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Knishmas in Chicago, IL, Dec 25

Knishmas, featuring Blue Fringe, Evën Sh'Siyah, Yuri Lane, Listen Up! Acappella, Farbrengiton

Saturday, December 25, 7pm doors (21 +)
HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo
$20 at the door, $18 in advance at ticketweb.com, kfarcenter.com or hothouse.net

Few Jewish music festivals could get away without scheduling the ubiquitous Klezmer act, given the genre's proliferation in recent years. At the upcoming Knishmas event, held Saturday December 25th at HotHouse, the predominant sound at Knishmas will be electric guitar. How is it that three of the five acts playing the Jewish mini-festival are rock bands? In New York, a massive urban Jewish community supports such events, but they are rare in Chicago's Jewish community, much of which resides far from nightclubs and rock venues.

The top band in the Jewish rock genre is New York City's Blue Fringe Band, 4 clean-cut Yeshiva University graduates. In 2 years, the band has become the Beatles of the beanie-wearing set, regularly playing for sold out audiences of 1,000 or more and touring as far away as Australia and the UK. Screaming seminary girls are not only par for the course, they're referred to in one of the band's hit songs off their debut album, My Awakening. Blue Fringe headlines Knishmas with a late set, their only public performance in Chicago this tour.

Joining them onstage are Chicago's own veteran Jewish folk rockers, Even Sh'Siyah, who are marking their decade together with the release of their third album this spring followed by a special live album. "We have fans all over the world, but we have families so we don't tour much. " says bassist David Margulis. "But playing at a club like Hothouse is a real treat for us. There aren't many clubs where a Jewish rock band can get a slot, let alone 3 bands, and where will the audience come from? That's why this project, and KFAR are so special."

Margulis refers to Knishmas' producer, two year old KFAR Jewish Arts Center (www.kfarcenter.com), whose mission is to Stimulate, Promote and Produce the next generation of Jewish expression. "We love working with Hothouse because its a beautiful venue with a great sound, a good vibe, and they get what we do. They know KFAR has ties to all the top-notch Jewish acts and that our presence in the Jewish community are what make our events a success. It's a good partnership" say KFAR founder, Adam Davis. The 32 year-old began the venture after successive careers in the arts and marketing. "This is what I was born to do," he says. Bnai Brith Magazine recently called KFAR a "Trailblazer," so it would seem he's found his niche.

KFAR's presence and projects have helped to stimulate a smaller Midwestern version of the renaissance that hit New York's Jewish music world in the mid-1990's "That's one of the reasons we exist." Says Davis. He explains that Knishmas is modeled after Michael Dorf's Jewsapolooza event at the Knitting Factory in NY, which was a 24 hour Christmas Jewish music festival at the well known venue. "That was klezmer oriented. We don't have any klez acts this year. Rock is the trend, hip Hop too- acts like Yuri Lane. He's getting coverage from the New York Times and performs on NPR. Jewish hip hop is something to watch, too."

The growing number of rock and hip hop acts reflects an emerging generation of artists willing to explore their heritage musically, but in the forms of the broader culture rather those of their own backgrounds. Reflecting on the trend, Davis says, "Its organic. There used to be maybe 4 concerts a year. Then we started our concert series, Tzitzit: Voices from the Jewish Fringe, and we're featuring a dozen acts a year. People like it, see that it has appeal, so others are trying it. There's a monthly cafe event in Rogers Park and suddenly there are new bands. I get a press kit every week from someone new on the coast. But what's exciting is that I get phone calls saying I ought to check out a group that jams in the basement of a local Chicago yeshiva."

One such act gets their big break at Knishmas, garage band Fabrengiton, which got its start at a local Chabad house playing folky originals and covers of Lubavitch drinking songs. Also performing at Knishmas are Listen Up A Cappella and Human Beatbox Yuri Lane, who's recently garnered rave reviews from the Reader, Chicago Tribune and New York Times. Lane will freestyle at the event using a sampling device. Sampling? Freestyle Jewish beat box? Davis nods at the juxtaposition. "The only thing better is a Jewish music festival on Christmas."

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