I met Russell Gottschalk at the Limmud Southeast Festival last year. One of the few indie dudes at the family fun fest, I was instantly impressed by his love of the Jewish people, his taste in music, and the fact that I had a wing-man to help me with the ladies that weekend.
Russell told me he wanted to start an Atlanta Jewish Music Festival and I was totally into it. I have been watching the progress of the festival (of which I have not been nearly involved as I wish I would have been) and was really excited that Russell wanted to talk with me about the festival. What I learned is that the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival is not just a music festival, it’s a mission.
“I think it’s important to celebrate Judaism culturally. I’ve worked for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival for the past four years [and] unfortunately it hasn’t done the best job of engaging the younger demographic.”
It made me wonder: why hasn’t Atlanta had a Jewish music festival, when cities like Houston, which aren’t exactly Jewish hot spots, are having them? The answer to Russell is not about Jews, but about Southern history:
“The South has a history of delayed social change…it takes chutzpah (courage) to get something started. It’s difficult to start something new, particularly in the South [and] people are going to wonder what this is about.”
This education of the masses is something Russell is engaged in all the time, not just about the festival itself, but the idea of Jewish music all together.
“The biggest issue we’ve had is ‘what does a contemporary Jewish music festival look like’? It’s not what your accustomed to hearing. There are Jewish musicians who are creating music….. that people should know about.”
Russell and the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival have approached this question of “what is Jewish music” by taking a very open policy. “We define Jewish music as artistic expressions that come out of someone’s Jewish identity. [Your music is Jewish] if you’re artistic expression is an extension of your Jewish identity.”
Russell represents the cultural Jew…the Jew-ish person. And in that way, he also represents an entire generation of Jewish youth. “Our identities are very complex…other generations didn’t have that option. That Jewish piece of the pie has gotten a lot smaller. Our peers don’t need to promote [their jewishness].”
This makes the need for things like the Jewish music festival so important. “This is going to be a cool Jewish event and we don’t have enough cool Jewish events in our community. Our demographic … wants to have cool Jewish programming”.
The music festival is going to highlight some awesome artists including Moshav, Deleon, Girls In Trouble and Atlanta’s own Atlanta Afro Klezmer Orchestra. The Jewish south shall rise again, June 5th at the Apache Cafe.