Yid Vicious keeps the tradition of klezmer music alive

Yid Vicious stands with their instruments smiling

“We want people 50 years from now to enjoy it.”


Madison-based klezmer band Yid Vicious gives you a reason to dance and celebrate. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to sit still while listening to this Yiddish folk music. If you don’t believe it, and even if you know it to be true, we invite you to check it out for yourself at a virtual Kids in the Rotunda performance by Yid Vicious on Saturday, Jan. 15.

Yid Vicious has performed on Overture’s Kids in the Rotunda stage since the program’s inception and at its predecessor, the Civic Center’s Kids in the Crossroads. The band plays for almost any occasion, from public and community events to weddings and private parties.

“People emotionally connect to klezmer,” said Daithi Wolfe, a founding member who plays the fiddle. “The music is upbeat and joyful, a rich sound that resonates with people.”

Klezmer is an instrumental musical tradition of the Jewish culture. While it is derived from liturgical music, it is not considered religious music. If you saw Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof in November 2021 at Overture, you heard a pop version of klezmer music.

According to Wolfe, it’s “Jewish party music.”

When the band formed 25 years ago, world music was increasing in popularity. The group wanted to do their part to keep the traditional Eastern Europe folk music alive.

“We want people 50 years from now to enjoy it, too,” said Kia Karlen, who plays the horn and accordion.

Most of the group’s repertoire is klezmer music from the 1800s. As Jewish immigrants settled in the United States, an American version developed, klezmer mingled with early jazz, creating a jazzy klezmer sound.

“We blend traditional arrangements of original tunes with other backgrounds for a contemporary sound,” said Karlen. “By adding our own special touch, we create a living, organic music form.”

In addition to Wolfe and Karlen, Yid Vicious members include Matt Appleby, an original member, playing guitar, Greg Smith playing clarinets, David Spies playing tuba, and Geoff Brady playing drums and theremin.

Tune in to the Kids in the Rotunda performance to see the theremin in action.

“The theremin is a 100-year-old instrument, the first electronic instrument, that seems to work by magic as Geoff’s fingers hover over it,” said Wolfe. “Kids will have a fun time pretending to play along on it.”

Most klezmer music doesn’t include vocals, but Yid Vicious has two vocalists, Anna Purnell and Maggie Weiser, who make frequent appearances, along with Bob Jacobsen, trumpeter emeritus and the group’s founder, and dance leaders Steve Weintraub and Michael Kuharski.

“Our singers add a pop element to the Yiddish music,” said Wolfe.

Yid Vicious has released five CDs, which exemplify the group’s expanding repertoire of traditional and contemporary klezmer over the years. The first CD didn’t have vocals, and the fifth CD is all children’s music.

The group draws capacity crowds annually at Kids in the Rotunda, and the show is enjoyed by kids and parents alike.

“Lots of adults tell us our children’s CD is one that they don’t mind listening to over and over again,” said Wolfe.

Children at the show are invited to sing along and learn dance moves they can do in a confined space.

“Kids give such energetic feedback, which makes the show extra fun,” said Wolfe.

Karlen agrees.

“We really enjoy kids’ spontaneity and willingness to participate,” she said. “And we love the Q&A with kids during the show. They often ask questions about our instruments, our personal lives, and the music and dances.”

For the virtual Kids in the Rotunda performance, children will be encouraged to participate by finding objects around their home to use as instruments.

“It’s all about making music with objects you have at home,” said Karlen.

Wolfe and Karlen encourage families to tune in to the Yid Vicious performance on Saturday, Jan. 15 via the Kids in the Rotunda Facebook page or Overture Center’s YouTube page.

“We will have fun, experience new things and get some exercise,” said Wolfe. “You’ll walk away full of joy, smiling, with an added spring in your step.”

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