Ashkenaz - What is It?:
Ashkenaz is a world and folk music venue in Berkeley, California, on the East side of the San Francisco Bay, not far from UC Berkeley. Berkeley, long a bohemian mecca and one of the United States' most proudly international (and non-xenophobic) cities, is home to several great world music venues, and Ashkenaz is a favorite among those. Founded over 30 years ago, and running as a non-profit organization, the venue remains committed to showcasing a huge variety of folk and international music to an enthusiastic local audience.
Though Ashkenaz is not a terribly large venue, it's a popular place to play, even for touring international artists who usually play sit-down theatres. Part of the reason is simply that Ashkenaz is fun - though the artist may not make as much money as they would at a larger concert series or theatre venue, they have an opportunity to truly connect with the audience, which is usually packed with dancers and enthusiasts. Cajun and Zydeco, African music, and old-time are often staples of the weekly schedule, and more than half of the concerts at Ashkenaz are preceded by a free dance lesson from local instructors.
But Wait, There's More!:
Ashkenaz is not only one of the Bay Area's best places to see live world music, it's also a great place to get a snack or a beer. Their vegetarian cafe serves a dependable variety of mostly-organic nosh (and it's open whenever music is happening, so you won't have that terrible mid-concert hunger issue), and they've got a solid variety of wines and beers on tap.
Children's Programming at Ashkenaz:
Ashkenaz is always open to kids - even for evening shows - so you can bring the young 'uns along to catch a performance and a dance lesson any time. There's also kid-specific programming on the menu, though, which includes international dance classes on many afternoons, as well as folk/world friendly kids' artists on most Sundays. There are also dance and music-related summer camp programs that take place at Ashkenaz. It really is a community center, of the sort that we should all be so lucky to have in our towns!
David Nadel, a human rights activist and popular figure in the Bay Area folk dance scene, founded Ashkenaz as a folk dancehall in 1973. Nadel's vision for a non-judgmental and gloriously multicultural arts center propelled Ashkenaz to become a world-class venue with a community-centered vibe. In 1996, Nadel was murdered when he ejected a drunk man from the club and refused him re-entry. As it was phrased on Ashkenaz's website, "It was the one violent act in a dancehall dedicated to peace and nonviolence." This horrendous incident should not deter you from visiting the club, which is in a perfectly safe neighborhood.
Where to Find Ashkenaz:
Ashkenaz is located at 1317 San Pablo Avenue (near Gilman St.) in Berkeley, California. There are a number of local bus routes that stop within a stone's throw of the club, and the closest BART stop is about 12 blocks away. For a complete concert listing, visit Ashkenaz.com.