The Blues come to Sderot

There is, unfortunately, plenty to be blue about down south. The communities of the Gaza perimeter have been subjected to all kinds of hostilities from across the border, while Sderot has had its fair share – and then some – of disruptions to “normal” everyday life. 

But now the blues, of the musical variety, are coming to town with the Sderot Blues and Beer Festival, which will take place over July 25-26. It is, of course, hoped that the inaugural free edition will become an annual event, and a fixture on the national musical calendar. But only time will tell.

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Yamit Hagar of Nobody’s Fault Productions, who doubles as producer and artistic director, has put together an impressively varied lineup of artists and acts. Almost all the bands are Israeli, and there is one “import,” and he hails straight from the art form’s birthplace. The gent in question is a certain guitarist-vocalist by the name of Anthony Sherrod, aka Big A.

That quite a scoop for Hagar, for the festival’s debut. Sherrod comes from Clarksdale, Mississippi, at the heart of the Delta, the cradle of the blues. He comes from good musical “stock,” as the son of a gospel singing father. He also got an early start to his musical road, first picking up the guitar at the tender age of six. The two have been bosom pals ever since, with Sherrod adding bass, drums and keyboards to his instrumental arsenal.

Sherrod may have initially had to learn his own way around the guitar, but his musicianship, and appreciation of life, took an incremental step in the right direction when he came under tutelage of a Johnnie Billington. Billington was a local blues educator who had paid his dues, as the son of a sharecropper and a farm worker himself, and had spent a few years in Chicago, the so-called “blues capital of the north.”

Billington was a tough character who made sure his musical charges not only learned the ins and outs of the blues, they also learned a thing or two about life, and taking responsibility for their actions. The youngster took those lessons fully on board, and now does his own bit by sharing his accrued professional and street wisdom with budding blues musicians.

In addition to Sherrod’s gig at the blues festival, along with sidemen bassist Yehu Yaron and drummer and Aviv Barak, at 9:30 p.m. on July 26, the two-day program includes an outdoor screening of the celebratory blues documentary We Juke Up in Here!, which will take place on Wednesday at 10 p.m. The screening will be attended by Sherrod and by the director Rodger Stolle. The movie will offer Israeli blues fans a glimpse of what is termed “the Delta’s chaotic juke joint underworld”, including some of the stalwarts of the Deep South blues scene, such as Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Hezekiah Early and Big George Brock, and Sherrod himself.

The eclectic festival program also takes in shows by acclaimed Mediterranean groove vocalist Shai Tsabari, veteran indisputably hirsute guitarist Uzi Ramirez, and New York-born electric guitarist-vocalist Lazer Lloyd.

Other acts to look out for, across the free two-day agenda, include David Peretz, who will play a solo acoustic set, veteran bluesman Mickey Shaviv and US-born harmonica player Dov Hammer. Hagar has also culled a slew of intriguing local artists for the occasion, including guitarist Yaron Ben-Ami, with his acoustic In the Land of Canaan show, indie-folk act Uri Ronen and the Folk Stoners, Chen and Grisha with their repertoire of southern blues, and the Noya Soul Duo who will proffer a fame take on blues numbers from the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, the seven-piece Ohana Brass Band will salute the time-honored tradition of New Orleans marching bands.

Elsewhere on the program, there are several jam session slots, blues record DJ sessions with veteran radio rock show presenter Ronnie Wertheimer and a rock concert courtesy of Rotem Levy and the Nails.

Add to that a dance workshop, a gig with Sderot alternative blues band Amit Forez and the Rabbits, and a kiddies’ blues harmonica workshop with the aforementioned Dov Hammer, there is plenty to head over to Sderot for next week. Here’s hoping all goes well, and the festival, indeed, becomes a fixture.

For more information: and https://www.sderotbluesfest/