Matisyahu set to entertain a large crowd

Hasidic artist returns for third performance

| Contributing Reporter

As of Monday evening, close to 600 guests have confirmed their attendance at Thursday’s “MATISYAHU” Assembly Series event inside Graham Chapel, which holds a maximum capacity of 750.

The campus groups co-hosting the reggae, rock and hip hop-fusion American Hasidic Jewish artist Matisyahu also reserved May Auditorium in the Olin Business School as an overflow seating area. This, along with the appropriately all-capped Facebook event name, underscores one thing—Matisyahu’s performance will be no small deal for Washington University.

But what most students do not know is that this will be the 30-year-old Grammy nominee’s third show on campus.

University alum stumbles upon musical gold

The story begins in 2003, when University alum Adam Weinberg, then between his undergraduate and graduate school years, saw his friend’s band perform at a Jewish community center in New York City. Opening for the band was a young man called Matthew Paul Miller, a little-known local artist who went by his Hebrew name of Matisyahu.

“I saw him perform and it was pretty raw,” Weinberg said. “I saw him performing for 20 minutes. He kind of blew me away.”

Back in St. Louis, Weinberg, with his connection to Matisyahu’s manager at the time and the support from various campus groups such as KWUR, helped orchestrate Matisyahu’s performance in the Gargoyle.

“It was totally mind-boggling. We hosted a show and we had nothing to really go on—no one really knew him,” said Weinberg, chuckling as he recalled the first concert. “We had painted the whole Underpass ‘reggae night’ or something. We also blasted his music all day in Mallinckrodt and people were really into it. They didn’t know what to expect.”

To top it off, Weinberg, a jazz performance minor, ended up playing backup in the show when the rest of the band could not make it because of flight delays.

“It was interesting, because I didn’t really know the music,” he said. “His drummer kind of called the shots. Fortunately, it was December and Shabbat ended earlier, so we had some time to listen to the record.”

Though it would take months before Matisyahu released his first album and a year before he hit number one on the charts, Weinberg already knew: “There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be huge.”

In March 2004, Weinberg invited Matisyahu back to the Gargoyle for a second show.

Third time running

Since 2003, the two have developed a bond of both friendship and musical collaboration.

Weinberg now works for Gelb Promotions Inc., an agency that produces for and promotes big-name artists like Andrea Bocelli and Itzhak Perlman. In addition to promoting many of Matisyahu’s non-tour-related events, he also continues to accompany him in some performances—including Thursday’s program.

The main event, which begins at 4 p.m., will feature Matisyahu’s acoustic performance and a discussion of his musical style, his latest album “Light” and his development as an artist, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The arrangement is meant to generate a more interactive and “coffee-house” atmosphere, according to senior Sam Guzik, the president of the Jewish Student Union (JSU).

“[The setting] is less academic and more of a chance for students and community members to really interact with him,” Guzik said. “It’ll probably be pretty free-flowing; we’re going to be taking cues from him.”

Prior to the main event, students will have an opportunity to meet and talk with Matisyahu in an informal open reception in the Danforth University Center Courtyard from 2 p.m. until 3 p.m.

As a bigger picture, Guzik believes Matisyahu’s program will present a distinctive experience and perspective in the University’s Assembly Series.

“This is really an opportunity to bring in someone really recognized around campus, but even more so, to do with the Assembly Series something really creative, something that hasn’t been done in the past,” he said.

There is little doubt in the community that Matisyahu fits the bill for originality.

“The notion of religious people playing music is certainly nothing new,” said Hershey Novack, rabbi for Chabad on Campus. “But he is an example of someone who lives in two separate worlds: He is both a practicing Hasid and he is also a very legitimate musical performer. That’s unique.”

Novack also played a part in Matisyahu’s 2003 and 2004 campus performances.

“He was a talented person back then—no doubt,” Novack said. “He certainly matured as a performing artist over the past five or six years, but he was very, very talented. I think his music is incredibly potent and has a very positive effect on many, many people.”

“That is something that can never be taken away from him,” he added.

The Jewish Student Union, Assembly Series, St. Louis Hillel at Washington University, Student Union, Congress of the South 40, Chabad Student Association and Congregation B’nai Amoonah, a local synagogue, are jointly sponsoring the program.

Doors to the main event will open at 3:30 p.m.

Editor’s note: Sam Guzik is the director of new media for Student Life.