Athens has a strong artistic identity; music exported from the Classic City has a sonic stamp all its own. But every now and then, an outside tradition exposes residents to a new sound altogether.
That’s the case with Klezmer Local 42, an Athens-based band playing traditional Jewish music that has been playing around town since 2009. Led by Dan Horowitz of long-running rockers Five Eight and featuring a list of ace local musicians, Klezmer Local 42 is gearing up to celebrate the release of the band’s latest album, Fear of a Yiddish Planet, with a release show that will showcase the expressive music in an intimate but familiar setting.
While the group’s first collection of songs was recorded in a kitchen and was “very homespun and lo-fi,” Horowitz says, the new release is its first fully-fledged studio recording. Still, he adds, the album is “lo-fi according to most standards.”
According to Horowitz, Fear of a Yiddish Planet was recorded live in one day under “freewheeling, improvisational” conditions. Because of its somewhat experimental character, Horowitz compares the new album to “an old-school jazz record.”
In Five Eight, Horowitz holds down the low end on bass guitar and sings the occasional background vocal; he plays a more central role in Klezmer Local 42. “This is the first band I’ve been in where I’m considered the leader,” he says. “It’s fun and inspiring and a ton of work.”
Although he says his work in Five Eight still satisfies his rock and roll urges (“I never had any interest in being in any other rock band,” he says.), Horowitz, who grew up in a Jewish household, explains that Klezmer music has long been “a strong part” of his identity. In fact, Horowitz says, the impetus for the band was tied to an important personal event.
“When I got married, I wanted a klezmer band for my Jewish wedding, and we had to import one from Atlanta,” he says. “I thought, ‘This isn’t right. We need our own klezmer band. Athens has a million bands, [but] we need someone to play all these weddings and bar mitzvahs and stuff.’”
Horowitz views Klezmer Local 42 as an opportunity to express another side of his musical personality and is happy that he was able to find interested musicians to back him up. Musically, “I always want to expand,” he says, “and in Athens, luckily, there are so many talented people to do that.”
That expansion may have its limits in an indie rock town, but Horowitz says it’s simply a matter of reaching an audience; local crowds respond well to traditional music when they hear it.
“It doesn’t surprise me that people don’t know about klezmer. But I tell everyone, ‘You love klezmer, even if you haven’t heard it yet.’ It seems familiar to them, once they hear it.”
While the band’s touring plans are modest, Horowitz hopes to reach a wider audience by playing more festivals and shows at universities and colleges around the region. In addition to Sunday’s album release show, as well as a number of private events, including several weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, the band will perform at Lyndon House for the Lickskillet Artists Market on Oct. 24.
Despite his passion for klezmer, Horowitz admits audiences often take a moment to adjust to the music, noting that some out-of-town crowds have been a bit reticent to boogie. But locally, he says, it’s easier to connect. “Sometimes it really is like pulling teeth to [get people to] dance. But in Athens, people really respond with their feet and hands.”
WHO: Klezmer Local 42
WHERE: Hendershot’s Coffee Bar
WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5