40 performances, 20 clubs, 2 days, 1 woman’s dream.
After just two short years, the Tel Aviv Blues Festival will kick off the New Year with its 4th edition, as Yamit Hagar satisfies our ABCs: acoustic blues cravings. Find out what drove the computer-geek-turned-blues-enthusiast to become the musical mastermind behind Israel’s one and only blues festival.
What inspired you to start this project?
It began in 2012, when I invited Robert Belfour to perform at Barby. One thousand people came and another thousand wanted to, but we were sold out, so we had another show. It kept on growing from there.
You mentioned Barby…do all the shows happen there?
Not at all. We have shows in gardens, cafés, cinemas, houses, and clubs like Bar Giyora, Mike’s Place, Hoodna, Bascula…scattered all across Tel Aviv.
How did you get into the blues?
I was working in computers for eighteen years, then I heard Mississippi Fred McDowell on the radio and for that whole weekend, I was hooked. By Sunday, it was obvious what I had to do. I changed my career path right then and there.
And do you play any instruments?
Nope, not one.
Is this something you’d pursue someday?
I don’t think so. So many people are playing the ‘right’ stuff. I wouldn’t want to interfere.
So it’s more about promoting blues in Israel than playing it?
And enjoying it.
That’s a must. And how about the festival planning process? Any challenges?
We’re trying to do it biannually: a summer festival for electric blues and a winter festival for acoustic. The thing is, unlike jazz, which has festivals year-round, we only have one, so we can’t waste a minute. That’s why we’re already into our fourth season.
What do you find the effects to be of acoustic over electric?
I’m a traditionalist. If I could choose, I’d pick acoustic every time. Sometimes, I believe I was born in the wrong era, but then again, somebody has to keep two decades of music alive – Eli and the Chocolate Factory attest to this beautifully with their Louis Armstrong tribute. I believe blues traditions will never change, just like in Israel: modernists may exist, but tradition is never lost.
'I believe blues traditions will never change, just like in Israel: modernists may exist, but tradition is never lost'
It seems that atmosphere is key to the festival’s success too.
It is. I spend the entire time hopping from garden to house party to club. Every venue is a new experience…I love it! We also give away T-shirts to wear on site.
Let’s be honest, free T-shirts are the best part—
And the free shows, guitar and tickets to the Mississippi Juke Joint Festival – which I’m guilty of attending annually.
What is the Israeli blues scene like in contrast?
In the last few years, the vibe has changed. Some musicians are performing in Hebrew, some in English, some are playing cover songs, but in general, there is more support from the media, which helps boost the scene.
And this is mostly in Tel Aviv?
No, no. I know incredible blues musicians up north and down south. We simply had to find one city to bring everyone together and Tel Aviv was centrally located.
How’s the local talent this year?
Out of 40 shows, we’ve got 38 local musicians…so you tell me.
Is there anything that sets this edition apart?
The Cinematheque is hosting a film & lecture series with journalist Sharon Kantor, and will even be screening a blues reality TV show, which I’m very excited for.
Any closing remarks?
Come to the festival. See all the shows, explore, remember that it happens twice a year…just come. That’s all. Because once you’re exposed to live blues, there’s no going back.
Jan 11-14. Check the website for concert prices. Various locations around Tel Aviv.