Every June, 2,000 Russian-speakers flock to the Catskill Mountains to participate in a weekend event that many liken to Burning Man, however without the dust and with considerably extra vodka. Based 11 years ago by a collective of Russian Jewish immigrants (specifically the Feldman family, whose patriarch Jay “Gesha” Feldman died in 2016), JetLAG owes much of its artistic spirit to the bounteous imagination of its artistic director, Pavel Lion—recognized extensively within the Russian-speaking diaspora by his stage identify Psoy Korolenko. Together with his wizardly beard and wildly expressive eyes, Korolenko has been a fixture within the international Russian literati and Yiddish music scenes for the past decade, sometimes billed as an “avant-bard & wandering scholar” and carrying an encyclopedic information of cultural references low and high, which frequently appear in his comical songs along with ample multilingual worldplay. By now, it’s protected to think about him JetLAG’s spirit animal.
And what of the identify, JetLAG? Naturally, in true Korolenko trend, it is an understated pun. Korolenko was in Moscow speaking with JetLAG President Vicky Feldman by telephone, he recalled: “We have been experiencing jet lag,” he stated—”time difference. And I was considering, ‘Why don’t we name it one thing ‘camp,’ or moderately something ‘lag,’” lager being the Russian phrase for camp. “And we instantly felt that that is type of a nasty pun, as a result of it addresses gulags and others lags, that are dangerous—however ours is sweet. It’s a type of lag that is filled with love. And the factor is, JetLAG is a symbolic sufficient identify as a result of it’s about overcoming distances, geographical and religious.”
Therefore the JetLAG tagline, a motto for its motley of discerning tastes: “You’ll find what you’re keen on, you’ll love what you discover.”
From its humble beginnings as an offshoot of the East Coast Russian pageant circuit, JetLAG has steadily grown into the most important open-air Russian music gathering in the USA. Its distinctive setup—three distinct and far-flung levels, strategically positioned alongside a mile-long strip of land skirting the Delaware River—lends itself to a unprecedented array of inventive expression.
(Photograph: Ivan Kokoulin)
The pageant most important stage features famend acts from Russia and other former Soviet republics, most notably Leonid Fedorov, frontman of the legendary Russian alt-rock outfit Auktyon and a pageant staple. Then there’s the Spell-Artwork stage, impressed by Korolenko’s trademark phrase and suggestive of all that is transcultural, whimsical, and bewitching: singer-songwriters, poet-bards, and numerous offbeat curiosities (final yr’s Spell-Artwork featured a drag show of 1960s-era Soviet hits; this yr’s featured London-based Yiddish songstress Polina Shepherd and a poetry studying by the Russian author Dmitry Bykov). Finally, there’s PANGEA, which, as its identify suggests, has a little bit of every thing: local indie and people bands, shoegaze, dub, EDM, and a potpourri of different genres.
JetLAG HQ is stationed on the Feldman family, quietly tucked away in the suburbs of New Jersey. I arrived there on a Saturday morning within the midst of pageant preparations, which Vicky (paradoxically?) referred to as a “subbotnik”: a day of obligatory volunteer service that was mandated by the Soviets (not to be confused with the Russian sect of Judaized Christians of the same identify). Here, a dozen teens and 20-somethings have been dutifully plugging away at numerous pageant duties: setting up art installations, arranging for artist hospitality, Skyping with vendors, testing gear—after 11 years of subbotniks, it was a well-oiled machine. “Everyone in our home right now,” stated Alice Feldman, daughter of JetLAG founders Jay and Vicky. “These are individuals which might be unpaid, that aren’t in our household, that out of their own will spend their whole yr engaged on this fest free of charge. Why? Because they came to JetLAG as attendees and decided ‘I need to be part of this.’”
JetLAG was a household affair from its very inception. After Jay’s passing, Vicky took on his position as pageant president—no small feat whereas working full-time to help a household. Luckily, she was by no means missing assist. The pageant enlists the service of 100-plus volunteers every year, the vast majority of whom are immigrants or youngsters of immigrants. “It’s literally raising a village from the ground,” stated Alice. “These youngsters are building this thing for all of their mother and father and grandparents and random different individuals to take pleasure in for one weekend.”
Naturally the volunteers gravitate towards PANGEA. “A lot of the volunteers are youngsters of adults who reside on the other aspect of JetLAG, over by the primary stage,” stated a volunteer named Nikita, a pal of the Feldmans. “But they’re not as desirous about that type of [Russian bard] music, that fashion of conventional tenting. They needed an avenue to precise themselves and be part of something nonetheless within the confines of the Russian group, but totally totally different, completely new.” So PANGEA was established to fill that want.
PANGEA features considerably like a self-contained pageant nested inside JetLAG, attracting millennials, Gen Z, and older Russian burner varieties who prefer the new age aesthetic of tea ceremonies and drum circles to the alcohol-fueled jam periods that erupt closer to the primary stage. While PANGEA caters to festivalgoers who may additionally be psychonauts and lovers of electronica, different islands inside the JetLAG archipelago of affinity teams are more embracing of avtorskaya pesnya, or “author-song”—a music custom that emerged out of the 1960s Soviet bard counterculture (Vladimir Vysotsky being probably the most famous example).
PANGEA is managed by Alice, veritable inheritor to the JetLAG throne, if there’s such a factor. Swathed in colourful material, radiating mystical power and effortless cool, Alice has brushed shoulders with Russian rock royalty from a young age (she and the rest of the Feldman clan accompanied Korolenko to the Grammys earlier this yr, when Yiddish Glory—a collaboration between Korolenko and scholar Anna Shternshis, based mostly on discoveries from Kiev’s Vernadsky library’s Beregovsky archives—acquired a nomination for greatest world music album).
Alice was just 15 when JetLAG was born and grew up alongside the fest, assuming a management position very early on. Based on her, PANGEA’s eclectic lineup is all however intentional. “A lot of the PANGEA bands are non-Russian,” she stated. “Our objective with the PANGEA experiment is to create an open, protected, friendly and totally artistic organism the place individuals can come to JetLAG and have absolutely nothing to do with its historical past, to open their eyes to new experiences.”
Transcending private biases in the spirit of openness and diversity was part of the JetLAG mission from its very onset. “We needed to make this event extra about good music and vibes, which transcend the diasporic, generational, or cultural,” stated Korolenko. “Taste techniques are additionally social strata bias techniques, as a result of music tastes are very a lot markers of who you’re. … JetLAG was created to unite all individuals, not essentially even Russian or immigrant. It felt from the very start as a breakthrough, as some explosion that explodes [cultural] biases, gaps, prejudices, expectations, stigmas.”
Underneath Korolenko’s inclusive ethos, JetLAG turned the only Russian open-air pageant in america to include klezmer and Yiddish acts in its lineup. Thus far, they’ve featured a number of the largest names in modern klezmer and Yiddish music, including Frank London of the Klezmatics, 2015 NEA Heritage Fellow Michael Alpert, Daniel Kahn and the Painted Fowl, and lots of others, drawing a small contingency of Yiddishists yearly. Daniel Kahn, whose Yiddish model of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” went viral in 2017, captured JetLAG audiences two years ago together with his English rendition of songs by Bulat Okudzhava, the beloved Soviet bard of Georgian Armenian ancestry.
(Photograph: Ivan Kokoulin)
JetLAG’s Jewish soul reveals itself in more delicate ways as nicely. In accordance with Korolenko, the Soviet people tradition of avtorskaya pesnya (author-song) did for Soviet Jews what klezmer did for American Jews through the people revival of the 1970s, functioning as a (covert) means of Jewish expression. “Even when not in Yiddish, even if not Jewishly themed, it had some vibe of marginality, of being each vernacular and alien, svoj i chuzhoj, this balancing at the border—that is very Jewish,” Korolenko stated. Each Russian and Yiddish traditions “are accepted as a part of our mutual shared heritage; our internationalist, universalist, transcultural heritage,” he added. “It’s very Jewish, as a result of the Jew is an eternal wanderer, and very Soviet, because the Soviet agenda was internationalism; and this is definitely very American, because America is the nation of immigrants and multilingual expertise. So that is how JetLAG turned American and Russian and like, meta-Soviet—solely in a good way, by no means in a nasty approach.”
I’ve been to a justifiable share of gatherings since my school years, all the time feeling like a little bit of an anomaly with my American identify and accent. However it was straightforward to discover a niche inside its broad spectrum of post-Soviet subcultures, though I’m not an immigrant myself: I’m first era; my mother and father got here beneath refugee status within the 1970s and I used to be born in america. This was my fifth JetLAG and second as a featured performer. This yr, I sang at PANGEA with Kvasova Band, the solo challenge of Russian people singer/dancer Valentina Kvasova billed as “historic Slavic singing traditions reimagined for modern soundscapes.” In case you’re conversant in Ukrainian ethno-chaos quartet DakhaBrakha, that’s kind of the vibe we’re going for—picture polyphonic village songs with synths, hand drums, and psychedelic imagery.
Kvasova comes from a household of professional Cossack people musicians in the Russian metropolis of Rostov-on-Don (she is the realest of deals; her father was inventive director of the State Ensemble of Don Cossacks and Individuals’s Artist of the united states). I started learning people songs from her last fall, and invited my Latvian-born accordionist good friend Ilya Shneyveys to hitch us shortly after. Ilya is a bona fide klezmer, having performed with a number of the largest names in the scene (he even briefly skilled web fame as a member of the Russian klezmer outfit Dobranotch when their Yiddish parody of Rammstein’s “Du Hast” went viral).
The morning of the pageant, Kvasova and I pulled up to Shneyveys’ house with full gear in tow: guitars, hand drums, handpan, shakers, pan flutes, (literal) bells and whistles. Shneyveys and his spouse, Sarah, a cantor, slid onto the backseat and off we drove—a Cossack, a klezmer, a cantor, and myself, on our merry option to Russian Burning Man. It might have been the setup of a joke, or anekdot, as we say. One hopes that our ancestors would chuckle.
Kvasova Band kicked off JetLAG on Friday night time drenched in the twilight of PANGEA stage. My contribution to the set listing was a Western Ukrainian ditty a few young woman driving all of the boys (Mykolai, Bohdan, Ivan, Andrii, and so forth.) wild together with her coquettish ways. We sang a couple Cossack tunes, which Shneyveys masterfully festooned with klezmer ornamentations. The subsequent day, we had a hearty jam session featuring Odessan felony songs, Romani romances, Soviet film musical numbers, and even a number of Yiddish songs including the anarchist anthem “In Ale Gasn,” belted out by a handful of 20-somethings. The sky was clear, the air was recent, the chai was sweet, and the vodka chilly as ice. It was an all-around epic time. As they are saying at JetLAG: You’ll discover what you’re keen on, you’ll love what you discover. And in the event you don’t find it, relaxation assured it can find you.
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