Synagogues have gone round a rather pleasant bend, casting a wide net to modernize services with interpretative musical genres. I’ve been to and enjoyed Hispanic flavored Shabbat services, drumming, chanting, and even prayed to Motown, The Beatles, U2, and Simon & Garfunkel recompositions in a Friday night service.
On Sept. 6-7, Ahavath Achim Synagogue will host several bluegrass experiences open to the community at large.
Nefesh Mountain quintet will present familiar prayers and soulful tunes in which American bluegrass connects with Jewish heritage and tradition. Band leaders, genre-pioneers, and husband and wife Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff are the heart of this eclectic offering. They will share their love for each other, American music and their own cultural heritage with Atlanta audiences at AA.
Bluegrass Today has called Nefesh Mountain, “a prominent Jewish counterpoint to gospel music” and folk musician/singer/songwriter Michael Johnathan said “Nefesh Mountain [merges] the grand and beautiful cultures of the Hebrew or Jewish tradition and the bluegrass tradition … without preaching.”
The quintet’s newest and most adventurous recording to date, called “Beneath the Open Sky,” was a tour de force for the band. The album’s 11 songs collectively weave together a groundbreaking and beautiful patchwork of new American music, called “refreshingly eclectic” by Rolling Stone, and “one of the finest, wholly bluegrass records one will hear in not only 2018 but as a touchstone moving forward” by No Depression magazine.
Currently the Nefesh Mountain touring band/quintet plays more than 150 dates worldwide, with performances throughout the U.S., Canada, Israel, England and Australia. It’s mission, whether at a concert hall, festival, workshop, school, camp, or synagogue, is to spread the joy and magic of American roots music and help to champion and reinforce the powerful messages of diversity, wholeness and harmony.
Zasloff told Johnathan on his WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour that the group’s sound developed because “we both are huge bluegrass lovers and our background is Jewish. And we’re spiritual people who wanted to express ourselves through bluegrass.”
AA Marketing Director Candace Schilling said, “Synagogue staff members went to a Nefesh Mountain concert at Eddie’s Attic last month, and they’re still talking about the music, the band and their enthusiastic fans. Some audience members came from out of state just for the concert.”
AA Senior Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal added, “Once upon a time opera was the popular music of the day, so our Jewish tradition enveloped our prayers into the operatic melody patterns familiar to those listeners. Today we’re exposed to a huge array of musical styles that affect us in meaningful ways; the vehicular melodies that can drive our sacred words into our hearts are plentiful. By transporting our words through the sounds of bluegrass melodies masterfully played by Nefesh Mountain, some familiar lyrics take a special ride into the deepest part of our hearts and souls.”
Festivities will be 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, beginning with a kosher barbecue dinner and services featuring Nefesh Mountain for families to enjoy sweet bluegrass tunes. The evening will wind down with a musical Shabbat family service followed by a oneg dessert reception. The cost is $18 per adult and $13 per child ($20 and $15, respectively, after Aug. 23), https://form.jotform.com/92165181656158
The next day, Sept. 7, at 12:30 p.m., the Rabbi’s Tish after Shabbat services will be the “The Spirituality of Bluegrass,” with Nefesh Mountain speaking about “What makes music Jewish?”
Havdalah is at 8:07 p.m. followed by a community concert with Nefesh Mountain at 8:30 p.m., at which the group’s music will cover universal themes of love, friendship and freedom. Tickets are $10 per person, via online registration or collected at the door. Sponsor Goza Tequila will provide a special cocktail to ticketed attendees 21 and older.
For more information, call AA at 404-355-5222.