Friendly Folk: Mideast Mountain Fusion aims to meld Kentucky and Middle East folk music

Mar 28, 2006 at 7:39 pm

Americans are not known for their familiarity with world cultures outside U.S. borders. Kentuckians and citizens of America’s other Midwestern states are often believed to be even more disinterested in the outside world than the average American, but post-9/11 America, it could be said, is more aware of the goings-on in the Middle East than ever before.

That doesn’t at all mean Americans are any more familiar with the actual cultures of the Middle East. Given the world’s antagonistic cultural climate right now, a music festival dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating the connection between folk music from the Middle East and Kentucky’s brand of folk music is a completely unexpected — but intriguing — idea.

Cantor David Lipp of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, known in the area for his creativity in developing music festival ideas each year for the Congregation Adath Jeshurun, was responsible for bringing out-of-work jazz musicians from New Orleans into the Louisville area to perform after Hurricane Katrina last year.

The idea for this festival was inspired and logical. After Lipp heard the Middle Eastern folk rock of the band Pharaoh’s Daughter, he noticed a similarity between their music and the traditional folk music of Kentucky. After further research, Lipp decided to bring Basya Schechter, the lead singer of Pharaoh’s Daughter, to Kentucky to perform with two dulcimer players, Kentuckians Christie Burns and Butch Ross.

Schechter and her band have received recognition in the past few years, including the New York State Council of the Arts American Composers Forum compositional grant, and are preparing to record their fifth album. Burns and Ross have been perfecting their style of dulcimer duets, with Burns on hammered dulcimer and Ross on mountain dulcimer, for about three years now. They recently recorded a debut album.

Schechter, Burns and Ross are scheduled to headline tomorrow’s “Mideast Mountain Fusion” edition of the annual music festival at the Congregation Adath Jeshurun in the Highlands. Lipp will be among the additional acts who will be performing at the festival. Also appearing will be Cantor Paula Pepperstone of the Keneseth Israel Congregation, and countless local choirs, both children and adult. The performers will be playing religious and secular folk music from both sides of the globe.

The live performances will be taped for a special edition of John Gage’s “Kentucky Homefront” radio program, which airs on public radio stations throughout Kentucky. Gage has dedicated his program to presenting grassroots music and preserving cultural tradition, so his connection with this project is no surprise. The show airs once a month on WFPK-FM.

Tickets and special patron seating packages to the festival are available in advance over the phone or at the door. Parking will be free, and after the program, refreshments will be served. The Adath Jeshurun Music Festival has received support and endowment for the Adolf and Sara van der Walde and Israel Rosenbloum Charitable Fund since 2003.

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