The Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart headlines and kicks off the celebration, but the real star of the Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center’s 40th anniversary (March 7-17) is the nonprofit Center itself.
It’s simple: the joint’s got soul. It embodies the ethos of Berkeley and the Bay Area: diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and a vision of a world in which music and dance bring people together in peace. Legends have played there – Joan Baez, Olatunji, Taj Mahal, Queen Ida – but the spirit is what prevails.
In 1973, a folk-dancing human rights activist named David Nadel took over a San Pablo Avenue warehouse to create a dancehall devoted to presenting the widest possible span of the world’s dance forms. He modeled the interior on synagogues and gave it its name to honor his Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors, but the principle was for all humans to meet as one on the dance floor. It’s been working for four decades.
Soon he added music of every flavor, from Balkan to Cajun, Zydeco, African Highlife, Brazilian Samba, Afrobeat, Calypso, Soca, Blues, Contra Dance, Eastern European folk, Flamenco, Reggae, Salsa, Ska, Soukous, Bluegrass, East & West Coast Swing – and lots that can’t quite be classified.
David was murdered in 1996 by a drunk he refused to allow back into the hall, and a coalition of dancers, musicians, employees, and community cultural activists united to form a tax-exempt nonprofit arts organization that has furthered his vision.
Ashkenaz presents dance concerts, educational workshops, fundraisers, kids’ shows and you-name-it six to seven nights a week year-round. They’ve done so well that they have a state-of-the-art sound system and have invested in building upgrades.
In our cynical times, Ashkenaz is a working model of what a genuine arts community can be.
Reserve your tickets for Ashkenaz's 40th Anniversary Celebration here!