Klez Kamp turns 25 this week.

Living Traditions, the parent organization of the annual "Klez Kamp" Yiddish Cultural retreat, is celebrating it's quarter century mark with this weeks' events in the Catskill Mountains. I myself first made the pilgrimidge to what I joking refer to as the Yiddish Brigadoon in 1996 and have been on staff for 13 susequent years (including the ill-fated Klez Kamp West in Petaluma CA.) My participation with this bunch of folks, both staff and students, has gone a long way to shape my opinions and attitudes about music and and culture, the very sorts of conversations I addressed in my recent interviews with the Steam Powered Preservation Society, parts one and two, for instance. In 2007 I wrote an article, "The KlezKamp Mitzvah: reviving reconnecting with a vanishing culture," on the event and it's influence for Sing OUT! Magazine, which is archived here.

I was asked to write a small rememberence to be included in the Klez Kamp "Zhurnal," the information booklet handed out to the participants. As per usual, I delivered my piece a few days too late to be included in the printing, so I share it with you here now:

Man, it was cold, colder than I could ever remember with snow everywhere. Sure it got cold on the Oklahoma plains where I was born and raised, but I had been living in Texas for a long while now and tonight I stood shivering in my cowboy boots there in the foyer of the Paramount. Just as unfamiliar to my experience was the great bus-load of little old folks and precocious little kids streaming into the old resort, all a ruckus with big hugs and joyful reunions, chattering away in this strange Germanic tongue. Up to that point, the only Yiddish I had heard was my Godfather Morris Katz calling his milk cows into the barn for the night back in Stillwater. Frankly, I had never around this many Jews before, not even at High Holy Days. My head was swimming.

“Oh good, you made it!” said the guy who invited me as he bounded towards me in the lobby. I had never met Henry Sapoznik in person but we had corresponded for years and for just as long he had been cajoling me to come up to “Kamp.” Though technically a stranger (heck I didn’t know a soul there really,) he hugged me like an old friend. “You’re just in time! The dancing is starting. We need a bassist.” He led me down into the Tanzhall and bade me onstage. I took of my coat, inquired about a key from the amiable clarinetist, and proceeded to clam my way through a thrilling set of dance tunes with Merlin Shepherd and Loren Brody.

Back home in Texas I play for dancing quite a bit, it’s one of the reasons I live there in fact. But here for the first time in my life I was actually playing Yiddish music, MY people’s music, for room full of Jewish dancers dancing Yiddish dances. Not a concert, with lifeless music set in amber, distant and removed. Tonight, here at this place music had sprouted legs, was drinking a bit too much and was tearing up the dancefloor. I don’t know if I can properly express how huge a thing that is, how music literally comes alive when it’s simply just a part of a greater function, in a living context. 13 trips back to the Catskills over Xmas week later, I am still in awe of that first of what was to be many, many “Klez Kamp Moments.” If only for this one gift, dayenu.

Truth is I’ve got quite a lot of stories I could tell you; of the musical relationships that formed here, of the people I now call my family, how these experiences have in many ways made me who and what I am not only as a musician, but as a person and as a Jew. Of the deeply moving naches of watching the same little pischers who were running around wild when I first came here mature in the adults that we now look to continue our work. I could tell you about the time I was down with no one to turn to and how this community, the Yiddish Culture family that Klez Kamp gave birth to 25 years ago and nurtures to this day, lifted me up with love and support.

I don’t know if I can properly express how huge a thing that is. - Mark Rubin, Austin TX, 2009

(You can read many more dispatches from the front of Yiddish Culture at the Klez Kamp Blog as well.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and see you kids in '10.


Now available: a handy Mark Rubin FAQ's

In all the years of my public life as a performer, a radio and television host, music supervisor for motion pictures and television or even as a journalist for print and web, not once had anyone asked me to share my basic philosophies about music and culture. Sure, I get a good jab in once and a while, like my quotes in Barry Mazor's "Meeting Jimmie Rodgers" or in the odd print article like Josh Alan's profile of me for the Dallas Observer. But ultimately, there's some kind of editor or agenda at play that somehow muddles the point I hoped to make. (Most notably the "Rubin v. Jimmy Sturr" non-controversy of several years ago.)

What a gift it is then to be allowed a platform, outside of this little blog here, to let folks in on some of the concepts that I have been working with, struggling with and trying to make sense of for the entirety of my professional life. They are the ideas that have defined me and, by extension, all the things I create.

Writer Sarah Hagerman of the Steam Powered Preservation Society web site sat down with me last month, asked some really great questions and let the cassette recorder roll. (Yes, a glorious Radio Shack cassette machine!) In essence, she has provided me with a handy FAQ for me and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

If you are even mildly curious about what motivates my work, then read this two part interview and know quite a bit about me. Probably more than you'd like, I reckon.

Part One: A wide ranging talk including growing up Jewish in small town Oklahoma, the real purpose of music in culture and how the legacy of the Bad Livers was so misunderstood.

Part Two: The power of nomenclature, language and how it effects music and culture, why Bluegrass Nashville is a closed shop (for Jews at least,) my travels across Europe with Rroma musicians and the story of Fat Man & Little Boy.