Steven Page, the former lead singer of the Bare Naked Ladies (BNL), is used to performing in front of thousands of fans at huge arenas. But this weekend he will be up close and personal to his fan base and that is very enticing to him.
“The nice thing about a festival during the day is you can see the audience’s faces and that makes a big difference from sitting in a dark theatre,” Page said. “You can connect with people and you can make the whole thing quite intimate.”
Page is the headline act of this weekend’s Chicago Jewish Festival, a biannual gathering of Jewish artists dating back to 1980. Thousands are expected to gather at St. Paul Woods Forest Preserve in Morton Grove to experience not only the performance by Page, but also many other artists. There will be four stages with continuous music and the show will run on Sunday from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm, with a $5 suggested donation for attendees.
For Page, a Canadian native, now residing in Syracuse, NY, it will be his initial voyage to this part of the Chicago area. He is looking forward to the challenge of keeping the crowd entertained, even though they will have other options. Obviously, that is quite different than a concert, which is a captive audience.
“They could be doing a million different things when they are out there and there is no guarantee they even know who you are. What you are trying to do is captivate and entertainment them,” Page noted. “From what I understand about this festival is that there are so many disparate types of people – both Jews and non-Jews – who come to celebrate and enjoy, it should be a really fun show.”
Festival goers will have the opportunity to meet and greet Page – and the other artists – after their performances and get autographs.
For Page this is another step of a solo career after his departure from BNL. Today, Page is concentrating both on his singing and writing of music including a recent composition for the Stratford Music Festival in Ontario. That is the fourth score he has penned for that organization.
Page came to fame with the Canadian band BNL, with their hit singles such as Pinch Me and One Week leading to Grammy Award nominations along the way. Page was an original member of the band that was formed in 1988, but there was a less-than-pleasant parting of the ways a few years back. The anger of that blowup that existed has now tempered for Page.
“Time heals wounds but it is not as if we are on the phone or texting on a daily basis,” he concludes. “But I think there is a sense of well wishes on both sides. There is a real pride in the shared history we have.”
Page had other personal challenges as well including a 2008 arrest where charges were eventually dropped. He says he did not become more religious after that experience, but his Jewish perspective did come into play another way.
“What I have learned and the relationships I have had through my religious connections and beliefs have helped me through it,” he said.
For Page, who loves gefilte fish and chopped liver, “Jewish comfort foods” as he describes them, he is cognizant of the overall theme of this festival and its celebrating Jewish heritage.
“Jewish pride can be defined in so many different ways,” Page believes. “Whether it is inside a synagogue or at a family event, it is a nice way to be outside and inviting the community at large to share and not proselytize but simply show the diversity of styles of prayer, culture and belief and allow people to see that breadth and richness.”
That sentiment was the goal of Michael Lorge and his wife Susie, when they started the festival in 1980.
“The idea in the beginning in 1980 was due to two things,” Michael Lorge, who is a member of the Skokie village board today. “The first was some of the crises facing the Jewish community such as the proposed Nazi march and the situation facing Israel. The community would come together to respond to crisis and we wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate Jewish identity. We thought it was important for Jewish children and for the non-Jewish community to see.”
Lorge added another reason was that a festival like this could serve as a showcase for Jewish artists, not only in music, but also people who make ceramics and other objects.
Not only is there music, but also scheduled is a petting zoo, a storytelling area and plenty of food. Page may be the top draw, but there will be a renewed focus this year of musical artists from Chicago.
While the temperatures are predicted to be in the 90s on Sunday, Michael Lorge senses this will once again be a very successful event because of the camaraderie and joy everyone is expected to be feeling on the festival grounds.
“It is like a town square of Jewish festival,” he said. “There is just so much positive energy.”