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Jewish Culture Fest welcomes diverse group of musicians and performers

Rick Recht performs at the Jewish Arts Festival in 2003. A frequent guest at previous events, Recht returns to Jewish Culture Fest on Sept. 10 as a musical act.

Since its inception in 1994, Jewish Culture Fest (previously Jewish Arts Festival) has attracted eclectic, exciting musical acts and performers, and 2017 will be no different.

“This year, patrons can look forward to a variety of performers,” said Marlis Grad, Jewish Culture Fest co-chair. “They were all chosen because of their unique style that will showcase Jewish entertainment in a variety of mediums.”

There will be something for everyone to enjoy at the event, which takes place on Sept. 10, at the Jewish Community Center (The J), Grad said, including families.

“Kids will love a special concert just for them where they can laugh, love, dance and sing along,” she said.

New to the 2017 event, the Fest layout will include two stages for entertainment to maximize the amount of time each group will be able to perform. Each performer will play two sets and will utilize both stages, allowing guests to experience a wider variety of acts.

One of those acts is Nefesh Mountain from Montclair, New Jersey. 

“Nefesh Mountain are the pioneers of a new sound where Jewish Spirit and Soul meet with Bluegrass and Old-time musical traditions,” said Jonathan Jensen, director of arts and culture at The J. “Founders, husband and wife team Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff, blend their love for both of these rich traditions and have created a new genre that marries these two seemingly disparate worlds.”

Nefesh Mountain creates their unique sound with a combination of English and Hebrew singing, paired with guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass and dobro. Some of their hits include “Esa Einai,” “Old Time Medley (“Down to the River to Pray”/“Modeh Ani”/ “Hallelujah”) and “Hine Ma Tov.”

Zasloff is also known as Mama Doni, the second act performing at Jewish Culture Fest. Geared toward children and the inner Jewish child in all of us, Mama Doni is the leading singer, songwriter, author and performer of music that is a celebration of Jewish life, values, culture and tradition.

“Kids and adults alike will love Mama Doni,” Jensen said. “The singer-songwriter breaks the mold of traditional Jewish music, bringing a blend of reggae, rock, folk, country, klezmer and ‘Jewgrass.’ ”

Another act that will appeal to everyone is Listen Up!, an acapella troupe hailing from Chicago, Illinois. 

“Listen Up! (Freddie Feldman, Shayna Elliott, Eli Taylor and Steve Singer) bring considerable talents to their performance,” Jensen said, “delivering warmth and sheer knock-your-socks-off vocal power that will win the hearts (and ears) of audiences of all ages.”

Mother and child enjoy the musical stylings of Slow Ya Roll at the Jewish Arts Festival on October 6, 2013.

The multigenerational group is full of wit and humor and an impressive artistic palette, drawn from diverse Jewish musical traditions. 

The Chicago Tribune describes the ensemble as having a clear adoration for singing, “turning melodies and harmonies on their heads to come up with something unique and full of freshness and appeal.”

Another face appearing at the Fest is a familiar one to many — Rick Recht. A frequent guest at previous Festivals, Recht is thrilled to come back to Kansas City. 

“One of Time Magazine’s ‘10 Stars of the New Jewish Music,’ Rick Recht is a pioneer of the Jewish rock music genre and has elevated the medium of Jewish music to celebrate Jewish pride and identity among the masses,” Jensen said.

The spirit and energy he cultivates makes him wildly popular among families and teens.

The final musical act appearing at the event is Tiny Flowers, a local, eclectic trio of visionary folk musicians inspired by French, Gospel, Klezmer, country/western music and more. Describing themselves as “hunter-gatherers,” the group “roots out elements of vintage Americana and a world of other musical ingredients as they assemble an acoustic sound both soothing and exciting.”

Comprised of guitarist and singer Kelly Werts, with Diana Werts on accordion and Allan Winkler on a variety of percussion instruments, Tiny Flowers produces a unique sound sure to spark the interests and imaginations of all.

In addition to musical acts, Jewish Culture Fest also welcomes a comedian to its stage. Corey Rittmaster, a Kansas City native now based in Los Angeles, is an acclaimed actor and comedian. 

“An alum of the famed Second City, Corey returns to KC to share his comedic talents and sharp wit,” Jensen said. “Corey’s comic brilliance will be sure to give you some a good laughs.”

One goal of this year’s event, Grad said, is to appeal to a wider audience. Previous festivals have largely been attended by the local and regional Jewish populations. The expanded offerings and deeper dive into Jewish culture aims to attract the non-Jewish population who seeks to learn more about other faiths and cultures. The variety of performing artists are one way the event co-chairs hope to accomplish this goal.

“Presenting different styles of Jewish entertainment, we hope that both the non-Jewish and the Jewish patrons will equally enjoy these unique talents,” Grad said. 

Tickets for Jewish Culture Fest are available in advance for $6 for adults, and $3 for children ages 4-12 (children under 4 are free), at JewishCultureFest.com. Guests are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to donate to Jewish Family Services Food Pantry in exchange for a $1 food voucher.

More information about the event is available at JewishCultureFest.com.