September 24, 2009

IF YOU'RE STARTING A JEWGRASS BAND...:

Jewish Bluegrass: Lovers of the banjo, fiddle and mandolin blend cultural identity and religious faith to create a uniquely American sound (Jen Miller, 9/24/09, Smithsonian.com)

This Passover, my friend Lester Feder sat at the head of his family’s Seder table, strumming away on his banjo and belting out Hebrew lyrics with a big-voiced Appalachian twang. As a bluegrass and old-time musician myself, I was familiar with Lester’s wailing sound. As a Jew, I’d been to countless Seders. But the transposition of these traditions was like nothing I’d ever imagined.

For Feder, a Northern Virginia native, fusing his American identity with his religious heritage through music was a natural development. “I feel far more connected to the old time traditions of the upper South than the Ashkenazi traditions of Eastern Europe,” he said. “I wanted to make a Seder that was my own.”

“Jewgrass,” as this fusion is sometimes called, is played by a diverse group of old-time and bluegrass musicians. Among them are New York City Jews who grew up during the 1960s folk revival, orthodox Jews who sing Hebrew prayers set to bluegrass melodies and klezmer musicians who infuse their music with Appalachian fiddle tunes. These lovers of the banjo, the fiddle and the mandolin have found a uniquely American way to express their Jewish cultural identity and religious faith.


...don't you have to call yourselves The Hillelbillies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2009 2:25 PM
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