pool), a crafts fair, a food fair and a circus tent.
Even before the festival had finished, Yehudit said she had performers begging to be asked back and emails from those who didn’t make the cut this year.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t get an email from someone who wants to appear at our festival,” she said.
Canada’s the Abrams Brothers are one of the festival’s top acts. They made their fourth visit this year, and the band said they hope there will be a spot on the packed roster for them in years to come as well.
“We always keep a space on our schedule for Jacob’s Ladder in Israel,” John Abrams (vocals, guitar, mandolin, keyboard, percussion) told The CJN. “Whenever I’m asked what show is my most memorable, my answer is always the same – Jacob’s Ladder in Israel.”
James Abrams (vocals, violin) said, “This is one of the most unique festivals by far. It’s also one of the few festivals we really hope to continue playing at.”
This year’s lineup included Israeli and international musicians. Israelis Maya Johanna, Shay Tochner and Yonatan Miller gave a spine-tingling tribute to folk-music giants. American guitarist Randall Williams wowed a workshop when he played guitar with his toes. And the Abrams Brothers had everyone up and dancing to their indie pop/ bluesgrass/ country beats – especially when they played their cover of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida.
Other international artists taking part this year included Americans Freebo, Jason Feddy (who’s also of the United Kingdom), Mikey Pauker and Marc Black.
There are actually two Jacob’s Ladder festivals each year, but the spring event is the main happening.
And though the Vinegrads don’t release attendance numbers, estimates put this year’s crowd at about 5,000. Since hotel space is limited, most festival-goers pitch tents on the lawn space. There are eco-friendly port-a-toilets set up, as well as warm showers, barbecue areas and shaded spots.
The festival started as a small event of a few hundred, yet even though it has grown exponentially, it has maintained its special family atmosphere.