"Biennial" is what this is, since it happens "every other year" ("biannual" means "twice a year"). And every other year—the even-numbered ones—The Greater Chicago Jewish Festival arrives to take over one Sunday afternoon of your life in a most enjoyable way. This year, it's on June 10, from 11-6 at the Cook County Forest Reserve (pocet.org). It boasts food, crafts, an art fair, a "book shuk," a petting zoo…
…and hour after hour of some of the best live Jewish music you'll ever hear.
The headliner this year is a man whose full name, evidently, is "Steven Page (Formerly of The Barenaked Ladies)." Their big hit was "One Week," and they did the "Big Bang Theory" theme song. But they have also toured with The LeeVees, the only-Chanukah-songs band, around that time of year. And Page is also performing some Jewish material and planning on explaining which of his songs were influenced by his Jewish heritage.
Here is a run-down of the rest of the Fest:
Maxwell Street Klezmer Band
One of the longest-running klezmer acts, this local favorite has a deep bench with its clarinets and violins, but its (not so) secret weapon is the effervescent vocalist Kimber Leigh Nussbaum. Also performing is Maxwell Street's youth ensemble, the Jr. Klezmer Band.
Chicken Fat Klezmer Band
Another local band, this one favors a loose-limbed, offhand approach to its klezmer standbys, Yiddish-theater standards, and originals.
Shirlee Todd founded this local ensemble which—as advertised—merges jazz and klezmer.
This Indiana-based octet recently won the Got Talent competition.
Deservedly one of the most popular Jewish rock acts. Blue Fringe is young, hungry, talented, soulful, and destined to take its place alongside Diaspora Yeshiva Band and Piamentas.
When was the last time you had you some good, ol'-fashioned, home-made, electric guitar cooking? I mean a big slab of wailing with a generous side of shredding, and some sweet riffing for dessert.
This band takes classic rock, adds elements of Middle Eastern and Celtic music, and turns the whole thing into a spiritual experience. Whether you like Zep or The Dead, you'll hear something you like.
Ruby Harris recently founded this hard-partying band; its name also means, in Hebrew, "only happiness." Harris plays guitar, harmonica, and more, but wait 'til you hear the blues played on a 150-year-old violin…
The dobro is a guitar with a steel plate behind the strings, used by everyone from The Byrds to Dire Straits. Kaye uses it to play Jewish music that pulls from country and folk, but mostly the blues.
Rabbi Joe Black
A rabbi playing Jewish music? Not that surprising. A rabbi playing Jewish country music? Now that, you have to see.
This quartet has the sound of the 1960s, specifically the more the spiritual-awakening, Age-of-Aquarius material.
For the Peter Paul & Mary style of '60s singing, this is the group you want. This local trio has been keeping the sound and energy alive for decades.
A veteran of the Old Town School of Folk Music stage, Silverman represents the newer folk sound of Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams.
Tracy Friend/Andrew Dennen
A local duo, their sound is a bit darker and quirkier. Fans of Kate Bush and Tori Amos should check them out.
Lucky Break Bluegrass Band
Well, it's just not a summer festival without this all-American, all-string sound. They also mix in some Jewish modalities for a style called, what else, "Jewgrass."
He is a songwriter best known for "Jazzman," which was covered by Steve Goodman. Come hear the rest of his riveting material.
This local legend helped the Old Town School of Folk Music become what it is, and has shared stages with Steve Goodman and John Prine. This is the real deal, folks.
The ace in the hole of this local trio is an instrument you would not expect in a Sephardic band—an electric guitar. But after hearing Steve Yastrow play one, you'll wonder why it's not standard.
Listen Up! A Capella
Innovative arrangements of Jewish classics. More like Rockapella or The Nylons than the Maccabeats, these guys make as much music with only half their personnel.
Jeff & Janis
Imagine that Steve and Edyie had built an entire act out of songs like "Hallelujah" and "By Mir Bist Du Shoen."
Shining Lights (they start at the 1:30 mark)
This is a talented and polished teen show choir. Come get your Gleek on!
Kids, take your parents to this show. This nice lady has a great voice and fun songs, and your mom and dad will like her as much as you!
Billy & the Kidders
This daddy-daughter act is one of the few of any genre who do outreach to interfaith families.
He was the one who told us one of the most important things in life: "Don't sit on a cactus!" Check out his show for much more silliness.
There are also dance performances, puppet shows, and storytelling at the Festival. I might see you there—or I might be too busy running from show to show!