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Monday, September 05, 2005


I played a wedding last night with Ruby Harris. I always enjoy playing with Ruby. Not only is he a phenomenal fiddle player, but he takes charge at a gig and runs in wild and often unexpected directions. He'll go from Klezmer to Rock to Disco to Zydeco to Dixieland all in one set. If you can keep up, it turns into quite a work-out. He also tends to bring along top-notch sidemen, which lets me play with a caliber of player I don't usually get to work with. The main reason I put him on a job is that it frees me up from worrying about leading, calling songs, and baby-sitting the band. I can sit back, sub-lead, and just get into my bass playing. Which was, BTW, awesome last night. That new bass is just HOT. I didn't even have to touch the EQ knobs on my amp. It just spit out a lean, mean sound. To all you musicians out there, I highly recommend getting at least ONE quality instrument. That it took me 25 years to figure this out is just sad.

Anyway, I'd have to say the highlight of the night was an improvised and wild version of Bei Mir Bist du Schoen. About halfway through the song, Ruby called over to the horn players "NEW ORLEANS JAZZZZZZZ!!!!" and they let it loose in what turned out to be our little tribute to that devastated city. I can't remember having such a moving time on stage. The horn players were really great. They worked well together, doing a lot of Motown-style horn parts and generally being very impressive. I locked in well with the drummer. The other highlight was a funky rendition of Santana's Europa, where everyone got a solo.

Generally speaking, I don't eat the food at these weddings unless I know for sure that it's actually Kosher. Some of you may think, "why would there be non-Kosher food at a Jewish wedding?" But you'd be surprised. This wedding was at a Conservative synagogue, which, while it does have a kitchen and an on-staff Mashgiach to supervise the cooking, is not known to keep Kashruth at Orthodox standards. Those of you who know me know that when in doubt, I don't eat. That holds true in town, on the road (I'm the guy who ate M&Ms for 3 days in Los Angeles because I didn't know where the kosher restaurants were), or at a gig. That's just me.

However, last night things looked different. For one, when I got there, there was a large mechitza (divider) set up in the middle of the room for separate dancing. Hey, I didn't even have a mechitza at my wedding. Then, as we played, I noticed a sprinkling of Orthodox rabbis at the various tables, and yes, they were eating. So I got pretty excited, and during the break, I had the kitchen staff bring a round of food to the band.

I recall remarking about how good the food was. "I really hope this is kosher," I joked, as I downed some salmon wrapped in a filo-dough shell. A little while later I ran into one of the rabbis, who asked if I wanted anything to eat. "No thanks," I said. "I got food for the band."

"Oh, good," he said. "Because we got extra meals brought in at our table, but I'm glad you had them get some for you from the Kosher caterer." Gulp.

I hastily walked away. I wasn't sure what I should be doing next. In all the years since I started keeping Kosher, I don't think I've ever mistakenly eaten something traife. I might add in at this point that this is a very good case for the concept of maaris ayin, which is where it's better not to do something that looks wrong even if it's actually OK. Like ordering in a Kosher meal at a patently non-Kosher restaurant. People will think you are either eating traife or that the restaurant is Kosher. Zing. I got that one last night. Obviously my own fault for not looking more closely at what the rabbis were eating or asking someone. Lesson learned.

Anyway, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. It was a Jewish synagogue, and while not up to my standards of Kashruth, it's unlikely that anything really non-Kosher was introduced into the food, like shrimp or pork. And it was all fish and dairy anyway. But in a way I feel a little unclean this morning.

And my back aches. People see the band on-stage rocking out and having a good time, and they don't realize how much shlepping and work goes into it. I've often joked that I don't get paid to play, I get paid to shlep. The playing I do for free. So after everyone was gone, I broke down the PA and the amps and mics and cables and stands and packed them into the PT mobile and drove home. Then unpacked everything into my house while battling the moths that were flying around by the porch light. Now I'm procrastinating shlepping the whole lot downstairs as I type this instead.

Which reminds me. Back to work...


Shira Salamone said...

Is there any possibility that we'll find a "bootleg" of this performance on your website, eventually? I'd love to hear it!

Even at *my* kashrut level--I eat dairy and fish in non-kosher restaurants--I've run into problems. I found out the hard way *never* to order egg foo yung in a non-kosher restaurant. They may *say* it's vegetarian, but . . . And salad bars are definitely hazardous to kashrut observance. After about the third mistake--3 strikes, you're out--I finally figured out that I can't tell tuna salad from chicken salad on looks alone. So I just avoid it altogether.

The important thing is that you learned from your error and you'll know what to do and what *not* to do next time.

By the way, I just love the description "Jewish synagogue." That's like describing someone as a "Jewish rabbi." There's maybe another kind? :)

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

From having friends and relatives working in the food service intdustry, i've learned that there's really no reason to trust that the food you're trying to get kosher in a non-kosher restaurant will be conjured up without any problems. First of all, the people in the back have no reason to worry about any of the taboos that kosher-eaters (or vegetarians, vegans, or halaal-eaters — or worse, people with food allergies! — for that matter) have to worry about. So things just happen. And aside from that, waiters lie. It's a fact of life. I learned this the hard way.

PsychoToddler said...

Shira: Nope, no bootleg. But there was a guy with a Camcorder running around.

"By the way, I just love the description "Jewish synagogue." That's like describing someone as a "Jewish rabbi." There's maybe another kind? :"

I don't take anything for granted anymore.

Steg: My college roommate worked for a caterer. He told me he would never eat at a wedding.

Safranit said...

Thats why G-d made Yom Kippur...or should I say thats why the Rabbis made Yom Kippur?

Shira Salamone said...

Steg, I guess I'm taking my chances.

PT (since you seem to be big on sticking to aliases these days), the president of our shul is a retired kosher caterer. He alleges that one reason why he retired was that the differing definitions of "kosher" drove him meshuggeh--the Lubavitch wouldn't eat Satmar shechitah, the Satmar wouldn't eat Lubavitch shechitah, and neither of them would touch the Syrian Jewish community's shechitah (I think theirs is called Bet Yosef) with a ten-foot pole.

Quick, somebody, tackle that guy with the camcorder and don't let him go unless he promises to cough up a copy. :) Oh, well, maybe next time.

By the way, is this the line-up that you call "Milwaukee Simcha," or do you still bill this crew as the Moshe Skier Band?

PsychoToddler said...

When it comes to Kashruth, I'm what you'd call a regular unleaded kind of guy. I'm against anything that keeps one frum Jew from eating at another frum Jew's house.

The Band? Good question. It was booked as "Moshe Skier," but I ended up not using either of the other two guys in the band (for availability and other reasons), and I hired Ruby to lead it.

So Ruby shows up with a bunch of cardboard signs and music stands that say "Ruby Harris Orchestra" in big letters.

I have no problem with that. He really made the gig and I'm not personally looking for a lot of wedding business. But this is my town and people still considered it my gig, and came to me for the business cards.

Shmiel said...

'tsabout time you got yerself an instrument befitting your art :-)...new instruments are a strange thing.. I bought a new 5 string a few years back expecting never to play it at gigs, after all I have my 20 something year old "custom" PJ knockoff that i've been using all these years.New bass arrives... I HATE IT.....then i realise that i need my strings on it...Hey, not so terrible after all..I'll use it my my gig tonight just to see if I can used to the extra string.....that was three years ago, the old bass? in a travel case in the bassment... in my gig bag? My five...go figure

PsychoToddler said...

Shmiel: 'tsabout time you delurked here!

When I brought the P-bass home and plugged it into my rig...it didn't sound as good as in the store. Then I tried my Quest again and it sounded better and had a better action. But my guitarist told me the P-bass had a much better tone. I tried the P-bass again...now I won't touch the Quest.

I guess it's a matter of what your used to? I wish I could find more excuses to use the acoustic too.

One thing I noticed about the P-bass, it almost seems to have a built in compression. Probably that has something to do with the old electronics in the pickups, but depending on how hard I attack the strings, it gets 'growlier' instead of louder. Frees me up to do more with my technique.


Doctor Bean said...

1) Rock on!

2) One of the first things I hope to ask our Heavenly Father after my days on Earth end is what he actually wants Jews to eat. I'm convinced Orthodoxy has screwed it all up. It no longer bears any resemblence to what's actually in the Torah. So I think what you ate last night was fine.

3) I see you're despamming your comments now too. Gee, everybody's doing it, though in most cases it's unnecessary. Kind of like glatt kosher.

By the way, my word verification for this comment is ygyyrhmy

Sweettooth120 said...

The most awesome wedding I have ever went to was that of my husband's friend. I had heard that the whole wedding cost over $250,000. They had the best chefs, their orchestra and lead vocalists reminded you of the old Hollywood movies, and the location and decor were simply elegant. And according to the Bride's mother, it was also a "traditional" Jewish wedding, as written in a newsletter to all the guests, describing the event. When I read that I double over in laughter. During rehearsals, the groomsmen had pleaded with the groom and the Rabbi, to please have all the men (at least those in the wedding party including the Rabbi) to wear kippot. Then during the happy hour the waitstaff walked around serving hor'deuves that included shrimp, pork, and other very obvious traife foods. The bride's parents are from N.C., so I dunno, perhaps in their Jewish circle, not wearing kippot and eating non-kosher foods still fall under the definition of traditional, as long as they got married under the kuppah and danced a hora.

PsychoToddler said...

AFAIK, the less formal the wedding, the better.

And...how long did they stay married, jaime?

Sweettooth120 said...

Do you mean the parents or the bride and groom. Her parents...divorced right after the wedding, the couple is still together twelve years later with 4 kids.

btw, what does AFAIK mean?

Anonymous said...

If it was a Conservative synogouge, the kitchen was up to Conservative kashrut standards. (That's one of the FEW requirements to join the USCJ). So, while, it may not have been up to your standards, no worries about pork, shellfish, or mixtures of milk and meat.

The only kashrut issues you should worry about are
1) Grape juice and/or wine may have been used in cooking with no hecture
2) Cheese may have been used with no hecture
3) Vegetables and herbs may not have been throughly checked for bugs
4) They may use hectures that you would not accept.

I believe those would be the only issues.

And please, don't call it 'treif'. If it's not the standard of kashrut you keep, fine. I won't get offended if you don't eat it. But some of us have gone to considerable effort to bring our homes to that level, and calling it 'trief' IS offensive.

Jack's Shack said...

(I'm the guy who ate M&Ms for 3 days in Los Angeles because I didn't know where the kosher restaurants were)

There only are around 30 here in LA. Next time you come out give us a heads up and I can guarantee you'll eat at places that meet or exceed your Kashrus.

Neil said...

That sounds like a perfect wedding, at least music wise. Bei Mir Bist du Schoen was the "first dance" at my own wedding. It really is a great piece at a wedding because both Jews and non-Jews know it so well.

torontopearl said...

You could've also called this post FOOD FOR THOUGHT!

PsychoToddler said...

Jaime: The parents divorced right after the wedding. That's rich.

As Far As I Know

But what I should have said was "as far as I'm concerned"

Anonymous: Sorry, did not mean to offend. What I said was that I had not previously mistakenly eaten traif, because I generally don't eat unless I'm comfortable with the Kashruth. In this case, I was not comfortable with the Kashruth, but it wasn't that bad, because it was in a conservative synagogue.

If this had happened at a hotel, for example, it would have been worse. I've worked Jewish weddings where they've brought out the shrimp cocktail.

If they had served non-kosher meat, traif would have been appropriate. But I apologise for my poor choice of words.

Jack: I'm still trying to figure out why I had such a hard time finding kosher food. This was only 5 or 6 years ago. I think part of it was that I was down in Orange county (?) and not near where the kosher places were, and I didn't want to inconvenience the people I was travelling with. Also, internet resources were a little less sophisticated back then. And of course, I didn't know anyone in LA :-)

Neil: It's a nice tune if you don't shmaltz it up.

TP: That's a suggestion I could have used yesterday.

MoChassid said...

Are you saying that I should get myself that $3,000 bicycle?

PsychoToddler said...

Mo: If that's your instrument of choice.

I don't have ANY instrument that's worth $3000. Not even my piano.


by the power invested in me by the grand rabbi of segfghuknbgvdfyville and the state of north dakota i now deem you forgiven
please send your check to me at amshinov

dilbert said...

In my opinion, if you hire someone to play with you for a wedding, it is in bad taste for them to bring their own signs, no matter who it is. You were the guy arranging the gig. Of course, if they hire Mordechai ben David and then have you back him up, that is a different story. But if you were the mesader band, its your gig. But I digress. I know what you mean as far as equipment. Its a lot worse for a keyboardist. Too bad you were stuck with the PA stuff. When I was doing gigs 15 years ago, I hired a teenager(he is now married with children) to shlep the stuff for $25 and free use of my car for the 3-5 hours it took to play it. A good deal all around, and no wrecks(that I know of). But the shlepping does add at least an hour before and an hour after the gig, and kinda takes the edge off the happiness of a well played simcha.

As far as the food, dont worry about it. It wasn't your fault, and the likelihood is that it was kosher to your standards, you just dont know it. If you really want to know, you can always call the caterer/rabbi of the shul and ask what exactly their kashrut standards are. But some questions are best left unasked and unaswered.

yonah said...

don't you want to just pinch yourself sometimes when you think about how you actually get paid money to get up and play? it's such a blessing!

great description of the onstage emotion, hope you can post the sound from the gig at some point.

as for the food, hey, it's totally bain adam lamakom - so as they would say in your profession, take two "al-cheits" and call me in the morning.

Sweettooth120 said...

The less formal the better, then I guess you should join us for the wedding we are invited to next month. It's taking place at a Renaissance Faire and we have been asked to dress in period costumes. (The costumes will not be the problem - it's the pig feast afterwards.) The couple has a house on 5 acres of land and the guests are encouraged to bring their tents and sleeping bags. The festivities actually start the night before the wedding with a bonfire/ keg party. Is that casual enough? And btw, yes they are hippies and ironically live in a town called Woodstock.

Anonymous said...

What I find surprising is that the rabbis did not insist that everyone got the highest standard "kosher" food. I know a lot of rabbis that won't go to a wedding unless there is kosher food for everyone, not just special meals for them.

treppenwitz said...

We were once doing a gig in St. Louis and it came time for the band to eat dinner. We had stipulated in our contract (due to previous problems on the subject) that the band was supposed to get the same food as the guests.

When we went to the small side room where our 'meals' were set out it turned out it was simply a bunch of warmed-over shmorg food. Since I was the bandleader I went to find the Head waiter to tell him that we were supposed to be getting the same food as the guests. Obviously the host had tried to pull a fast one on us because this guy seemed oddly prepared for the questions. Without any hesitation he said, "Yes sir... the guests were served this food earlier."

Since my problem was obviously with the host and not with the head waiter I thanked him and went off to find the father of the groom with whom we had signed the contract. I very politely explained to him that we had gotten up at 3:00AM in order to make an early morning flight halfway across the country. We had not eaten breakfast because the 'hospitality room' where the guests had eaten brunch had been closed an hour before we arrived to the hotel... and I could not in good conscience tell my band that the only meal they were going to have all day was luke-warm lo-mein and some greasy cocktail franks!

He finally agreed to instruct the caterer to set out real meals for the band... but since this whole negotiation had taken so long we needed to return to the bandstand for the next dance set. The head waiter promised that the meals would be waiting for us on our next break. When we finished the next set I ducked into the room to make sure the meals were there and saw the waiters putting out cold cut sandwiches for us (the guests had been served a choice of hot chicken or prime rib entrees). Upon closer inspection the cold cut sandwiches turned out to be ham & cheese!!! I stopped the waiters and ordered them to remove the food before any of the other musicians got into the room. Not all of the bandmembers were observant and I didn't want to get into the whole problem of being even indirectly responsible for them eating treif.

They took the sandwiches away and I walked directly out to the host. I smiled at him and said, "Thank you very much for having us... we are going to pack up now and see if we can get an earlier flight back to NY." and turned to leave. In a panic he asked why we were leaving in the middle of his son's wedding. When I told him what had happened he explained that the caterer had run out of regular main courses but had promised to arrange some deli sandwiches for the band. He went berserk when I told him we had been served ham & cheese. It turns out that the KOSHER CATERER had decided that the band didn't need kosher food and had told the head waiter (who worked for the hotel) to arrange sandwiches from the hotel restaurant. In the end we ended up getting an odd combination of vegetarian main courses (all caterers prepare a few of these in case they are needed) and warmed over shmorg food. This experience taught me a valuable lesson about people, kashrut, and the way kosher caterers view musicians.

PsychoToddler said...

Amshi: You have my ever-ending gratitude.

dilbert: we both know who we're dealing with here, right ;-)

anyway I either get paid too little or am too cheap to hire someone to shlep. I get stuck with the PA because I sing. The bass cabinet's no picnic either. I envy these horn players that show up with a little carry-on sized case.

yonah (is this THE yonah?): I would pinch myself but I don't get paid that much.

Jaime: I don't know, still sounds like a big to-do. Although I give cudos for the semi-originality (my medical assistant's sister did the whole rennaisance fair thing last year).

To me, casual is a bunch of friends in a shul with a small but lively band and everyone is actually having a good time. Like my wedding.

Anonymous (is this THE Anonymous?): I don't know what the exact circumstances were, but obviously the bride/groom were not orthodox. In a smaller town, the Orthodox rabbis have less influence. They walk a fine line. They want to be involved, but don't want to be so overbearing that they either leave a bad taste or get told to stay home. Out here, it's all about keeping the bridges open.

Trep: That's an awful story. One more reason why I'm glad I didn't choose to do music for a living. We all know what caterers think of musicians.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Ruby Harris has been the guest musician at my play several times. He's great. Was just there a couple of shows ago.