Lights, latkes, action

Food, music, social causes highlight expanded ‘Hullabaloo’

By Barry Gilbert, Special to the Jewish Light

Brothers Lazaroff’s Hanukkah Hullabaloo, which began just three years ago as a humble holiday party after a Kinky Friedman concert, has grown into a music, dining and cultural experience bringing together multiple strands of the St. Louis Jewish community.

The event has broken out of the confines of its original home at Off Broadway in south St. Louis and moved to the Plush restaurant and nightclub in midtown. The third edition Dec. 4 will offer a separate-admission “tish,” or teaching dinner, led by rabbis; music ranging from rock, doo-wop and hip-hop to klezmer and acid-jazz; special readings; and DJ sets.

The centerpieces of the first two Hullabaloos will return: latkes prepared and served live onstage; and a performance of Rabbi James Stone Goodman’s Hanukkah epic “Eight Days,” backed by the Eight Nights Orchestra: Brothers Lazaroff with members of the Funky Butt Brass Band, Will Soll’s Klezmer Conspiracy and the Vaad.

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The big change this year is the inclusion of several organizations, or presenting partners, representing the arts, social justice activists and creative entrepreneurs.

All proceeds from the general admission ($10 minimum donation) and the tish ($36 per person) will go to One Life-One World, an organization founded by Goodman at Congregation Neve Shalom that offers programs in prison outreach, mental illness and addiction. Last year’s Hullabaloo raised $1,500.

David and Jeff Lazaroff say the expansion of the Hullabaloo and the move to Plush are basically a happy coincidence.

“We were surprised by the community turnout (last year), and they wanted to sit,” David Lazaroff says.

Steve Pohlman, owner of Off Broadway, suggested the move after he was challenged to find enough chairs. Off Broadway legally holds about 300, and it was crammed last year; Plush, which has a second floor with sight lines to the stage, holds about 800.

Jeff Lazaroff says another pair of brothers, twins Randy and Jeff Vines of STL-Style, a St. Louis-centric clothing and graphic design company on Cherokee Street, gave last year’s show an “injection of energy” with T-shirts proclaiming: “You can’t spell latkes without STL.”

Randy Vines met the Lazaroffs when their band performed during “Barack n’ Roll,” a concert for President Barack Obama’s re-election bid that raised $35,000.

“A lot of Jewish people in the city are doing really cool things, but they are unaffiliated and unconnected,” Vines said recently at David Lazaroff’s University City home before a Hullabaloo band rehearsal. “I think people underestimate the size of the Jewish community in the city. (The Hullabaloo) is laid back and inclusive, and I think it’s really cool.”

The Vines and STL-Style are a Hullabaloo presenting partner. So is Zoë Scharf of Sloup and greetabl; she helps run the former and is a partner in the latter.

Sloup is an idea incubator that brings activists and artists together once a month over soup and snacks to choose a project that needs funding. Each person donates $10, the group chooses a deserving project, and that project gets the evening’s proceeds.

Greetabl is a new company makes greeting cards – but each card folds up into a gift box. Greetabl will be selling its first products at Hunukkah Hullabaloo.

Originally from upstate New York, Scharf came to St. Louis to study communications and design at Washington University and stayed, “grudingly at first but after a little bit of time I fell in love with St. Louis.”

Scharf says the Hullabaloo is a “way to bring Judaism into day-to-day life. … If you want to participate in the community, it sometimes takes going out on a limb. But by bringing the community together at an event, people can find more comfort and make connections. Plus, if it was anything like last year, it was fun to see all the different ages and joint interests.”

Other presenting partners are Metro Theatre Company; DO314.com, an online guide of things to do in the area; and Vintage Highways, an apparel maker. The St. Louis Jewish Light is the media sponsor.

The tish is a buffet dinner prepared by Plush chef David Zimmerman, with soup and a presentation by Sloup. The tish is non-kosher, but kosher meals will be available upon request to [email protected]

The guaranteed-seating affair will feature Goodman and fellow Rabbis Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation and Hyim Shafner of Bais Abraham, and Rori Picker Neiss, education director at Bais Abraham. It also will feature live music.

Goodman says he likes the idea of teaching and conversation around the dinner table.

“I like the informality,” he says. “Anything can erupt, somebody can sing a song – I love the spontaneous feeling of it.”

“Eight Nights,” a collaboration of Goodman and Brothers Lazaroff that is available on CD, is the core of Hanukkah Hullabaloo. It is a telling of the Hanukkah story in poetry and song. The rabbi, once again, will be at the center of a large group of musicians, singing and reciting his work.

“I like working in risky perimeters,” Goodman says. “And (“Eight Nights”) is that for me. It wasn’t in my comfort zone. And being able to combine a few different art forms – music and poetry, storytelling and literature – is really important to me.”

Goodman will also be playing his oud, and not just any oud: It’s an electric oud.

“I was never electric before – these guys (the Lazaroffs) plugged me in,” he laughs. “It was like riding a horse. Whoa! The first couple of times – whoa!! Trying to manage this horse. And then, I got into it. It was really different for me. I’d never played electric before. I don’t own an electric guitar. … (But) I have a board (a pedal board for electronic effects). It’s different. It’s wonderful.”

Other performers will include Will Soll of Klezmer Conspiracy; hip-hop musician and producer Thelonius Kryptonite; DJs Tom “Papa” Ray of Vintage Vinyl and KDHX, and DJ Bookieman; “Brain Dead in the Burb’s” author Laura Roodman Edwards Ray; and poet Cheeraz Gormon.

Brothers Lazaroff also will back up the evening/s second major act, Nostalgia, a trio of singers who performed in area doo-wop groups in the ‘50s and ‘60s and who reunited in the ‘90s.

Jeff Lazaroff said the trio, Flint Lloyd, Ronald Merweather and Donald Williams pointed out that a lot of the music of the doo-wop era was written by Jewish writers of the so-called Brill Building scene in New York, people such as Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

“Another Jewish connection,” Lazaroff says.