Who the Folk?! Jason Koffman

Jason Koffman, Director of Office Management and Volunteers at the Cedar Cultural Center, talks to us about growing up in an interfaith family and the evolving music scene in the Twin Cities.

Are you from the Twin Cities?

No, I’m from upstate New York. I had an uncle that lived in Minneapolis and I came here on a visit and really loved it. I’ve been here since the 90’s.

How is the music scene different now than in the 90’s?

There was a smaller music scene in the 90’s. It was more independent in a lot of ways, but there were fewer places to hear music. Now, lots of little bars are becoming more legitimate venues. As artists need to rely more heavily on touring because they don’t make money releasing albums anymore, there are more and more places to hear live music.

How did you get involved with the music scene?

Very slowly! I worked at Ticketmaster, then at Cheapo records—a local music chain. I learned a lot about what was valuable and I started selling records online and just got into the music and record-collecting world. I started volunteering at the Cedar in 2005. It was great because you meet a lot of people and get to see shows for free. They needed help in the office and I started working part-time, then full-time as the office manager and volunteer coordinator. I feel pretty lucky to work here because positions open up very rarely. People like it here and don’t tend to leave.

Is it difficult to juggle 500 volunteers?

We are a non-profit organization and we rely on volunteers to help put on the show. We couldn’t afford to pay a staff for to take down and set up and run every show. We have 200 shows a year and having a large pool of volunteers helps us make sure we have a good crew working each night.

It’s really a community of people. The volunteers are an eclectic bunch that all come together because they love to see live music. If you’re a volunteer, you get to see a lot of free shows.

Who’s your favorite local musician?

Ooh, that’s hard. I really like The Cactus Blossoms; They’re a bluegrass duo. Matt Latterell is great, who just played last week. And Gospel Machine is a great R&B group.

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Probably Passover. My mom is Christian and my dad is Jewish. Those times we all get together as a family were good memories.

How did you handle growing up, celebrating both sets of holidays?

I was an only child. I guess the more celebration, the better when I was a kid. For me, the celebrations were an extension of the personalities of each side of my family. I moved more towards the Jewish side of my family naturally, probably because I was very close to my grandmother. My grandmother was a huge influence on me growing up. She gave me an appreciation for all the arts, especially jazz. She really got me listening to stuff outside pop music.

People have so many backgrounds now, both cultural religious. I’m not sure how many people identify with just one thing anymore. A lot of kids grow up with different arrangements. I don’t see it as a conflict.

What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Latkes. A big part of that, too, was that my mom not being Jewish, she didn’t cook Jewish food. And my Jewish grandmother didn’t cook at all. She used to use her oven to store things. When it was Passover, my mom helped out at our synagogue to make the latkes. I couldn’t wait for that every year.

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