Take some 5,000 people of all ages, gather them together on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, have them share a campsite, and play music for and with them for three days. Then watch all of them leave with a goofy smile plastered across their faces.
That’s the magic of the Jacob’s Ladder Spring Festival in Israel.
The 37th Jacob’s Ladder recently took place at Nof Ginosar and everyone – from artists to organizers, participants to vendors – has already begun counting down the days until the next one.
Jacob’s Ladder is an annual international event that usually takes place in May. It is a three-day music extravaganza featuring 40 bands playing folk rock, country, Irish and Celtic, blues, bluegrass and world music.
“This is one of the most unique festivals by far,” James Abrams, of the Canadian band The Abrams Brothers, tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s also one of the few festivals we really hope to continue playing at year after year.”
There’s music – bands, impromptu jam sessions and workshops. There are also dance lessons, a story tent for children, yoga and tai chi, swimming, a crafts fair and a circus tent.
“When I’m planning the program I always put something for every age,” says Yehudit Vinegrad, who, together with her husband Menachem, launched the Jacob’s Ladder Festival.
It started as a small event geared toward the English-speaking community in Israel. Over the years, the festival has grown to include native Israelis, all immigrant communities in Israel and international guests.
Yet it has maintained its special atmosphere even with its growing audience: family-oriented, courteous and peaceful.
“Parents have a feeling of safety in the festival, a safe atmosphere for children,” says Vinegrad. “The oldest people coming to the festival came when they were young and they’re bringing their children and grandchildren.”
Just take a look at the festival rules and you’ll see that this is not your typical Israeli event.
Rule Number One: Please move away from the audience to smoke, and do not smoke in the sitting areas during performances.
Other rules include sharing your chairs or mats at outdoor concert venues, keeping the campsites quiet in the evening and morning, no blocking other people’s views, barbecuing only in designated areas, and being careful to save water when showering.
“The atmosphere is like going abroad. We’re proud of our prevalent Anglo-Saxon culture and behavior. People who come into it see the example around them and act fittingly. If you go into a calm atmosphere, then you’re calm,” says Vinegrad. “What we do at the festival is our contribution to Israeli society; it’s for everyone.”
Musician Shay Tochner, who has played at every festival since its launch, says people who attend one festival are hooked for life. “It definitely is like a family, with new additions to the family every year. Normally joining the family is [a] one-way [street] — very few leave after having joined and thus it grows every year,” he says.
International artists taking part this year in addition to the Abrams Brothers included Americans Randall Williams, Freebo, Jason Feddy (also of the UK), Mikey Pauker and Marc Black.
Vinegrad says that even before this year’s event came to a close, she had musicians – international and local – begging her for a place on the schedule for next year’s event.
Considering this is Israel’s (if not the world’s) friendliest folk festival, who wouldn’t want to take part?