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