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Ari Hest '97 and the Revival of Folk Concerts


Ari Hest of the Class of 1997 was profiled in the May 2nd edition of The Jewish Standard:




It’s both ethical and entertaining
Ari Hest talks about the revived folk concerts in Teaneck
May 2, 2024, 9:54 am

                                                    Ari Hest ‘97 (Ari Hest)


That’s how Perry Stein explains his decision to reopen Ethical Brew, the monthly folkie concerts he and his wife Beth run out of the Ethical Culture Society headquarters in Teaneck.
Starting in 2013 and for seven years until covid hit, the pair provided a venue for singers and musicians of American roots music.
“We just felt it was time,” Mr. Stein said. “People needed to have some fun — and we needed to have some fun.”
For audience members, it’s an opportunity to discover artists in a very intimate setting. The musicians happily interact with fans — especially at the merch table in the back. It’s also a relatively inexpensive opportunity — tickets are $25 — to support live music and area charities.
Any money raised beyond the singer’s fees is split between the Ethical Culture Society’s Social Action Committee and the charity of the artist’s choice.
In the case of Ari Hest, who is appearing May 18 with his wife, Chrissi Poland, the charity is God’s Love We Deliver.
Mr. Hest, 44, grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. His father was a musician who taught jazz at Queensboro Community College, and his mom was a cantor. Surprisingly, considering his mother’s occupation, his upbringing was secular. There was Hebrew school and a bar mitzvah, of course, but particularly after his parents divorced when he was 8 years old, “religion was not something my brother and I were steeped in, no more so than any other kid whose mom was not a cantor.”
Similarly, considering his parents’ musical backgrounds, “music was not something I took seriously when I was younger. I knew I could sing, but I was not interested in pursuing it as a career. I took piano lessons for a few years, but never made anything of it. I still don’t feel I’m much of a piano player.”
That changed about the time he hit high school — he went to the Horace Mann School in Riverdale. “That’s when music started to become a bigger part of my life,” he said. At his mother’s insistence, he joined Horace Mann’s chorus.
“We started performing. I realized how much I loved it. I realized I had an ear for harmony. And I started to buy my own albums.” His interests were in grunge bands, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden.
He also learned guitar so he could compose. When he was in college — he went to NYU, where he majored in communications — he formed a band that played dates in clubs in Greenwich Village, close to school. Ultimately, he put music on the front burner. After he graduated, he posted some of his songs on a few bands’ message boards “I thought were like minded” — groups that played the kind of alternative rock/folk music he favored.
His music on the alternative rock band Guster’s board was discovered by a booking agent who “thought he could book me in colleges and universities around the country. And so at age 22 I began playing in some pretty humble environments. And I was very excited to do so.”
At the time, he was still more alternative in style. “I was doing a lot of percussive stuff with the guitar. Non-traditional chords. That’s why I wouldn’t call it straight-ahead folk music. I was more interested in moving my fingers in weird positions, trying to make my chords more complex. The idea was to almost create the illusion that there was more than one person on the stage.”
His dream back then? “Well, the dream as a kid was to play baseball. But I realized in high school that I wouldn’t make the pros, and that just happened to coincide with me picking up the guitar. I wouldn’t say that I had the dream to become a big music star. I just knew that I enjoyed the process of singing in front of people and of writing my music. I became very interested in making it a bigger part of my life.”
A recording contract with Columbia didn’t work out, but a chance meeting with Judy Collins earned him a Grammy nomination. It was at a 2012 folk festival she was headlining. “There were many, many acts on the bill. She came in early to get situated and warm up while I was playing. She heard me play and asked if I would open for her when she went on the road. I was blown away.
“I had written a song called ‘Silver Skies Blue,’ and there was something about it that made me feel it would have been better with Judy singing it than myself. So I asked her if she wanted to, and she wrote back that she loved the song but thought we should do it as a duet.”
That duet led to the album “Silver Skies Blue,” which earned Ari that Grammy nom.
Now, when he’s not on the road — sometimes he tours with his wife, more often he performs alone — Ari is busy composing. He’s committed to doing at least two songs a month for his subscribers on Patreon, where they get to sample his new music. They vote annually for their favorites, which Mr. Hest remixes and re-records for an album. The first of those albums was just released in April, under the title “The Treehouse Project.”
What happened to the dream? “I don’t think of it as a dream,” Mr. Hest said. “I think it’s reality. I’m married and have a 5-year-old daughter. I feel grateful that I have fans who have stuck with me. This is the third decade now that many of them have been listening to my music.
“I suppose I would love to be playing rooms that are larger than the ones I’m playing currently. But I feel very content where things are at and making music for a living.”