Yiddishkeit in the Rockies: KlezKolorado’s Inaugural Festival

Written by Shlomit Ovadia of JCC Denver

KlezKolorado is gearing up for their first-ever weekend-long music festival celebrating Yiddishkeit culture, and you’re invited! Immerse yourself in the spirited world of Eastern European music, rhythms, and dance, all against the backdrop of Colorado’s scenic nature at JCC Ranch Camp. Whether you’re new to the scene or a regular, Jewish or not, this inspiring combination of art, nature, and shared experience of Klezmer and Balkan musical traditions is sure to be one for the books. 

“It’s going to be a pretty amazing weekend where people can learn about this whole other side of Jewish music, although you don’t need to be Jewish to attend,” shares KlezKolorado Volunteer Committee Director Ben Sweet. “The actual experience itself is unique. You don’t often get the chance to be part of a fun, community festival in a camp-style setting.” 

The genre is steeped in Jewish history, having emerged in parts of the European diaspora in the 15th century before making its way to the United States in the late 19th century, where it served as a celebratory expression of art for marginalized Jewish communities in the Catskills. Along the way, Klezmer also absorbed influences of other musical styles like jazz and swing, while retaining its distinctive and enduring Jewish flavor. 

“There is a spirit in music that connects us in a way that other things don’t,” JCC CEO Mike Sophir adds. His hope is for KlezKolorado to build understanding and tolerance among communities and appreciate every walk of life and age that joins in on the fun. 

Between puppet workshops, labor movement history, Yiddish dancing, queer talent, and a plethora of Klezmer artists converging from across the country, KlezKolorado not only promises a good time for music aficionados but invites folks of all backgrounds to immerse in the tapestry of tunes, history, and culture that comprises this multi-faceted niche of Jewish expression. 

Ben’s volunteer committee team of four—along with JCC Denver staff— have been working for the past year and a half to create KlezKolorado, having fundraised the entire operation into existence with the aid of JCC Denver’s program ownership. 

“Knowing the music of the diaspora has been personally meaningful for me. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate it,” Ben explains of the family-friendly nature getaway that includes a welcoming Shabbat experience Friday night with a stellar artist lineup. Saturday night will feature top bangers from the developing genre of Klezmer house music. 

People are welcome to stay in cabins onsite or camp out in tents for a more rustic experience.  

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Alice Hansen of FestoFesto house band, GoraGora Orkestar, is also excited to be joining KlezKolorado’s festivities this May. Having grown up in Montana without much of a Jewish community, Alice found her connection to the tribe through Klezmer and Balkan music. 

“When I first started playing, it was a really emotional experience. Music has been my path to understanding my own history and culture as a Jewish person,” she shares.  

Alice has been playing the Klezmer trumpet for nearly 15 years now.  

“Trumpet in Klezmer is often used more collaboratively with other instruments, accompany vocalists, and back up higher voice instruments, as the sound is based on a different structure of notes,” she explains. 

For those interested in learning more about these mechanics, Alice and fellow GoraGora bandmember Phan will be hosting a Beginner Ensemble workshop Sunday morning at the festival. 

For those wanting to learn more about the genre’s history and evolution, Alice will also be hosting a Klez 101 workshop Saturday morning. 

“When I think of the Klezmer music community in Denver, I really think of inclusivity. It’s an open and accepting culture and community. Even for someone who hasn’t listened to Klezmer before, there is so much tangible joy and passion in this energizing type of music that has also been used in political movements and activism. There is a little something for everyone.” 

Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind experience May 17 – 19 for all ages including families. Get your tickets today and save on pricing.