Mr. Dorf’s Oy!Hoo

Michael Dorf has produced the New York Jazz Festival for a dozen years, opened Knitting Factory clubs on both coasts and helped redevelop lower Manhattan. Right now, though, it’s all about Jewish music.

Dorf organized the New York Jewish Music & Heritage Festival in 2004 to celebrate September 12th, the 350th anniversary of the first arrival of Jewish people on U.S. soil. He threw together similar events at the Knitting Factory but nothing on this scale. Now, the festival draws about 25,000, makes use of more than 15 locations, and brings in talent from across the world.

“Since leaving the Knitting Factory in 2002, I’ve been working to build a new venue in lower Manhattan, and it’s taking a lot longer than I thought to raise all the money. But when I do it, it will be a phenomenal facility,” Dorf told Pollstar. “In the meantime, I’ve been a promoter in between venues and having a lot of fun with this.”

This year’s festival is slated for September 10-17 and includes performances by Moshav Band, Majestic Void, the Kol Nidre String Ensemble and a showcase of Israeli and Palestinian hip-hop.

Venues include the Crobar, S.O.B.’S, Merkin Concert Hall and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Composer Steve Reich will be honored at the Jewish Music Awards September 11th.

The performances include everything from Klezmer to torch music.

“I used to do the What Is Jazz Festival against George Wein’s JVC (Festival) because I found there’s so much debate about what the definition of jazz was,” Dorf said. “On some level, this festival is raising the same question: ‘What is Jewish music?’ All it does is ask the question. I don’t have an answer to that.”

This year, the festival has added the Sidney Krum Conference September 12-13 at the museum, including panels on stereotypes, philanthropy and “Making Torah Hip” – followed by “Schmoozing Cocktails.”

“We also created during the festival something called Klez For Kids, which was this series we did in a downtown Hebrew school, after school, with some of the older Klezmer musicians,” Dorf said. “We had them come in and do a kid series and that was very popular.”

Matisyahu, the Hasidic reggae star, played the festival in 2004 and 2005, but cannot be there this year because of scheduling conflicts, Dorf said. The event culminates in Jewsapalooza, which takes place in two locations September 17th and features artists from around the globe.

The week’s worth of shows can draw anyone from teenagers for the hip-hop showcase to the retired set for the Klezmer performances.

“There are so many Jews who are very much disconnected; they’re not religious and, like myself, don’t have a great draw to participate in the worship side of Judaism,” the promoter said.

“There’s a million of us or more where, if you get us in a setting where we can see Matisyahu or have some other artist, we’ll have a little higher degree of connection that is unique and meaningful.”

– Joe Reinartz