Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Diamond Days, or When Is a Jewish music fest not a Jewish music fest

Diamond Days posterI love summer music festivals. I love the 'this will never end' feeling of a whole series of bands taking their turn. I love not being able to decide which which bandstand to settle into and knowing that I'll probably duck my head into all of them. I love going to see a favorite band and coming home with three new ones, and their albums bought from kid brothers behind card tables. And meeting other fans, as we shuffle between venues or snack lines.

There is a whole series of Jewish music festivals in the US showcasing a wide variety of Jewish related music from the US, Israel and around the world. If you're near a big city, there will like be one near you and I strongly urge you to check it out. I've got a list of them started in one of the Teruah side panels. If I've missed yours, please let me know. I'm particularly delinquent on adding the Israeli and other non-US festivals. Working on it...

Ok. This brings me to Diamond Days and the question of what makes a Jewish music festival. Diamond Days is a new music fest in Oakland California in July. Its officially sponsored by Heeb Magazine and is being organized by DJ and Heeb editor Jay Diamond. Regular Teruah readers know that I'm not very keen on Heeb magazine. I'd like to be. I'd like to be excited about a magazine about young Jews being hip and clever. The problem is, I find the underlying message of the magazine to be 'you can be a hip and clever young Jew if you wear a cool Jewish themed t-shirt and hang out with one or two other hip and clever young Jews, just don't actually be serious about anything, particularly Judaism." Diamond Days is a great example of this.

Total bands playing = around 30.
Number of Jewish music (defined as loosely as you like) band's playing = 0
My opinion of Heeb = dropping like a rock

I'm not much of an investigative journalist, but I thought I'd email Jay and get the story from him. Fair is fair. If I'm going to get grumpy, he should have the chance to speak for himself. Here is, more or less, what's going on. Jay is putting on a music fest because when "I was younger, I started getting really into punk rock, and my friends and I would set up these shows for our friends bands, and bands on tour. I've just always loved the energy behind live music, and the idea of a festival has always appealed to me. "

While Diamond Days isn't primarily a fund raiser, "we are donating profits to the Ella Barker Center for Human Rights in Oakland (http://www.ellabakercenter.org) which is a wonderful organization, that I couldn't be happier to be associated with. They have a few really amazing programs which I am very supportive of, and I hope we can help get them some support. .... Diamond Day's isn't a fund raiser in the traditional sense. It's a music fest, but I try and focus on the local side of things, which I think a lot of bigger indie festivals tend to forget about. I feel like including a local non-profit like Ella barker is important to that idea of community."

So this is all good stuff and a good reasons to organize a music festival. It's the sort of thing I've always wanted to do but never did. But why did it get branded a Heeb event? "I've tried to think of ways of explaining the Jewish connection to this fest, but aside from the fact that I am Jewish, and that Heeb is a Jewish magazine the only overall Jewish things that I can take from this is the sense of community that I talked about"

Ok. But that's just not good enough for me. To me that says that Heeb magazine just doesn't get it. We're at a point when Jewish music is exploding. There are new bands announcing themselves almost daily. We've got both massive crossover artists like Matisyahu and Y-Love and great new indie bands (the Shondes). We've got an jazz scene. Sephardic music is coming alive and the classical scene is growing fast. And, of course, the klezmer revival has hit a point where I can't imagine a town in the US with any reasonable sized Jewish community not having at least one klezmer band. Jewish songleader (singer/songwriter) types are on constant tour.

But evidently none of that matters. Because, to Jay and Heeb, having a vague "sense of community" is enough. Don't worry if that community has no Jewish character. Don't worry if that community perpetuates the marginalization of Jewish culture, even in the face of it's resurgence. Don't actually be Jewish (what ever that means to you). None of that matters. Just don't forget to show up, bring a friend, and wear the damn t-shirt.


Anonymous said...

big up that

Jennie said...

I am shocked that Diamond Days doesn't have any of the Jewish music renaissance groups (JDub artists, Tzadik artists) that we -- younger Jews -- are so darn excited about! We advertise heavily with Heeb because we find businesses and people looking for the pulse of the new-Jew world, still go to Heeb. If you think Heeb is slipping, who's going to be the new-Jew media leader? Got opinions -- would love to hear them!

Jennie, Founder ModernTribe.com

Jack said...

Jennie, that's a great question and I'd love to hear everyone's opinion about it.

I don't think that Heeb is slipping, I think they never had a clue and really don't want one. My big frustration is that I don't see any Jewish magazine or media outlet really championing the revival in Jewish culture and religion that I see happening right now. Heeb's vision of that revival is really different than mine. They (in my opinion) think that the revival is about assimilated Jews wearing Jewish stars instead of Nike swooshes. It's a brand identity kind of vision. While better than nothing, I think that seriously underestimates and undervalues what's really happening out there. I see young Jews looking to reclaim our heritage, both cultural and religious, in a significant way. The explosion in Jewish music absolutely reflects that.