When people started coming out of their COVID bubbles in early 2022, Josh Rosard went to the Portland Klezmer Festival and came away with an idea: Why couldn’t something like that happen in Minnesota?
“I had such a good time going to the concerts. I have some friends that I met up with out there, and getting a group of people together, completely randomly, and going and all dancing together to klezmer music in a bar in Portland was so much fun,” said Rosard. “And then I learned so much about klezmer music at the workshops the next day.”
The experience led Rosard to connect with Minneapolis klezmer and folk musician Sarah Larsson to create Klezmer on Ice, a festival of Yiddish and klezmer music from Feb. 2-5 throughout the Twin Cities.
“We have a scene in Minneapolis and it seems like the logical next step is to do something like this,” Rosard said.
Having a scene wasn’t just enough to have a festival like this. It took a lot of heavy lifting to get it off the ground.
“I didn’t know if [Josh] had hosted a festival before. But I’ve hosted a festival before and planned big events, and it’s a job,” Larsson said. “Our first conversations were ‘Are you sure?’ And he was really pumped about it, and I was really pumped about being able to play a supporting role and add in wherever I could.”
The festival features indoor and outdoor events, with concerts and workshops. Technically, the festivities will start on Sunday, Jan. 29 at the Art Shanty Projects at Lake Harriet; they’ll also be back at Ice Shanty on Feb. 4. Larsson’s bands Folk Will Save Us and Di Bayke Klezmer Band will be performing, as well as Rosard, Daniel Lentz, Pat O’Keefe and the Longfellow Village Band Klezmer Jam.
“Our partners from the Art Shanty Projects are really pumped about it,” Larsson said. “We’ve had a bunch of different visual artists and makers from the community jump on board as well. And those folks are really enthusiastic.”
Rosard said there will be a semi-indoor structure where there will be music and dancing that’s open to everyone.
“It’ll be kind of like a jam in the sense that we’re open to everybody. You can come and play an instrument, you could come sing,” Rosard said. “It’s like really just a space to kind of hang out and enjoy the music.”
On Thursday, Feb. 2, Temple of Aaron will be hosting the official kickoff party with ice skating on their outdoor rink, and then indoors for live performances from Jewbalaya (featuring Rabbis Marcus Rubenstein and Tobias Moss), Sarina Partridge, and Tzipporah Johnson and Izzy Buckner.
Friday evening, violin player Jake Shulman-Ment from the band Midwood, which closes the festival at the Cedar Cultural Center, will be taking part in Shabbat Shira services at Temple of Aaron at 6 p.m.
Saturday evening after Luminary Havdallah at Levin Park is the Klezmer Cabaret at the Center for Performing Arts. The event will have performances by Lawrence University’s Klezmommies (featuring TC Jewfolk’s New Voices Intern Miri Verona), Yiddish theater, singing and dancing, and Southside Shtetl Judaica vendors.
Rosard said one of the events that he’s most excited about is the klezmer workshops at the Minnesota JCC – Capp Center St. Paul, on Sunday Feb. 5.
“If you ever have thought about like wanting to play klezmer music on an instrument or wanting to sing in Yiddish, or even just learning how to like dance to klezmer music, learning from people who know what they’re doing is so valuable compared to trying to do it on your own,” he said.
The headline event of the weekend is the concert at the Cedar. Minneapolis band Soul Trouvère will open.
Shulman-Ment is considered one of the best klezmer violin performers in the world and has spent several years traveling Eastern Europe and the Balkans to collect old klezmer melodies. He spent a Fulbright Scholarship year in that region, as did Colleen Bertsch, Soul Trouvère’s fiddler.
“It’s kind of a new trend of community-based festivals that are happening on a smaller scale and shorter timeline that are really, really great,” Shulman-Ment said. “It’s bringing the music around to different and creating community in a more local way.”
Shulman-Ment has played in Minneapolis the past two summers; in 2021, he played a solo show while driving on a cross-country road trip, and played a show at a community garden that Larsson had hosted.
“I could tell there was a lot of energy behind this music and people were really happy to have me there,” he said. “There was definitely a special energy that I felt in Minneapolis, for sure. I was kind of floored by that. I didn’t particularly expect that to be the case.
“There are certain people there who have a lot of really positive energy towards making things happen and really love the music and the culture, and are engaging in it in ways that [are in] reverence of the tradition and the history and the culture.”
As word of the event has gotten out, Larsson said there has been a lot of buzz growing in the community.
“People either are curious about how it’s going to work because there hasn’t been something like this before, or they’re all in, ready to throw down,” she said.