The Summer festival season is once again here, and for the hordes of us Jewish festival-goers, it’s time to dust down the tents, and go back to our outdoor desert roots.
First on the calendar for any serious festival-goer is the mother of them all, Glastonbury. Running since 1970, it has been held annually—with the exception of a shmita every fifth year to let the land lie fallow. It’s not just the following of this Jewish principle that has resonance with our people, Glastonbury also blazes a trail for Tikun Olam, collaborating with environmental charities such as Greenpeace and WaterAid—working to raise both money and awareness. It’s a festival that encompasses all walks of life and has regularly been host to “The Jewish Tent”, a Shabbat observant space with Jewish performers, kosher food, and, in the tradition of Avraham, a warm welcome to all guests who grace its tent-flaps. Leading the Jewish charge this year is Marc Ronson, fresh from the triumph of mega hit Uptown Funk. Also on the billing is a supporter of our community and father to Jewish children, Lionel Ritchie, who will be performing at Jewish Care’s 25th anniversary dinner just weeks before hitting the world famous Pyramid stage.
If the thought of being stuck in a field with nearly 200,000 people is just too much to handle, then the lesser known (but equally fun) festival, Boomtown, could be just the ticket. It’s a crazy trip of an independent festival, set up as an alternative town with nine different districts to visit. If foot-stomping klezmer with a contemporary twist is your thing, then alongside the upfront dance music districts (featuring everything from acid techno to reggae), is a whole district devoted to the sounds on every hipster’s pocket radio— electro swing, Gypsy, Balkan, and klezmer. This year, pioneers of contemporary klezmer, Amsterdam Klezmer Band, will be rocking the Old Town with their ska-infused Jewish beats, alongside Tantz, a storming band whose Yiddish name invokes the mitzvah to dance. Performing elsewhere at Boomtown are a host of Jewish artists, from ex-Chassidic reggae star Matisyahu—who recently ditched the black hat and beard at a branch of Supercuts—to DJ Yoda, a hip hop hero who blazes a trail for integrating visuals and music in a highly amusing and consistently creative way.
If you want a festival that’s as much in thrall to arts and culture as hedonistic partying, then Latitude should be high on your list. This year at the iArena, Ezra Furman will be performing. A Jewishly-committed quirky indie musician from California, Furman won’t play on Friday nights. He lists Jewish theology as one of his biggest influences, and his website strapline is taken from Maimonides: “A Guide For The Perplexed.” Also present will be the Dash Arts Dacha, a Russian haven up in the woods where you can play early 20th century Russian games, watch Russian films, drink vodka, and shoot the breeze with Jewish founder Josephine Burton.
If camping isn’t your thing but you want a dose of festival madness, then head for daytime festival Lovebox in East London. This year, Jewish Beatbox phenomenon Shlomo will be bringing his jawdropping vocal pyrotechnics to Victoria Park. Rocking the dance side of things will be Soul Clap (aka Eli Goldstein and Charlie Levine), a pair of Boston-born Jewish DJs who are at the top of their game right now. Ex-Birthright participants and Cheder attendees, they now bring their underground blend of house, disco soul and funk to discerning dance floors across the globe.
If you’re prepared to travel farther afield and make the true desert pilgrimage, then Burning Man is the best and craziest place to be. Taking place in the Nevada dessert at the start of September, it’s based around the principles of communal involvement and radical self expression. Rather like our own Limmud, the onus is on the participants themselves to bring the performance, and if you want to dwell with your own people, there’s a whole Jewish camp that you can join. The festival’s key principle of “leave no trace” resonates with our Jewish Mitzvah of Bal Tashchit—do not destroy or waste. And aside from taking you on a trip like no other, Burning Man is a festival that should leave you with a love, respect and a sense of awe for this amazing planet that we inhabit—and perhaps with a taste of some kind of higher spirituality.