Band brings Jewish party music to Salem

The Klezmonauts performed at the World Beat Festival Saturday. (Saphara Harrell/ Salem Reporter)

Visitors to Saturday’s World Beat Festival in downtown Salem were transported across the globe.

African drumming filled the amphitheater at Riverside Park, while cooks made lumpia, a dish from the Philippines, and vendors sold bonsai trees, an art form which originated in the Chinese empire.

In the afternoon, people were transported to another place, one reminiscent of bar mitzvahs or of a crowd performing the hora at a wedding.

The Klezmonauts played klezmer music, a musical tradition created by Eastern European Jews, with a twist.

The band members – who have been playing together for 25 years —  come from different musical  backgrounds from jazz to Celtic to bluegrass.

The band formed because Irish fiddle players started to include klezmer music in their repertoire, according to mandolin player Jeremy Wegner.

So, one of the founding members decided to start playing it as well.

Wegner said his bandmates were involved in in different musical projects in Eugene and met through that.

Those in the band are Jewish except for the substitute bass player, Wegner said.

Saturday’s audience began a steady clapping as the musicians picked up the rhythm to a foot-tapping, knee-slapping pace.

Violinist Chip Cohen describes what they play as “Jewish party music.”

Cohen said, “Jews have been traveling forever and everywhere they went they picked up music from wherever.”

After immigrating to the U.S. in the 1900s, Cohen said, klezmer musicians started to incorporate swing jazz into their music.

“It’s a super fun music to play,” Cohen said, adding that its challenging because there are so many notes.

On stage, Cohen is focused, the bow rising and falling as he keeps pace with Wegner, who’s quickly moving his fingers on the strings.

Michael Rubinstein plays bass, while Ken Sokolov is on percussion, playing the cajon for most of the set.

Wegner said it’s a musician’s kind of music because they “have appreciation for the intricacy and diversity within the genre.”

The band played at World Beat last year as well, and will often do gigs at Jewish occasions like bat mitzvahs and weddings.

Cohen said the Eugene-based band is a novelty, because most of the large Jewish communities are across the country.

“If we were living on the East Coast we’d work every weekend,” he said. 

Have an event coming up? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.

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