Emanu-El will Sway with Rosh Hashanah rhythms

What happens when you mix New York–based indie rock with a multimedia Rosh Hashanah service?

The Bay Area Jewish community will soon find out.

This year JDub Records act the Sway Machinery will bring its unique celebration of the Jewish New Year to the West Coast.

Singer-guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood.

The band, fronted by cantorial liturgy–spouting bluesman Jeremiah Lockwood, has performed different versions of its Hidden Melodies Revealed concert to sold-out New York crowds for the past two years.

This year the concert, held 9 p.m. Sept. 19 at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, will be free to attend. Along with live music, there also will be storytelling, animated films and a wine bar.

Emanu-El’s Rabbi Sydney Mintz describes the event as the perfect combination of her two interests — Judaism and alternative music. She was excited to be approached by JDub about the concert, and led a sanctuary tour so the record label owner could get a feel for the expansive synagogue.

Emanu-El can house nearly 1,800 people for the big event — and Mintz is hoping to fill the space to capacity.

She says she often wonders what the many unaffiliated Jews in the Bay Area do on joyous holidays such as Rosh Hashanah. “Are there ways a synagogue can open its door even wider, and provide a different experience?” she asks. “Given the spirit of the holidays, a free concert is such an energetic and creative way to experience Rosh Hashanah.”

What exactly will take place during Hidden Melodies Revealed?

Along with Lockwood on vocals and guitar will be Colin Stetson of the Arcade Fire on bass saxophone, Kelly Pratt of Beirut on trumpet, John Bollinger on drums and Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone.

“Almost all of the music we will be performing is based on traditional High Holy Day nusach or pieces written for Rosh Hashanah specifically,” Lockwood explains, “all of which is given the radical Sway Machinery treatment.”

The Sway Machinery “treatment” includes blending Eastern European folk, modern African sounds and traditional blues with music written by the great cantors of the early 20th century. One such cantor Lockwood references musically is his own grandfather, renowned cantor Jacob Konigsberg.

Lockwood says a theme he’s exploring in this year’s Hidden Melodies Revealed is binding one’s self to one’s ancestors. He pays tribute to those who came before him by incorporating their music into the concert.

Along with the goal of reconnecting to the past, the other underlying objective for the event is to connect with those disinterested in traditional services.

Hidden Melodies Revealed is different from many other Rosh Hashanah services because “the musical experience is given primacy,” Lockwood explains.

“The goal is to enter into the subconscious psychological place that religion and art share,” he says. “I don’t think people should have to live a certain life or believe certain things in order to have access to the riches of Jewish spiritual culture.”

“Hidden Melodies Revealed” will take place 9 p.m. Sept. 19 at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St., S.F. Admission is free with RSVP to info@jdubrecords.org (include “SF HMR” in the subject line, and your full name with the number in your party in the body of the e-mail). For more information on the Sway Machinery, read j.’s previous article: www.jweekly.com/u/35972.