Singer-Songwriter Jacob Spike Kraus kicks off this year’s Stephen Gottlieb Concert with his debut concert in Michigan.
Photos courtesy of Jacob Spike Kraus
The entertainer for this year’s Stephen Gottlieb Concert — at Temple Israel Maccabi Host Family Night — holds staying power.
Jacob Spike Kraus, who immerses himself in Jewish themes and will be joined Aug. 7 by a band, has been chosen artist-in-residence by the temple to plan and lead innovative programs throughout the community for at least one year.
Kraus’s debut concert in Michigan, sponsored by the Sarah & Harold Gottlieb Endowment Fund in memory of Stephen Gottlieb, is open to the community at no charge for the concert or dinner.
“I’m coming out to Michigan toward the end of my summer tour,” says the singer-songwriter, 27, who is moving from New York to Ann Arbor. “I’ve been visiting 15 camps and a couple of synagogues across North America to present concerts and workshops.
“I’ll bring high-energy Jewish music, and the songs are all going to be my original numbers. I have recorded two albums of contemporary Jewish music, and they can be heard anywhere you can find music online. We’ll also bring CDs to the show.
“You could call my music pop soul or pop folk or pop R&B. It’s really an eclectic mix. Some songs are totally in Hebrew, some totally in English and some a mix of both. There will be a few liturgical pieces.”
Kraus, the son of a reform rabbi, plays guitar. He will appear with Ricky Watts on drums, Matthew Krane on keyboards, Dan Lee on bass and Chris Range on saxophone.
Two songs, one from each album and perhaps in the Michigan show, have special resonance with Kraus — “Pitchu Li” from Cornerstones and “What Makes You Glow” from Shake Off the Dust. Both have to do with recognizing and appreciating the unique qualities and abilities that individuals have.
“I do a lot of performing for kids and teenagers primarily, and everybody at times wonders about fitting in because of something that feels different about them,” the singer-songwriter explains. “Sometimes, the things that make people different make them the most important to what’s going on.
“Musically, the first song exemplifies what I do because it’s upbeat, exciting and catchy. The rhythm is very jumpy and borderlines on rap. There’s a lot of internal rhymes and plays on words. It’s a mix of my own words and words from the psalm, and it was produced in a very modern style so there are a lot of synthesizers.
“The second song is really accessible because it’s a call and response song, so people are learning it as they sing it. It’s straight pop, happy, excited.”
Kraus, who grew up in Massachusetts, became known to Temple Israel through people who watched him perform at a Canadian camp.
“I find his music inventive, catchy, professional and beautiful,” says Cantor Michael Smolash, who will take part in planning the upcoming programming. “He’s a full-fledged recording artist with talent and charisma and 100 percent committed to Jewish music. I think he’s a tremendous resource for the whole Jewish community.
“We had him booked for the Gottlieb concert some time ago, and I heard a rumor that he might be moving to town. When we heard he was going to be here for three years, we worked something out. We’re really excited to have him as an artist-in-residence.”
Among the later plans for Kraus will be leading satellite services for residents of Huntington Woods, Royal Oak and other areas at a distance from Temple Israel. Besides performing, he also will be conducting classes.
“He’s excited about bringing in other artists, engaging artists in the community to do Jewish music and setting up coffee houses,” Smolash says. “His first community service is being planned for Sept. 13, and there will be eight of them throughout the year.”
Kraus’s musical interests began before he thought about professional possibilities.
“I picked up a guitar at age 10,” he recalls. “My father (Rabbi Jonathan Kraus) was a song leader when he was growing up in New Jersey. He taught me how to play guitar, and I learned many songs at Jewish summer camp. I found it a way to engage in Jewish text and values and wrote my first religious song in high school.
“I went to Muhlenberg College (in Pennsylvania) as a creative writing major and took a few music classes. At the end of my freshman year, I thought about making a career out of Jewish music and traveling the country, and that kicked off in the summer of 2016.”
Kraus, with a music performance degree, has been a camp counselor and New York teacher. He joins with people expressing different ways of religious observation and has been a member of the diverse Jewish a cappella group Six13.
“I write non-Jewish music, but I don’t perform it,” Kraus says. “The chords come first and the words after except when I write music for prayer. Then, I think how the music can serve the lyrics. I write Jewish music for functionality in partnership with art.”
The Stephen Gottlieb Concert at the Temple Israel Maccabi Host Family Night is set for Wednesday, Aug. 7. Dinner starts at 6 p.m., and the concert starts at 7 p.m. The program is free to the community with reservations needed by Aug. 2 to temple-israel.org/gottlieb