Bluegrass rocks at Adath Jeshurun Music Festival

[by Phyllis Shaikun]

Oh what a night it was when Adath Jeshurun’s Hazzan, David Lipp, introduced the congregation’s annual music festival on Sunday evening, March 3. The theme, “Bluegrass with Jewish Sass,” lived up to its name and then some. Seasoned festival attendees considered it one of his best yet.

Hazzan Mike Stein rode in from California for the festivities and Hazzan Sharon Hordes, local favorite John Gage and the community junior and adult choirs pitched in with bluegrass musicians Steve Cooley and Lauren White to keep the evening lively and the music coming without a stop for 90 minutes. The event was recorded and will be aired  on Gage’s Kentucky Homefront program in case you missed the live production.

Stein was and is a phenomenon. He sang, he danced and he pranced as he continually found new ways to add a western flair to liturgical music. Imagine the choirs and audience members singing Shalom Aleichem to a tune that conjured up the sounds of cowbells, prairies and sagebrush. The only question: where did they stash the horses?

Turns out Stein’s interest in bluegrass-type music was nurtured when he played with a United States Navy Band outside of Washington, DC. They used to play gospel tunes, he explained, so he made that connection with Jewish music – a sound he called “high lonesome” when he used it with “Shiru Ladonai Shir Chadash.” A musician as well, Stein played the guitar and a mean fiddle when he, Cooley, Gage and White joined in a rousing rendition of the “Yaffa” “Orange Blossom Special” that left folks breathless. The best part came when both Stein (and later Lipp) showed they could yodel with the best of them. What an experience!

Lipp explained that music can be written in major (happy) and minor (sad) chords. Since bluegrass music had no minor chords – well, you get the idea. The point was aptly made when Stein played his fiddle to “Jerusalem Ridge,” a peppy number written by the legendary bluegrass musician, Bill Monroe, when he was in Israel. The upbeat melody had the children sitting in the front row literally dancing in their seats. An equally enjoyable “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” mixed with “L’cha Dodi” featured the choirs singing the lyrics both in Hebrew and in English very quickly.

If you wanted to hear “V’shamru” to a New Orleans beat, you would not have been disappointed. “Mizmor Shabbat” and “Adom Olam” ended the evening on a high note. “I know everyone already smells the tuna fish and herring when they hear Adom Olam,” Stein joked, but there are more than enough offerings at the reception to make up for that.

Just before calling it a night, however, Stein offered an unexpected treat and invited his wife, Kelley, on stage to sing a duet. Yes, it truly was a very special night. Some folks might even think about writing Love Letters in the Sand as a way of saying thank you!

The annual Adath Jeshurun Music Festival is sponsored by the Adolf & Sara van der Walde and Israel Rosenbloum Charitable Fund.


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