Road Warriors: 8th Day’s Quest for a Kosher Sandwich
The crowd is chanting “we want more!” but Bentzi, Shmuel and Rosy have escaped backstage, and are jumping into a cab to get to the airport. There is another show to get to 1,000 miles away.
With more than fifty shows a year on six continents, 8th Day is constantly on the road. They have lost count of the airports they have passed through, and they have learned how to say Ya’alili in about a dozen languages.
Life on the road is tough. It is no picnic frequently saying goodbye to your wife and kids, trudging through security, and living out of a suitcase. But of all the challenges 8th Day faces, it seems their biggest is where to find kosher food.
Their intrepid drummer, Rosy, who isn’t Jewish, jokes that he would like to make a documentary about 8th Day’s endless search for Kosher meals. There are no kosher pizza stores when they perform in Jacksonville or Scotland, and it is even more difficult during lengthy airport delays and stopovers in far flung cities- that’s when the band really starts to get hungry.
8th Day’s rise to prominence has brought them to perform in front of audiences in New York, Australia, Asia, and even a bullfighting arena in Spain. In a conversation with Bentzi and Shmuel Marcus, I hear how they have learned to adapt to life on the road.
“You get into a different mode when you’re travelling, especially when you are on the road for weeks at a time. You have to try stay healthy and take your vitamins. You catch a nap whenever you can. You learn to quickly doze off on the plane, in the airport, or in the car.
“When we played in South Africa, our flight landed in the morning and we figured we would stay up to avoid jetlag. It was a good theory, but when nighttime came, we were wide awake and couldn’t fall asleep! We finally closed our eyes the next morning.”
Despite the jetlag, when they got up to perform, the crowd wouldn’t have had a clue they were so desperately sleep deprived. They got the performance of a lifetime.
The time differences are also tough on their families back home. As difficult as it is to say goodbye, there’s always the promise of a Facetime or video chat on the road. But when it’s 12:00 for you in Australia, and you can’t quite figure out if your kids in the States are sleeping, in school, or eating dinner, it gets rough.
The band has also had trouble getting through customs and security because of their Jewishness — or lack thereof. In Canada, their lulav and esrog where the cause of much questioning and consternation. In Israel, Rosy was subject to intense and lengthy scrutiny as immigration officials puzzled over the possibility of a Chassidic band having a gentile drummer.
Why do they do it?
Flights, hotels, and airport lounges may seem glamorous to some, but these guys are clearly not traveling with the amenities and prestige of rock stars. So why do they do it?
“We just played at Camp Simcha. If you had been there, you wouldn’t have to ask that question.” Camp Simcha is a remarkable place — it is a camp for children suffering chronic illnesses. “The spirit that they have is unbelievable. The energy at the show was amazing. If you ever have a chance to visit that camp, you have to! It is a life changing experience. Playing for Camp Simcha and seeing the smiles, the dancing, the chayus, the life, the unbridled joy — it puts us on a high for months!”
It’s not just Camp Simcha or appearances at benefit concerts such as Hasc’s A Time for Music. Wherever Bentzi and Shmuel travel, they are always eager and willing to visit children or adults in hospital or otherwise in need of a boost. “If you can bring some measure of joy or comfort to a fan you jump at the chance. It is from these shows we gain the most.
“A young boy was lying in a hospital bed and we were singing and talking with him, just doing our best to try uplift him, but he was still feeling very down. We kept at it; another song, another word, and eventually he was smiling and singing along. His mother was crying. When we walked out, she told us it had been forever since she’d last seen him smile.
“That’s why we do it.
“When you get off the plane and you meet thousands of Jews on the other side of the world, and you are able to connect with them, and bring them joy, make them smile, there is nothing better.
“The world can be pretty tough these days. People are having lots of ups and downs. Music has tremendous power — The Alter Rebbe [R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi] calls it ‘the pen of the soul.’ It is an unbelievable zechus that our music is able to unite us with thousands all over the world, and that we can uplift and inspire them.
“It is a blessing that we are able to do this. We certainly can’t take the credit — G-d gives us the talent and the wherewithal to do it — we are honored to be able to be able to reach so many people.”
Bridging the Divide — The 8th Day Experience
In the world of Jewish Music, 8th Day is unique. No one is writing in their style or with their kind of lyrics. Each concert might present challenges that others in the industry may not necessarily face.
“We can’t show up in time to sound-check one mic and be ready to perform. Having more pieces means there is a bigger chance for something to go wrong. Our preparation time is at least triple as long as your average Jewish singer.
“Any challenges or any issues stay behind the curtain. No matter how chaotic things are backstage, the crowd can never know.” When the curtain rises, they get the best 8th Day experience possible. There are no excuses, no second chances.
On any given night, their crowd can be filled with men in black hats or bare heads, women in longs skirts or pants, and everything in between. “One night we could be playing a Brooklyn Chol Hamoed concert, the next night for a Chabad House in Memphis, and on the following Sunday we’ll be the only Jewish band at a Scranton, Pennsylvania cultural festival with an entirely non-Jewish crowd.
“At every event, we try to tell a story, to impart a certain message. Every concert is an experience for us and the listeners together. It is like we are partners for a few hours in a theatre to make the world a better place. We hope to take them on a journey and leave them more uplifted, inspired, and joyous when they leave.”
Playing as a band, the group has a lively chemistry and enjoys feeding off one another and the audience. There will be spontaneous changes to arrangements, with new solos, or just a different take on a song. “At a concert, the music is alive.”
Their universal appeal and versatility. At wedding halls on the East Coast their songs are given dance floor arrangements. In front of thousands of teens at the Maccabi Games in California, Matisyahu’s Jerusalem was added to the 8th Day repertoire. Their performances always have a signature style and theme, but they possess a keen ability to adapt to various styles and audiences.
Social media and YouTube music videos has found them fans where they least expect it. “We get comments from all types of people, Jews and non-Jews, who tell us how much a song means to them.
“While checking into a hotel in Las Vegas, the Hispanic counter clerk seemed overly friendly and eager to help. After a complimentary room upgrade, he offered to show us to our room, and seemed to be going far beyond even friendly customer service. In the elevator, he said to us. ‘You know, I’m a big fan of your music.’
“We figured he must be mistaking us for another band, so we just smiled politely.
“He continued, ‘My kid’s favorite song is Hooleh.’
“We were floored!”
Do Fans Know the Lyrics?
Shmuel’s cryptic lyrics may be difficult to decipher, but fans are often equal to the task. “We are constantly surprised at how well fans know our lyrics. It was almost surreal to step off the plane in Sydney, Australia to find the entire crowd singing along with all our songs.
“We don’t write music for ourselves, we write for the listener. We love how our songs are interpreted differently by every individual.” Wherever the band goes, they are likely to run into fans who declare the meaning of their songs with absolute certainty. “We get a good chuckle out of some suggestions, and many of them we never dreamed of, but we never correct anyone. It is great that each individual can find a way to identify and connect with the song.”
Asked if they feel their latest songs trend to becoming more understandable with fewer made up words, Bentzi laughs and says, “Oh really? Then what, pray tell, does Ya’alili mean?
“Our style hasn’t changed, the mission we set out to accomplish when we started 8th Day hasn’t changed — though our writing has definitely matured and reflects the new challenges we face as we move through life.”
The band feels the Jewish music crowd has matured along with them. Fans have gotten used to their style and have come to appreciate song writing that is not linear and allows for imaginative, more personal interpretation. “We are glad to see other singers follow this approach, by including more English songs on their albums, especially songs with a Hebrew-English mix. While we were not the first to do it, we definitely have had a hand in popularizing it.”
Does United Break Guitars?
While 8th Day is lucky not to have had a “United Breaks Guitars” experience, on a flight in between gigs from Texas to Florida they found out their bass player had cancelled. Sound familiar? That’s remarkably similar to the premise of their “Gam Zu” music video, in which the band finds out their fellow musicians’ flight has been cancelled and they may need to cancel the show.
In a panic, Shmuel said to Bentzi, “Where are we going to find a bass player in Florida on such short notice?”
The guy sitting next to them said, “I know. I know loads of bass players in Florida.” As it turned out, he was a music producer from Houston. There was a quick exchange of phone numbers, and by the time they landed in Florida, they had secured a musician for the show.
The bass player was thrilled to be able to play a Jewish show. His great grandfather had been associated with the Nazi party, which had always troubled him and weighed on his mind. Being able to help a Jewish organization and band helped put his mind and heart at ease.
The Bottom Line
8th Day travels thousands of miles each year to bring their unique brand of music to fans all across the world. They endure endless security lines, sleepless nights, cramped flights and invasive customs questioning — all to uplift, inspire and bring joy to their fans. But they are exhausted and hungry. So, if you do happen upon the band running through an airport one day, be a kind soul and offer them a sandwich.