music

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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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

New York’s ‘Bowl Hashanah’ melds the concert and synagogue experience into a new community

NEW YORK – For far too many Jews, Rosh Hashanah elicits less than fond memories of endless prayer services led by a cantor, a sermon by an often uninspiring rabbi and a cavernous synagogue. Thanks to some innovative rabbis and musicians, a decidedly unorthodox way of marking the Jewish New Year has taken hold in the New York area. Welcome to Bowl Hashanah.

The spiritual celebration, which is taking place on the first day of Rosh Hashanah at New York’s famed Brooklyn Bowl music venue and bowling alley, is entering its seventh year of providing a musical experience that features some of the better-known traditional prayers alongside accessible explanations and meditations. The holiday experience will also include Torah reading, shofar blowing, tashlich and a communal vegetarian meal.

The true magic is in the music, with carefully selected and coordinated musical sets throughout the morning and during lunch. The mainstays of the event are the organization Because Jewish and Relix Magazine, long associated with the Grateful Dead and the jam band scene.

The event is being led by Rabbi Daniel Brenner and musical director and trumpeter Jordan McLean of the musical group Antibalas.

“I’ve always loved my suburban synagogue, and still attend services there,” said Mike Greenhaus, editor of Relix Magazine, as he recounted Bowl Hashanah’s evolution. In 2012, he and his then-girlfriend (now wife) were looking for something a little closer to home in New York City. As they were exploring options, they came across Rabbi Dan Ain, who was leading services for the first time at 92YTribeca, a now-closed Manhattan performance space and community center.

“He was leading with Jeremiah Lockwood, who I was already a fan of through his band the Sway Machinery, and his work with the members of Antibalas,” Greenhaus recounted. “We went to his Erev Rosh Hashanah service and were immediately stuck by both their mix of authentic, traditional holiday prayer and modern, equally authentic music, and how the entire service felt tied to our daily lives as 20/30-something New Yorkers working in media and music. It felt, for, the first time, that we had found our spiritual congregation.”

After a few years at 92Y, the Rosh Hashanah experience moved in 2015 to what Greenhaus described as “the perfect venue” – Brooklyn Bowl.

“I know that I wasn’t the only one could really feel that they were having a proudly religious experience alongside the close-knit music community that has been part of my New York family for decades,” Greenhaus said. “Interestingly, everyone also seemed to assume the nooks and crannies they felt comfortable with at a concert. People who like to ride the rail were seated up front. People who like to hover in the back by the bar were huddled in the same place. People who usually watch in the bowling lanes congregated in that space.

“Brooklyn Bowl always felt more like a club house – a gathering place, much like a church or synagogue – than a traditional venue,” he added.

Greenhaus stressed that the expansion of the event couldn’t have succeeded without the involvement of the Brooklyn Bowl’s owner Peter Shapiro, a legend- like figure in the Grateful Dead world who has been instrumental in the career of the post-Dead configuration Dead & Company.

Shapiro, who grew up at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, was raised with deep connections to the Jewish community. His father, Daniel, was president of New York’s Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and a founder of the Jewish Community Relations Council. His grandfather, Ezra, was a leader in Zionist organizations for more than 50 years: he served as world chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and was one of 19 American Jews summoned by David Ben-Gurion in 1945 to organize American support for the Hagana. He eventually made aliyah.

Shapiro has long noticed that “these venues, and in particular the Brooklyn Bowl, are places of worship… very spiritual places.” He recalls his experience at Wetlands, the Manhattan nightclub he purchased in 1996. “In 48 hours at Wetlands, you would see different- looking people, all looking for the same thing, but going about it in a different way.”

Shapiro felt the Brooklyn Bowl would be the perfect venue for Bowl Hashanah.

“It had the space and layout – the stage is like a bimah,” Shapiro said. “The specs of the Brooklyn Bowl are of at the highest level of audio – the wood has been acoustically treated – and it has been good for people like Robert Plant and Adele.”

The venue is also used for such Jewish-themed events as the Friday Night Jam speaking series, which discusses the connection between music and spirituality across styles and religious backgrounds.

Ain, who relocated to San Francisco in 2018, and now serves as rabbi of a Congregation Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue in the Richmond District, recounts the history of the Bowl Hashanah prayer experience. He praises his longtime collaborator at Bowl Hashanah, Jeremiah Lockwood, the front man for The Sway Machinery.

“I was looking for a different type of prayer leader for my downtown services, one who could speak to a new generation while at the same time, recall an older experience that many of us who grew up in the latter part of the 20th century never truly got to experience or appreciate,” Ain said. “I prayed for such a person – who could combine the new and the old – and who had the chops to do both. That’s when Jeremiah and I met. And we’ve worked together every year since.”

Rabbi Daniel Brenner, who will lead this year’s High Holiday services with Antibalas cofounder Jordan McLean, reports that he will “frame the experience, tell stories about the history of the music, and let the music be a vehicle for us spiritually—to let the music evoke emotions.”

Brenner views Bowl HaShanah “not as much a service as a celebration of the holiday,” though, he adds, “that is not to say I won’t open up the door to connection with the Divine and the cosmic.”

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

How Shabbat-observant music lovers grooved at the Lockn’ Festival in rural America

BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, Virginia – When the biblical Abraham and Sarah opened up their tent and welcomed everyone to come in, they had no idea they would be setting a precedent that would be replayed last week at the four-day Lockn’ Festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

A “hippie” jam-band Americana gathering held annually since 2013 and attended by some 30,000 music lovers, Lockn’ has featured headliners such as Phish, Dead and Co, Tom Petty, Robert Plant and Carlos Santana. The festival strives to blend world-class music, promote local vendors and encourage community engagement.

For an observant Jew, attending a music festival over Shabbat poses many potential logistical challenges: It is not permitted to light fires, make any purchases or carry in a public place. There is no kosher food on site, and many would question the permissibility of attending a concert at all on the Sabbath – even if tickets are purchased in advance and one need only show a wrist band to get in.

Enter Rabbi Yehoshua Eliovson and 25 members of his JamShalom and Shabbat Tent organizations.

Shu, an IT professional with Orthodox rabbinic ordination, has been friends with festival organizer Peter Shapiro for many years. JamShalom received special permission to arrive at Lockn’ on Wednesday to begin setting up its “Shabbat Tent.”

The tent makes it possible for observant Jews to keep Shabbat while also attending a music festival, and it serves as a source of outreach and support for concertgoers.

The American-born Shu, who has lived in Israel since 2004, drove down from New York with two of his children, ages 17 and 23, in vehicles loaded with camping gear, banners, tapestries, rugs and Shabbat food donated by Grow & Behold. They set up the communal tent to be used for prayers and meals, but it was destroyed in a torrential rain storm. After purchasing a new big tent, the crew was on their way to again building a Shabbat camp.

It rained again most of Friday. Three hours before the start of Shabbat, the rain stopped and the sky cleared. Two guys with deep connections to music and traditional Judaism, Yehuda and Motti Shur, heated food for Shabbat dinner over a camping stove and warmers. They grew up in a Shabbat-observant home with a music-loving father, Rabbi Moshe Shur, the longtime director of Queens College Hillel. The elder Shur once lived on a California commune led by Wavy Gravy, jammed with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, played in the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and presented at Blues for Challah: A Grateful Dead Shabbaton.

TWO YOUNG shirtless men were on ladders around the campsite, anchoring wood poles and tying string to the tops as part of the eruv that would enable observant Jews to carry on Shabbat. Shu, meanwhile, entertained questions from curious Jewish and non-Jewish fellow campers. “We don’t roll on Shabbat,” Shu tells a 40-something couple, explaining, “We only carry within the private domain within our campsite.”

He then shared, “My rebbe is Trey [Anastasio, lead singer of Phish], and his rebbe is Derek Trucks, and both will be performing tonight. We are excited!” 

Leib Meadvin, a Philadelphia area artist and math teacher with a long beard who just came from the for-pay shower house, is dressed in dark slacks, a white button-down shirt and Crocs. The hassid, clearly the oldest member of the group, has a long and distinguished history of following the Grateful Dead and attending concerts. He proudly shows off his tallit and tefillin bag with his Hebrew name and Grateful Dead logo.

Unlike most members of the group who feel comfortable walking to the concert venue on Shabbat (and who are able to enter without scanning their wrist band if they say they are with JamShalom), Leib and his son will not hear live music until after the Havdalah prayer on Saturday night when the Tedeschi Trucks Band will be joined by Trey Anastasio.

Shabbat starts with most still wearing shorts and tie-dyed shirts. Shu shares words of Torah, leads an extended Kabbalat Shabbat with Lecha Dodi sung to the tune of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.” After Kiddush and Hamotzi (the blessings over wine and bread) and after dinner is served, the eclectic group sits in a circle on chairs and carpets.

Lisa, a young woman from Louisville, Kentucky, who lives in Brooklyn, tells about her cannabis edibles business, explaining how she carefully doses each of the three layers of her signature cakes.

“If you feel comfortable eating in my house, you will feel comfortable with the kashrut of my edibles!” Lisa came to Lockn’ and the JamShalom “to cultivate community.” She observes, “We are one big festival family. THIS is our family within a family.” 

There are several Israelis in the group. Two hesder yeshiva students whose families made aliyah from the United States five years ago are here, prior to enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces.

Racheli, who grew up in a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family in Lakewood, New Jersey, and who works in special education in Israel, is here for the shows, and for the “the Rabbi Shu experience.” She is also here for “the people, the tapestries, the kitchen full of food, and the heady jams!”  

ONE OF Shu’s daughters just completed her service in the IDF. She and Shu will continue on to Colorado to see some Phish shows before traveling in India.

Dinner is quick. Most dash off to the venue to catch the Trey Anastasio Band with Derek Trucks. Even more music awaits at another venue, Garcia’s Forest, with a set starting at 12:30 a.m. More prayers, Shabbat food and music will follow Saturday, late morning.

Peter Shapiro, the festival founder with deep Jewish ties, loves what he sees. “Whenever I see Shu and the JamShalom crew at a show, it makes me feel better. They are able to bring out and evoke the best of the Judaic spirit and do it in an accessible way that people of all ages and backgrounds can embrace and feel a part of. It is uplifting and a model for showcasing the best that the Jewish religion and its culture and people represent.”

According to Prof. Shaul Magid, distinguished fellow in Jewish studies at Dartmouth College and senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, there is a long history of observant Jews attending concerts and music festivals over Shabbat.

“This Shabbat counterculture thing started with the Rainbow Gathering,” in the early 1970s. “They had a Shabbat tent, an eruv and hevra [community]. It was a place for Jews, and non-Jews and a lot of Grateful Dead stuff, and people returned each year.” He also credits the Havurah movement of the 1970s with empowering Jews to take a “do it yourself” approach to Jewish ritual and observance.

While most Chabad and mainstream Orthodox Jews would likely not attend a music festival over Shabbat, Magid credits the influence of Chabad with the idea that “there is no place a Jew can’t go.” Magid feels that “Jews coming to music festivals through JamShalom represents a certain kind of confidence we American Jews have. We are good. We can go anywhere!”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, author, activist, musician and scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation New York, approaches the question of observant Jews attending music festivals through the lens of a rabbi.

“When a rabbi is asked a question like this, it’s typically easier to say no,” he says. “In truth, the beauty of halacha [Jewish law] is its elasticity. Finding ways for Jewish tradition to allow for a communal experience of music demonstrates the power of tradition to not reject the world but rather cherish it enough to see its worth.”

Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, director of the Jewish Renaissance Project at Penn Hillel, is supportive of Jews who balance Shabbat observance with music festival attendance.

“Observant Jews who attend these music festivals are embodying and enacting the ancient Jewish yearning to celebrate with community during pilgrimage festivals. I think this fusion of old and new is a wonderful manifestation of Rav Kook’s adage, ‘The old shall be made new, and the new shall be made holy.’”

WHILE SOME people who attend music festivals with JamShalom have been Shabbat-observant for many years, some younger participants are newly observant or seeking, and appreciate the guidance and support that JamShalom and the similar Shabbat Tent group offers.

Lara and Cheston Mizel at Lockn’ from Los Angeles run a Shabbat tent described as “an oasis of chill based on Shabbat hospitality, mindfulness and nourishment for the body and soul.”

Cheston Mizel has observed that Jewish twenty- and thirty-somethings who attend music festivals “are looking for something and want to connect. If we don’t do it, others will give answers. We didn’t grow up frum [religious] but found it later. We love festivals and we want to share and do outreach.” 

The Shabbat tent was started in 1999 at a Phish show as a one-time project. Its success prompted organizers to expand to various settings across the country, appearing at festivals such as Bonnaroo, Mountain Jam, Gathering of the Vibes and Fare Thee Well. They have also hosted Passover Sedarim at Coachella (affectionately called “Matzachella”) and most recently hosted nearly 200 people at the July 4th High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California.

“We are listed on the festival website and we are located right near the front door!” reports Mizel proudly.

Shu is also there to meet the diverse, unique needs of young Jews. He put up his first JamShalom flag at the Super Bowl in 2011 and at a Nassau County Coliseum concert in 2012, where he recounts, “We grilled with our hevra. It was chill. Then, Pete [Shapiro] invited us to Lockn.” 

Shu finds young Jews “in their best moments spiritually, when they are at music festivals. We put up a tent at a crossroads of where Jewish kids are. We at JamShalom create connections where they are.” 

In Israel, Shu works for Deloitte, where he is a service leader for strategic storytelling and fundraising readiness. He has also continued to consider ways he might help youth in both Israel and America. “I love music and realized kids were in the fields,” he says.

Through JamShalom, and a new venture called the Negev Farmhouse (named after a Phish song and album), Shu and his wife say they are striving to meet the needs of Jewish young adults. “I have the largest congregation of millennials in the world. They call me 24/7.” 

The Negev Farmhouse “provides an authentic space for young Jews (18-32) to discover and celebrate their personal relationship with Judaism within a community of like-minded friends.”

Shu finds millennials who don’t come from observant backgrounds are discovering Shabbat and observance through JamShalom. “They say, ‘I love JamShalom and PhishShalom and doing Shabbat at shows. Can’t we do Shabbat without the concert?’” He points out that, of course, Shabbat comes every week and can be meaningful in all locations.But a Lockn’ Shabbat – with 12 hours a day of live jam band music for four days – only comes once a year.

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Original Article in Jerusalem Post

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history.

NEW YORK – The packed crowd at the Mercury Lounge on Manhattan’s Lower East Side last week was witnessing a rare feat – the New York debut of a band that formed in 1967.

Ace of Cups, the all-female San Francisco rock band from the heady Summer of Love, who shared stages with the Grateful Dead, The Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and opened for Jimi Hendrix at a free concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, might have been one of the only hippie bands of the era who didn’t nab a recording contract and become stars.

However, a half-century later, with it members now grandmas and hovering around the 70-year-old mark, the band with four of the original five Aces – Denise Kaufman (vocals, bass, harmonica), Mary Gannon (vocals, ukulele, bass), Mary Ellen Simpson (vocals, lead guitar), and Diane Vitalich (vocals, drums) – were rocking the crowd and enjoying the accolades.

Their debut album released late last year, and featuring contemporaries like Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), David Freiberg (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Barry Melton (Country Joe & The Fish), Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Moonalice), David Grisman, Steve Kimock (Zero, RatDog), Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Taj Mahal and Buffy Sainte-Marie, has won them the full-fledged recognition that evaded them the first time around, as well as a sense of vindication and jubilation.

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history – from the Stock Market Crash of 1929, to the early and late 60’s Bay Area scene.  

Raised in northern California, Kaufman played piano, guitar and wrote songs from an early age. At her high-school graduation in Palo Alto, Jerry Garcia, the famed lead singer and guitarist of the Grateful Dead, played at the after party. She traveled on Ken Kesey’s bus as part of the Merry Pranksters (when LSD was available in vats of Kool-Aid), and was chronicled as Mary Microgram in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Kaufman attended Lowell All-City School in San Francisco for the first two years of high school, joining her first picket line in San Francisco at age 14. She then transferred to the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, “the same school Grace Slick had previously attended.”

The legends of the up-and-coming 60’s music scene were very accessible. When Kaufman graduated high school in 1964, she arranged to rent Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach, San Francisco. “I had to find a band, and hired my favorite local band, The Zodiacs, which included Pigpen [Ron McKernan] and Jerry [Garcia]!”

After taking summer school classes at Stanford, Kaufman started her studies at UC Berkley, intending to study political science and theater. 

“It was always my vision. Kennedy had been shot. I was in Youth for Kennedy. I studied Latin American studies and Shakespeare.”

Berkeley was emerging as a center of activism and protests. 

“Outside of Sprout Hall, every political perspective was represented by the card tables full of brochures and people on soapboxes. There was a sense of ‘We can do this! We can change the world. We have to!’ I was in heaven there!”  

Kaufman vividly recalls that, within a few weeks of arriving at Berkeley, the campus police removed all the tables and told the organizations that they could no longer operate in any way on the campus. 

“This started the Free Speech Movement,” she continued. “From the first day, I was one of the students ready to fight this battle. Within two months, 700 of us got arrested and our free speech rights were eventually upheld.”

As the counterculture unfolded with its twin flags of music and drugs, Kaufman indulged in both. She describes her involvement with LSD as having “a deeply life-altering effect – there were no words to talk about it.” Even though it wasn’t yet illegal, she recalled that she met resistance at home. “My parents were terrified,” she said, adding that she was one of the youngest involved in Kesey’s escapades, along with the Dead’s Weir and Mountain Girl, Kesey’s girlfriend who would go on to become Jerry Garcia’s wife.

Kaufman always felt she was embodying the Jewish values and that they were always a part of the Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco 1960’s scene. “It was all so intertwined.”  

She notes the involvement of so many of her peers in various civil rights, social justice and spirituality causes and movements.

After meeting the other women in Haight-Ashbury in early 1967, Kaufman and Ace of Cups became integral components of the live music scene in the Bay Area. She was romantically linked to both Paul Simon and to Rolling Stone-founder Jann Wenner.

However, at the same time as compatriots like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were catching national attention fronting male-dominated bands and receiving record contracts, Ace of Cups were facing challenges. 

“The record label guys that were coming up from LA didn’t know what to do with us. I don’t think we fit in with what they wanted,” said Kaufman. 

They stuck it out without a recording contract for another few years, but by 1972, the band was finished and music made way for motherhood, family responsibilities, “day jobs,” and for Kaufman, life in such exotic places as Kauai, Hawaii.

But nearly 35 years after performing with Jimi Hendrix, the band had an important break – in 2003, it released “It’s Bad for You But Buy It!,” a well-received CD of 1960s “rehearsals, demos, TV soundstage recordings, and in-concert tapes.” 

In 2008, a DVD of their performances from the 1968 television program West Pole was released. 

An even bigger break came on May 14, 2011 when the band reformed and performed at Wavy Gravy’s 75th birthday party and a SEVA Foundation benefit. George Baer Wallace, founder of High Moon Records – in attendance at the Mercury Lounge show – was moved by their performance and offered them a recording contract.

Once again in the limelight, their schedule has been demanding and fun-filled. Before their Mercury Lounge show, the band members appeared onstage with Sirius FM radio host Gary Lambert, who playfully suggested they receive a Grammy Award for best new artist.

The evening kicked off with a video showing the band’s storied history, and continued with an animated Q and A discussion with music editors and writers from Rolling Stone, Relix and other publications. The band played a full electric set and Patti Smith Band guitarist and rock historian Lenny Kaye joined the band for “The Well.”

The next day, they went to Philadelphia for NPR’s World Cafe, and were out late Wednesday attending a Wailers concert at Brooklyn Bowl. Later in the week, they participated in a Friday Night Jam with Rabbi Daniel Brenner and Relix’s Mike Greenhaus at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall.  

The band proudly reports that they have so much additional material that they’ll release their follow up album next year, featuring contributions from Jackson Browne, Wavy Gravy and others. 

The Grateful Dead may have written the line, but it most accurately applies to Ace of Cups – “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

A JEWISH JOURNEY

Denise Kaufman’s parents were “deeply involved” in Jewish causes. “People always came to our home for dinner – from Brandeis, Hadassah, Federation – causes related to Israel.”

She has photos of her parents with both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan from fund-raising trips they took to America, and she traveled to Israel – once with her parents, and once with a boyfriend in 1980. Her parents even owned an apartment in Netanya.

“They always gave it to their friends to stay in order to have a more local experience of Israel,” she says.

Kaufman mostly raised her now-adult daughter, Tora, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where she cofounded a school (The Island School), arranged Seders (“We had 120 for a seder in 1983!”), served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Hawaii, and hosted Entebbe mission physician Ilan Kutz.

Kaufman speaks fondly of the Friedmans, Israeli friends she met on Kauai in 1980. “Their daughter and her family now have an organic a farm next to ours.”

In 1980, Kaufman and her boyfriend spent a few months in Israel, which she recalls affectionately. They played Hawaiian music (on the dulcimer and guitar), and appeared on the Israeli TV program, Kitoret, with Yaron London. They played at Jerusalem’s Tzavta Theater, surfed in Yamit (“We bought a little car”), surfed and camped in Dahab, in the Sinai.

“One of the most amazing musical experiences of my life happened under the stars in Dahab. We started playing music in the desert night – there were no lights and we couldn’t see anyone, but people in the dunes around us began to join us in song. We sang with an unknown choir almost till dawn.”

Kaufman continues to be actively involved in Jewish life. She speaks fondly of Rabbi Mordecai Finley, her rabbi at Ohr HaTorah in Los Angeles, where she currently spends most of her time. She plays bass there every Shabbat and holiday when she is in town. Kaufman notes that this was also Leonard Cohen’s shul.

In Los Angeles, when she’s not rocking with the Ace of Cups, Kaufman is a private yoga teacher and has worked with Madonna, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, and former basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


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