Matisyahu Brings Joy, Community To First Avenue

There were a lot of firsts for me at First Avenue on Wednesday night. I was there to see Matisyahu – the very Jewish and very pro-Israel musician – who has been getting more attention lately for his public messaging than for his music. Speaking out and speaking loudly for the release of the hostages still kept captive by Hamas has gotten recent Matisyahu shows canceled in New Mexico and Arizona.

Efforts by the anti-Israel group “Minnesota Anti-War Committee” to have his First Avenue show canceled were unsuccessful – and the show went on as scheduled. These protestors, many wearing masks to hide their identities, numbered around 200 and were positioned across the street from First Avenue behind police barricades. A heavy Minneapolis Police Department presence made sure that the chaos was contained, but intermittently, protestors did manage to walk across the street to attempt to intimidate concertgoers entering the venue.

It was the first time in my 30-plus years of going to concerts and shows that I needed a police escort to enter the building. It was also the first time I was ever called “Little Bitch Boy.” I’m not quite sure how effective these protests are, but I’m glad that First Avenue didn’t cave to the pressure like the venues in New Mexico and Arizona. One glaring thought I had before, during, and after the show was the real motivation for these protests.

These are lyrics from Matisyahu’s most well-known and most requested song, One Day:

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know someday, it’ll all turn around because

All my life, I’ve been waitin’ for
I’ve been prayin’ for, for the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There’ll be no more wars, and our children will play

Is this the artist that the anti-Israel crowd should be targeting? Please make it make sense.

An Israel flag draped over the balcony railing at First Avenue (Photo by Sam Mandell).

An Israel flag draped over the balcony railing at First Avenue (Photo by Sam Mandell).

Once inside the venue, it was a whole new world of community, joy, and anticipation. While the crowd was likely heavily Jewish, there were definitely some folks there just for the music. I saw man buns and Jews with dreadlocks and puffs of smoke in the air. I saw Jewish star necklaces and Chai necklaces, and several of the “Bring Them Home” dog tag necklaces. Also several clergy from Minnesota synagogues and Minneapolis’ Jewish Mayor, Jacob Frey, were in attendance. But another first was the dozen or so Israeli flags – draped over the railings, worn as capes, and proudly waved in the air. It was an amazing sight to see at this legendary music venue.

Matisyahu hobbled up the stairs to the stage with the help of a cane (apparently a broken kneecap). I, for one, was afraid it would limit him to the stool that he occasionally sat on for what seemed like only seconds at a time. But alas, it didn’t – and he moved freely about the stage clearly feeling his own music and the energy from the crowd. Known for his mix of reggae, hip-hop, and rock, I was pleasantly surprised at the range of his voice. He’s a damn good singer – and his voice was on point!

On stage was an empty chair, plastered with the images of hostages that have been engrained in us since 10/7. Matisyahu mentioned the hostages three separate times – that we need them to come home. And each time he did so, he was met with an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Chants of “bring them home” on the inside and “we don’t want you here” on the outside was quite the dichotomy.

Another first for me was when Matisyahu refreshed himself with some carrot juice, lifted the cup to the crowd, and said “L’Chaim, L’Chaim to the Jews. To the Jewish People.” That’s playing to your audience if I’ve ever seen it. By then, we were simply eating out of his hand.

Towards the end of the show, Matisyahu brought out his 17-year-old son. Perched on his stool, singing backup, and beaming with pride, he watched his son deliver two original songs. Pretty neat moment for any dad.

The set ended with Matisyahu’s anthem, One Day – a most apropos song that he released 15 years ago. Part of me harkens back to 1989 when the U.S. Navy Seals and Delta Force blasted songs like AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long so loudly that Panama’s Manuel Noriega peacefully walked out and surrendered. One Day – a hopeful song about peace – should be blasted at every single one of these anti-Israel and anti-Matisyahu protests. Maybe with giant billboards of the lyrics to go with it.

Matisyahu is a unique artist in many ways, but he’s also like many who have come before him. Artists and musicians have had opinions, political or otherwise, for decades. And often, it is these artists who speak out the loudest because they have the platforms to do so. Jewish icon Stan Lee once wrote in a Spider-Man comic book in 1962, “with great power comes great responsibility.” When you have a platform, you better use it and Matisyahu is doing just that – advocating for the release of the hostages through social media and his music. And on this night in Minneapolis, he ignored the noise outside and did his thing for those who could actually hear what he had to say.


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