November 21, 2018

Lisa Loeb lights up the Skirball Cultural Center

A year after writing her first Chanukah song, Lisa Loeb returns to the Skirball Cultural Center to help celebrate the season. 

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter takes the stage at 1 p.m. Dec. 13 for a family-friendly set as part of the Skirball’s Chanukah Family Festival and will perform again at 3:15 p.m. during the festival’s finale, sharing the stage with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. The festival itself runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event and the venue are ideal, Loeb said, for introducing young concert-goers to a musical experience in which they can participate. The sets will be short, which Loeb — the mother of a 3- and 6-year-old — said parents should appreciate.

“It will be a spirited time for families to get to see a show and participate,” Loeb said. “The theater there is just beautiful. I feel kids and grownups are able to focus and be engaged in a concert. I also feel like it’s so important for kids to be able to come to the center and engage and connect.” 

For both sets, Loeb will perform “Light,” the Chanukah song she wrote with Cliff Goldmacher, as well as a couple of holiday favorites such as “The Dreidel Song” and “Sevivon Sov Sov Sov.” Loeb said she can envision a day when she creates an album from all Jewish holidays, but such an endeavor would require her to study and locate the spiritual essence in all those celebrations.

“It would be a great challenge,” Loeb said. “With the song ‘Light,’ I was trying to find the meaning and the metaphor of Chanukah through the classic story, and the miracle of the light and the oil. I would like to be able to find that metaphor for all of the holidays that I can express in a way that I think is relatable. Not something that’s a joke, something that has a lot of heart.”

In her search for meaning and metaphor within Chanukah, Loeb studied with Rabbi Mordecai Finley at Ohr HaTorah. She immersed herself in research after someone floated the ideaof writing a short information book on the subject of Chanukah that people could purchase. Loeb never completed the book, but she enhanced her already-considerable holiday knowledge.

“I read a lot of different books about the history of Chanukah and some technical books written by rabbis, and I started learning about some of the specific things about the holiday, a couple of things that I tried to incorporate into the song,” said Loeb, who celebrated her bat mitzvah and belonged to Temple Emanu-El while growing up in Dallas. “It’s not one of the more important Jewish holidays, but it was one that we celebrated. It was a little tough to find as many things as I could about it.”

Featuring guest vocalist Renee Stahl, “Light” is a sprightly, up-tempo number. “Let the light shine,” Loeb sings. “When you think it’s almost gone, there is still hope.”

“Light” was released shortly after the Skirball held its 2014 Chanukah festival. After hearing the song, Jen Maxcy, who heads the family programming department, began laying the groundwork for Loeb to join the festivities this year.

“We read about how she was looking for some really deeper meaning in the holiday and also [to] convey a more universal theme, and she was talking about hope,” Maxcy said. “That’s exactly how we approach Chanukah here at the Skirball. The holiday is about courage and resilience and hope and light.”

Within Loeb’s family — which includes her husband, Roey Hershkovitz, and children Lyla Rose Loeb Hershkovitz, 6, and Emet Kuli Loeb Hershkovitz, 3 — Chanukah traditions are plentiful. Candles are lit and the menorah glows in the window. Gifts are exchanged and latkes are devoured. 

“Last year, we celebrated with a huge group of cousins at a big party that had a very competitive game of dreidel,” she said.  

Hearing Loeb talk of dreidel matches and participating in her niece’s bat mitzvah — no, she didn’t sing — may surprise Gen Xers who remember the Ivy League-educated Loeb from her indie-rocking days with the band Nine Stories. In 1994, Loeb’s single with Nine Stories, “Stay (I Missed You),” was released on the soundtrack of the film “Reality Bites.” The number subsequently rocketed the then-unknown Dallas native to the top of the charts before she had even signed a recording contract.

“Tails,” her debut album, was released in 1995, followed by the Grammy-nominated “Firecracker” in 1997. Loeb, recognizable for her signature cat-eye glasses, later carved out a niche in children’s music, releasing several CDs and books. Her latest album — “Nursery Rhyme Parade!” — features more than 30 classic nursery rhymes and songs, and Loeb’s next project will also be a children’s album.  

Loeb has done TV acting and voiceover work, as well. She was part of the Food Network show “Dweezil and Lisa” in 2004 with former boyfriend Dweezil Zappa, and documented her efforts to try to find true love — hopefully with a Jewish partner — on the E! series “No. 1 Single.” 

She entered the world of philanthropy through the creation of the Camp Lisa Foundation, which sends underprivileged children to summer camp. The foundation and her album “Camp Lisa” served as the inspiration for the new musical “Camp Kappawanna,” featuring music and lyrics by Loeb, which had its New York premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company this past March.

Loeb is also constantly developing new ideas and designs for her eyewear line. The specs have become such a signature part of her appearance that she says even her own family does not recognize her if she is not wearing glasses.

To escape public recognition, maybe she could leave them behind? 

“Exactly,” Loeb said. “Clark Kent.”

For information about the Chanukah Family Festival at the Skirball Cultural Center, click here