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Original article published in the Relix

Finding Silo Restaurant in Jerusalem‘s First Station, the site of the original 1890’s Jerusalem Railways Station turned entertainment, culture and dining center, is no small feat. But the search for the funky outdoor concert venue just off of a big parking lot–and the wait for the acts to take the stage at the thrice yearly Jerusalem Woodstock Festival–was worth the wait.

The Jerusalem Woodstock Festival, the brainchild of American born addictions counselor, youth and family worker, self-described “creative therapist,” and longtime Jerusalem resident, Tracey Shipley, has been taking place one to five times a year since its inception in 2006.  “I like to create things and I did what I wanted wasn’t available,” reports Shipley, whose target audience seems to be mostly American immigrants to Israel “of a certain age,” many clad in Grateful Dead or tie dyed shirts—and yarmulkes..  Native born Israelis—mainly teens and 20 somethings—were also in attendance, perhaps to catch a glimpse of an era they had only heard about from TV or films.  “I have become a band producer,” adds Shipley, pleased that she has brought bands covering King Krimson, Country Joe and the Fish, Lynyrd Skynrd and Santana to music fans of Israel who don’t often have current stars or even rock legends passing through the Middle East.

The festival, which feels more like a backyard gathering, consists of a makeshift stage, lawn chairs set up on dirt in the restaurant’s courtyard, a single sound guy, and a mini Shakedown Street selling jewelry and sparkles—run by the funkily and modestly dressed wife of the lead guitarist and singer of the Grateful Shefa Band, the Grateful Dead cover band from Safed in the north of Israel.  The long haired, bearded musician, Rabbi Shalom Leibowitz, grew up in a Chabad (Hasidic) family in Boston.

Tracey opened the evening by grabbing the microphone and shouting out “Calling Yonaton, our sound guy,”  She then asked, “Who came to hear music of the 60’s”  The 120 attendees—all wearing colored leis to indicate they had paid the admission fee—responded with cheers and clapping.  Tracey laid out the order of the 7 pm to 11 pm evening:  four warm up bands and three “adult” feature bands.

Shipley’s choice of youth bands—and her commitment to the youth of Jerusalem is impressive.  Shipley founded SoBar, a play on the words “sober bar)–Jerusalem’s first alcohol-free live music club for youth, she regularly puts on cultural programing for Ethiopian Jewish teens, and she founded the Jerusalem School of Rock which now receives support from the municipality of Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem School of Rock affords talented teens in love with rock music to form rock bands, rehears and perform live in Jerusalem, including at the various Woodstock Festivals.

The various combinations of junior performers (who often played in each other’s’ bands) were impressive for both quality and unexpected nature of the songs performed including Dark Side of the Moon, Wild Horses, Castles Made of Sand and Wild Thing. “Who knows Melanie? She’s the bestest” asks and answers Shipley before Shevy and Ora Leah, young singers and guitarist, launched in to a beautiful rendition of “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.”

The first of three adult bands of the evening, Wild Thing Band,” played familiar songs like Dead Flowers, Midnight Hour, and Jonny B Goode.  The large group of mostly older musicians were decent but might have opted to play way fewer songs—especially with Shlomo Mizrachi, the Jimi Hendrix of the Middle East and Grateful Shefa Band still to come.

When Shipley immigrated to Israel and started organizing the Woodstock Festival, she had never even heard of the legendary in-these-parts, Mizrahi.  Mizrahi, 73, was a member of the Habama Hahashmalit (The Electric Stage) rock band in Jerusalem when the actual Woodstock Festival was taking place in 1969.    Once Shipley learned of Mizrahi’s unusual guitar playing talents, she immediately included him in Woodstock.  He played expected Hendrix classics like All Along the Watchtower, Little Wing, Foxy Lady, Castles Made of Sand and Red House to perfection.  Hearing a few riffs of The Star Spangled Banner during his set was a welcome surprise.  Playing the entire Hatikvah, Israel’s National Anthem Hendrix-electric style was shocking and wonderful.

Shipley always closes her shows with a Grateful Dead cover band.  “By the end of my shows, people are always dancing!” she reports.  Grateful Shefa didn’t disappoint—and fans seemed to enjoy I Know You Rider, Shakedown Street, Morning Dew, Franklin’s Tower and Fire on the Mountain—even with the occasional sprinkling of Jewish religious references and Hebrew phrases within the well-known Dead lyrics.  As an example, in Fire, Lebowitz adds, “We’ve got geulah (redemption or deliverance) b’chol dor vah dor (Hebew or “in every generation”).

While Shipley’s Jerusalem Woodstock will never be half a million strong—like the slightly better known upstate New York festival–she will consistently attract up to a couple of hundred loyal music fans at her several times a year music festivals, she will consistently break even or turn a profit, and perhaps most importantly, she will feel great knowing she is keeping an important era and genre of music alive in a place 6,000 miles and 60 years from where it was born.

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Original article published in the JNS

“Our kids also come from a perspective culturally and educationally that they will return to the U.S. as allies and friends of the State of Israel,” said head coach Bruce Pearl.

Busloads of American Jewish teenagers arrived at Jerusalem’s Malha Arena to watch Israel’s U20 National play against Auburn University Tigers Men’s basketball team on Aug. 2.

Instead of rooting for Israel, the large delegation of participants on an NCSY trip sponsored by the inclusive Israel experience Yad B’Yad came clad in blue and orange to cheer on Auburn, the reigning SEC regular-season champions. The Alabama team is in Israel to play three games as part of the inaugural “Birthright for College Basketball Tour.”

“We came to support Auburn for coming to Israel,” Emily Farbowitz of New Jersey told JNS.

Eytan Israel of Stamford, Conn., added that “when we heard Auburn was coming to Israel and that they were the first school to show support for Israel, we wanted to support them and make them feel welcome.”

The well-attended event included Israeli Jewish and Arab basketball fans. Photo by Howard Blas.

Ironically, Yad B’Yad head counselor Eytan Aryeh happened to pack his blue Auburn sun hat for his Israel trip before learning the team was coming to the Jewish state. “I like Auburn,” he said. “I was a big Cam Newton (NFL quarterback) fan when he attended Auburn, and I happened to bring the hat.”

Aryeh said he felt privileged to bring his entire group to the game, saying “what better activity than to bring our group to a basketball game, and to welcome Auburn and show that we support them. What a kiddush Hashem,” he said, using words meaning “a sanctification of God’s name.”

The well-attended event also included Israeli Jewish and Arab basketball fans. Moad of Ein Naqquba, an Arab village in central Israel, brought his children. “They are rooting for the U.S. team and I am rooting for the local team,” he said. “We came to watch good-quality professional basketball.”

Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl is familiar with Israel and Israeli basketball. In 2009, he served as head coach for the Maccabi USA men’s basketball team, which took the gold medal at the Maccabi Games in Tel Aviv. Pearl is one of five Jewish coaches in history to reach the Final Four in the NCAA Division I College basketball playoffs.

The 62-year-old noted that once every four years, the NCAA allows a college basketball team to have a foreign tour. In 2017, Pearl took his team on a similar trip to Italy in the summer.

Pearl and the Tigers arrived in Israel Sunday for a 10-day visit. “Auburn is going to allow us to go take my kids to Israel and experience something that could be a once-in-a lifetime thing for them,” said Pearl. “I’m just so grateful.”

He said that he sees great potential for U.S. teams holding sports and cultural experiences in Israel. “My hope is to put Israel on the map for U.S. college teams. Auburn is going to get it started, and hopefully, you’re going to see schools like Duke, Notre Dame or Ohio State—the best names in college basketball—come to Israel. This is my goal and dream, and we are going to try and make it a reality.”

He also said that he hopes the trip will influence his players to return home as allies of Israel.

“Our kids also come from a perspective culturally and educationally that they will return to the U.S. as allies and friends of the State of Israel, and certainly for some of my players, the dream would be for them to be able to come back and play professionally in Israel because it is such a great country to play professionally because of the supportive fans,” said their coach.

Photo by Howard Blas.

‘Try to play some competition’

The Tigers will travel to Hadar-Yosef Stadium in North Tel Aviv, part of the sports center of the same name, to play against Israel’s All-Star Select Team on Aug. 7. The team’s final game will take place against Israel’s National Team on Aug. 8 at Tel Aviv Yafo Sport Palaces. Games will feature four quarters, as opposed to two halves, with a 24-second shot clock.

“One of the things our guys are going to find out in a hurry is they love their basketball in Israel and they’re good,” said Pearl. “A lot of times, you go on these summer tours and you do the best you can to try to play some competition, and there just flat-out isn’t any competition over there. We’re going to get all we want.”

The Auburn team features players from this past season, including Wendell Green Jr.; Zep Jasper; K.D. Johnson; Allen Flanigan; Chris Moore; Jaylin Williams; Babatunde Akingbola; and Dylan Cardwell. New players include freshmen Tre Donaldson; Yohan Traore; and Chance Westry; as well as Johni Broome, a transfer from Morehead State University.

All games are televised live from Israel by the SEC Network at 12 p.m. U.S. Central Standard Time. “We couldn’t be more honored to be able to go with Auburn and Bruce Pearl and his staff for this once-in-a-lifetime trip,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas. “We’re thrilled beyond words.”

Bilas will call Auburn’s games on SEC Network alongside Roxy Bernstein, an American sportscaster for ESPN, the Pac-12 Network and the Oakland Athletics.

In Tuesday night’s game, Auburn never lost the lead. They led at the half 57-22 and went on to blow out the home team 117-56. Players and coaches seem more concerned with good feelings and the symbolism of the trip than the final outcome. Players huddled, embraced, posed for group pictures and then went to greet fans, pose for selfies and sign autographs. Pearl received a big welcome and put on a white yarmulke as the crowd chanted his Hebrew name, Mordechai.

“We’re going to share this trip together—see things for the first time that we’re never ever going to forget,” he said. “That’s what makes it so special, and that’s what will give us a chance to be able to come together and get to know each other better.”

“The greatest way to understand Israel and the amazing place it has become,” he affirmed, “is to see it for yourself.”

“We came to support Auburn for coming to Israel,” said Emily Farbowitz of New Jersey. Photo by Howard Blas.
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Original article published in the Jerusalem Post

Despite his current success in the music business, it would be incorrect to assume that everything Shapiro touches immediately turns to gold.

The late Bill Graham may be considered the greatest American Jewish rock music promoter but upstart Peter Shapiro could be close at his heels.

The publisher of longtime jam band magazine Relix Magazine is also owner of multiple music venues throughout the United States, organizer of the jam band LockN music festival and the promoter of literally 10,000 shows.

He’s also the mastermind and miracle worker who reunited the surviving members of The Grateful Dead for five concerts in 2015 to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary.

Shapiro’s long, strange trip is detailed in The Music Never Stops: What Putting on 10,000 Shows Has Taught About Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Magic, released this week.

Peter Shapiro’s new book (credit: PETER SHAPIRO)

Shapiro, a young and active 50 year old, nearly lost it all many times, including the time in his mid-twenties, when as a young promoter, he had to part with 10% of his bank account in 1997 to pay Marty Balin, founding member of the Jefferson Airplane, his guaranteed fee.

Each of the relatively short 50 chapters feature a title (such as Black Lily, Soldier Field Part I, Green Apples), a concert, a venue and a show date. The legendary concert promoter and all around mensch, regales readers with entertaining and informative stories and anecdotes of celebrities, music venues, concerts and music festivals he has planned and executed.

I was delighted to relive three memorable concerts I personally attended: Greateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Friends at the Cap, LockN, and Lesh and the Dead’s Bob Weir at Radio City Music Hall, in 2018. Shapiro name drops on every page, but not to show off – he really has meaningful, caring relationships with so many people from all walks of life. Shapiro forms genuine relationships with just about everyone he meets, including disparate figures from Robert Plant and Peter Fonda to Jimmy Fallon.

The Manhattan Upper East Side resident recounts his formative years, which encompass a myriad of non-music interests. He covered play-by-play for high school basketball, interned at the short lived National Sports Daily tabloid and, while a student at Northwestern University, produced a film about Deadheads, which included an interview about Acid Tests icon, Ken Kesey. The film premiered at Sundance.

Shapiro went on to make additional films for the NFL, produced U2 3D and the IMAX concert film All Access: Front Row Backstage Live, and created the Jammy Awards. He also put on massive Earth Day Celebrations and almost produced John Kerry’s Presidential Inaugural Celebration in January, 2005 – though it was eventually called off on account of Kerry never actually being elected president.

SHAPIRO’S MUSIC lessons to date come from years on the ground, including owning and running Wetlands in NYC in his mid-20s, founding and owning the Brooklyn Bowl – the famous music venue with music, bowling and food experiences in Brooklyn – and the entire franchise which now includes locations in Nashville, Philadelphia and Las Vegas – and regularly packing his Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY night after night with the likes of Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan and of course, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, who regularly performs a residency there.

“To those who want to work in the concert business, treat any task that is presented to you as a career opportunity, no matter how minor it may seem. If you do the job right and people enjoyed working with you, it increases the odds that you’ll get another chance,” writes Shapiro the book, written with Relix editor, Dean Budnick.

Shapiro is never content to simply admire his successes and stay put. He is always on the move. He expanded the 1,800 seat Capitol Theater to also house Garcia’s, a lobby bar in honor of the late Grateful Dead guitarist and singer, who considered the rock palace to be one of his favorite venues in the country. In recent years, Shapiro added the very clever Rock and Roll Playhouse to Garcia’s offerings. The family concert series is a place where parents can introduce their kids to the Grateful Dead for Kids, as well as Phish, Beatles, Queen, Dave Matthews and Bob Marley – all for kids.

Despite his frenetic schedule, which has literally involved flying back from a Hawaiian family vacation for a day to be at a show, Shapiro often serves on boards or takes leadership roles – lessons he learned at home from his family. He has helped produce Earth Day, the Climate Rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and he is actively involved in Head Count and Central Park Summer Stage.

Shapiro no doubt learned a thing or two about chessed (kindness) and tikkun olam from his father, Daniel Shapiro, who he mentions in the book, and from his grandfather, Ezra Shapiro. Daniel Shapiro was president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (forerunner of the UJA-Federation of New York) in the early 80s. He also offered legal counsel and helped Peter out of countless jams while operating Wetland. His grandfather, Ezra, was once world chairperson of Keren Hayesod.

One additional family fun fact: Peter is the great-grandnephew of Joel Elias Spingarn, an early leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Shapiro casually and unselfconsciously makes use of Jewish terms and references throughout the book. He mentions bar mitzvahs taking place at the Capitol Theater and writes of the Brooklyn Bowl, “When Prince died on a Thursday, we hosted a shiva that night with Questlove spinning.” He uses this vignette to illustrate the importance of quickly changing course when necessary. “Since we’re open seven nights a week, we also have the ability to pivot and program quickly.”

While most music fans are impressed and even in awe of Shapiro’s ability to work his magic to pull off the seemingly supernatural, like reuniting the members of the Grateful Dead. But some fans and even members of the legendary Grateful Dead have gone so far as to suggest that Shapiro actually has supernatural powers.

He opens the book, “Fans of legendary music business figure Peter Shapiro are still debating his role in the legendary rainbow, which appeared over Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California at the Fare The Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead, on June 27, 2015.One reviewer suggested that Shapiro himself had ponied up $50,000 (NIS 169,000) to make the rainbow appear. Even Mickey Hart, the Jewish drummer of the Grateful Dead, emailed Shapiro to ask, “How did you do that rainbow trick? I won’t reveal your power.”

Let’s hope Shapiro continues to use his special powers to produce more tricks and teach more valuable life lessons.

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