Boston Jewish Music Festival Begins on February 23

February 18, 2014
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Joey Baron had been serving as the concert chairman at his synagogue in Needham and the annual Jewish concerts he organized were growing in popularity each year.

“I had a funny feeling that there was an interest in this type of event,” said Baron. “I did some research and discovered that Boston was the largest Jewish community without a Jewish music festival and that kind of intuitively said to me there should be one here.”

Baron, an award-winning advertising creative director, and Jim Ball, a highly regarded public relations strategist, decided to hold the first Boston Jewish Music Festival (BJMF) in 2009.

“I had spent the last 25 years in advertising and I was pretty burnt out on it and wanted to do something else,” recalled Baron, who had produced concerts during his college days at UMass/Amherst. “I had also been on a CJP (Combined Jewish Philanthropies) Mission to Israel and it was an amazing experience and it just kind of inspired me to do something within the Jewish community.”

The inaugural BJMF spanned eight days with  Jewish music artists drawing more than 5,000 fans to eight different venues including the Berklee Performance Center and multiple synagogues. Baron proudly points out that it was the largest attendance ever for a Jewish music festival in its first year of existence.

“We took a really different approach to Jewish music festivals,” said Baron. “Traditionally the festivals tend to come out of either Jewish community centers or museums and were focused on getting people to go to that facility. We were focused on the music and getting the music out in to the community.”

The BJMF has expanded every year and the 2014 festival will begin Sunday, Feb. 23 and host 20 events at 18 different venues over a five-week period.

One of the festival’s featured events will be An Evening With Theodore Bikel: A Celebration and Concert, which is scheduled for Saturday, March 1 at the Berklee Performance Center. The 89-year-old Bikel is famous for his role as Tevye in the stage production of “Fiddler in The Roof.” He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the 1958 movie, “The Defiant Ones.”

Baron also points out that Bikel should be celebrated, “because not only is he a great actor and singer, Theo Bikel has also been a beacon for human rights in the United States, in Israel, and around the world.”

Dudu Tassa, one of Israel’s most popular pop singers and grandson of world-class bandleader and songwriter Daoud Kuwaiti, will perform on Thursday, March 13 at Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant and Music Club in Somerville.

“Dudu Tassa started researching his grandfather’s music and he is doing a contemporary, Israeli, Middle Eastern pop re-interpretation of his grandfather’s music and when I heard him perform, I was blown away by it,” said Baron.

Baron said the BJMF was chosen as one of five cities to present an amazing new musical composition, ‘The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book, composed by Bosnian-born accordionist Merima Kljuco. The Sarajevo Haggadah program will be held on March 26 at Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown.

Baron describes himself and co-founder Ball “as two guys looking for a barn to put on a show.”

“I’d say Jim and I are actively working on the festival nine to ten months out of the year,” said Baron. “It’s a non-profit venture. We work on multiple layers. The first step if you have to secure funding. We look at the genres of music we want to present. We look at doing interesting stuff in the field and then we look at who’s touring and what we can afford. When you factor in all those things, out comes a festival.”

Baron said the five-week festival is generating a lot of buzz in the community.

“The core fans of the festival really like this idea of the five-week festival because it’s much easier to go out three times over the course of five weeks than it is to go out over the course of one week,” he said. “I think we’re going to have more people attending the festival than we’ve ever had before.”

(To purchase tickets to the 2014 Boston Jewish Music Festival, please visit: www.bostonjewishmusicalfestival.org.)

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