Festival celebrates diversity of Jewish music
Greater Chicago Jewish Festival
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, June 10
Cook County Forest Preserve, Oakton Street west of Lehigh Avenue, Morton Grove
A free shuttle bus will bring festival-goers to the main gate
Free admission but a $5 donation is appreciated
(847) 933-3000 or visit www.jewishfestival.org
Updated: June 8, 2012 9:15AM
More than 20,000 people will be treated to nonstop entertainment on four stages at the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival on Sunday, June 10 in Morton Grove.
Headlining the free event is Steven Page, former lead singer of the Canadian rock group Barenaked Ladies. The musical lineup includes more than three dozen other individuals and groups.
“The mission of the festival from the beginning was to showcase local talent — what’s going on in terms of Jewish music,” said Chair Michael Lorge, who founded the biannual festival in 1980. “We allocate a significant amount of the stage time for that. But we also allocate a certain amount of stage time for music that resonates on the national scene.”
The festival has brought in performers from other countries and also includes Jewish performers whose music is secular.
Page falls into that last category.
“I was raised in the Jewish community in Toronto,” Page said. “I grew up listening to and learning all kinds of Jewish music, whether it was folk music or liturgical music. It’s certainly not what I do for a living but it’s a part of my upbringing and my backbone and I think it probably also informs my harmonic sensibilities. I like being surrounded by that kind of music. I’m just bringing something different to the festival.”
Singer/songwriter Page will accompany himself on an acoustic guitar. “I’ll be singing songs that I’ve written,” he said. “A lot of songs people will recognize from the old Barenaked Ladies days and there’ll be some newer songs. I talk with the audience a lot.”
Some of those selections will be from his most recent solo album, “Page One,” including, “The Chorus Girl” and “Indecision.”
Page said that he tries to write songs, “that have some kind of an emotional core that people relate to. It’s a great success being able to connect with people who’ve had completely different lives through your words and music.”
Jerry Wicentowski is coming from Milwaukee to perform at the festival with his band, Lucky Break. “We are a bluegrass band and we do play traditional bluegrass music,” he said. But their repertoire also has a Jewish element to it.
Wicentowski reported that there are songs traditionally sung at shabbos (Sabbath) meals on Friday nights and for Saturday lunches.
“Those poems — some of which are a thousand years old or more — have been sung to many different melodies depending on where the Jewish people happened to be living,” he said. “We’re singing and performing those lyrics using country music melodies and a country music and bluegrass kind of ambiance. We are utilizing those melodies which mean so much to us to enhance our spirituality. “
This is the first time that the 12-year-old group, which has performed around the country, has appeared at the festival. The other band members are Tom Boyd of Milwaukee (banjo, dobro) and Chicagoans Marc Edelstein (string bass) and Drew Carson (mandolin), former members of the Special Consensus bluegrass band.
The Schticklers, an acclaimed Chicago-based group is also on the festival bill. They won the 2010 Championship Battle of the Jug Bands and lead singer Barb Silverman is convinced they would have won in 2011, too, but the winner has to sit out one year. Silverman said they intend to take the title again in 2012.
The group includes slide guitar player Jon Spiegel, former Radio Gumbo host Stuart Rosenberg, award-winning children’s entertainer Joel Frankel and Bob Stelnicki on washtub bass.
Silverman described the band’s style as “a wacky, fun-loving, warm, funny klezmer/jug band. We might do some slow Yiddish songs, we may do some festive klezmer-type tunes and then we’ll do jug band songs. We’ll sometimes take a song and give it a Jewish twist. We try to do stuff that we find entertaining. Invariably, the audience will, too.”
Silverman said that she enjoys performing at the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival because, “I love being surrounded by Jews. It doesn’t happen that often.”
In addition to the musical entertainment, the festival will have a juried art show, children’s activity area and a kosher food fair.