What would possess two signed and successful singer-songwriters to start a separate cover band? For Yakob Veivelman and Ariel Hammerstein, two Jewish New Yorkers, it was their childhood music obsession.
Both 34, the musicians grew up together and share a love for certain hits of the 1970s and ’80s. They wanted to come up with a way to celebrate the music of their youth, and they have their manager to thank for the band’s name. “We had this idea of a fictional band,” Veivelman says. One day, out of the blue, their manager came up with The Jewbadours. “We’re troubadors, but we’re The Jewbadours!” Veivelman says. “It was a Field of Dreams moment.”
The cover band has since been taking synagogues (Jewish weddings and britot), restaurants and private parties by storm. Only certain songs are deemed worthy of covers by Veivelman and Hammerstein, who put a Jewish spin on hits by Hall & Oates, Lionel Richie, Steely Dan, the Bee Gees, among others.
And if their names—Veivelman and Hammerstein—sound somewhat ridiculous, it’s because they’re pseudonyms. Hammerstein, who provides the soaring falsetto, and Veivelman, who describes himself as the “wizard of keyboard sounds and goofy stuff,” decided to create alter egos to separate their serious career from the guilty pleasure of their side job. The funny thing is, since the formation of The Jewbadours, they’ve never had an easier time finding work, Veivelman says.
“Our singer-songwriter gigs are serious gigs with serious music,” he says. “We wanted an opportunity to play music that was less serious and more fun. These songs really allowed us to stretch out and do things musically we wouldn’t be able to do performance-wise.”
Now, The Jewbadours are embarking on their first, three-city “Holiday Jewbatour.” They’ll hit the stage tomorrow at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall, Saturday at Vienna’s Jammin’ Java and Sunday at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live.
This is “the maiden voyage of what we hope to be an annual holiday tour,” Veivelman says, and they hope to attract the “poor Jewish souls who have nothing to do before Christmas.”
While their D.C.-area set at Jammin’ Java will only involve the two of them, The Jewbadours sometimes play with a full band (they call it their minyan band), composed of singers and musicians who are also Jewish, except for one whom Veivelman calls the “honorary tribesman.”
The duo’s Jewish identity is especially important to them when it comes to their music, but Veivelman says it’s less religious and more cultural.
“There’s an identity of New York Judaism. It’s a real thing in ’70s music,” he says. “Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan. A lot of great songwriters are Jewish.”
Veivelman also notes how The Jewbadours incorporate gags when they perform and find ways to work their knowledge of Judaism into the set. These include changing lyrics and titles to songs, such as replacing Lionel Richie’s “Hello” with “Shalom” or changing Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend” to “Thank You For Being A Mensch.”
The entire premise of The Jewbadours might seem silly to some, but Veivelman assures they take their shows very seriously, and that they simply enjoy “putting their Jewishness out there in a very likable way.”
For the future, Veivelman says they’d like to play more events and stay in touch and be involved with the community. They would also like to venture into musical festival and bar/bat mitzvah territory, and plan on making a mini documentary about the evolution of music. The Jewbadours could be bound for YouTube stardom.
“We’ll see what the future holds, and we’re excited to see how far this will go,” he says. “It’s a real exchange from the community, and [we play] songs people don’t get to hear anymore. These are the songs we cherish and the songs that made us fall in love with music.”
Check out the band’s cover of Lionel Richie’s “Hello”