One of my favorite festivals of the year is the Washington Jewish Music Festival, now in its 15th year. It is not a marathon of bands and stages working through a mass of people and weather situations, but more a carefully curated series of concerts that run the gamut from rock to folk to jazz, all with Jewish roots from many corners of the world.
An Acoustic Evening with Matisyahu @ Lisner Auditorium - June 1, 2014.
Tonight kicks off the 15th Washington Jewish Music Festival, and it starts with a bang in a nearly filled Lisner Auditorium. The last time I was here was over two years back for a couple of shows featuring two of the greats of the Brazilian Tropicalia movement, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Interestingly enough, tonight's artist is also known for an intriguing blend of genres, like Tropicalia, but more of his own making.
I was not familiar with his music until tonight and did not detect too much of his famed reggae style in this acoustic performance featuring his vocals and Adam Weinberg on acoustic guitar. There were some raps and partial raps along with his beatbox vocal skills, which he used frequently, but in small doses (to much applause). Mostly, there were high quality songs featuring delicate guitar with a wide array of styles exhibited.
His vocals soared and while not quite hitting Thom Yorke heights, I detected more of Colin Meloy, which may be a fair comparison considering the variety of styles exhibited tonight. And even late on, the guitarist had a fascinating droning rhythm working on a loop that did venture into the subtle psychedelic pastures of Tropicalia.
I really enjoyed the newer songs played here tonight and there were moments of real magic. I look forward to hearing his new album. This stripped down 90 minute set showcased a fascinating talent who hopefully will continue to focus his energies in creative ways like what was shown tonight.
Sephardic Songs and Stories with Dan Saks @ Sixth & I Historic Syngagogue - June 7, 2014.
It is good to hear that Dan Saks is still doing well in Mexico City, where he moved just before the previous time his band DeLeon played the Washington Jewish Music Festival. That was two years ago and although it has resulted in less DeLeon since then, we are treated to an intimate version of some of their music along with other traditional Sephardic songs, as interpreted by this former DC area native.
Dan has also brought out Kevin Snider, his childhood friend and band mate from the area to assist on several songs tonight. Otherwise it is just Dan, an acoustic guitar or banjo, and his excellent voice. I really enjoyed his stories as he did have a lot to say about the songs and the traditions with all the changes and alternate viewpoints that crop up.
There was a supportive crowd tonight in the downstairs area of the Synagogue as it was completely filled. He even had his brother and mother assist him and his bass player with backing vocals on the last cut.
I think the only way to improve this show would have been a slightly longer set (this was under an hour or so) or possibly an opening band. But I would rather have quality music in small doses with good musicology instead of cliched stage patter, so this was a lovely way to spend a Saturday night.
(1) Washington Jewish Music Festival,
(2) Dan Saks (unknown/website).