It was no run-of-the-mill Halloween-themed wedding when Jewish musical royalty married on Sunday, October 31st. The bride, Katie Down, is a sound artist, composer, performer and sound designer, and her groom was Grammy winner Matt Darriau, of Klezmatics and Paradox Trio fame.
The couple met three years ago at Barbes, a Park Slope bar and concert venue, and quickly bonded over their mutual passion for music and their dedication to sustaining Balkan, Ladino and other Jewish musical jewels. Yet they could have easily crossed paths long before; both attended the New England Conservatory of Music, in Boston, though at different times (Darriau in the 1980s and Down in the ‘90s). They have each spent the good part of the last decade researching, resurrecting and documenting melodies from their travels throughout the Balkans, Africa, Asia and Appalachia for their respective musical projects.
Since moving to New York in 1998, Down became a stronghold in theatre, film, video and dance. She is linked to bands such as Lila (Balkan a cappella), and is the force behind the Ukuladies, a faux family act from Winnipeg, Canada, that performs bawdy songs from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Down, who’s Sephardic, grew up in Berkeley, California, where she was raised secular by her English father and Sephardic mother, and exposed to the Ladino songs of her Sephardic Greek and Turkish heritage. She received her Masters Degree in Music Therapy from New York University last year. Darriau is a multi-reedist and composer from Indiana. While he was not raised Jewish, his parents (both Jewish and Balkan dance enthusiasts) exposed him to Jewish and international folk music.
The couple’s eclectic, dynamic approach to music inspired their Jewish wedding, which was all about tradition with a twist. Down’s pirate-clad father accompanied her down the aisle, and she, herself, gleamed in a vibrant silk magenta gown. Jeweled henna tattoos cascaded down her back and arms. Meanwhile, 10 musicians played a riff from the Beatles’ “I Want You/She’s so Heavy,” the band’s electric bagpipes, robust horn section and Theremin whine evoking the eerie, dramatic feel of Halloween. During the ceremony, their “circling” was reminiscent of a gypsy kerchief dance, and dry ice and fog ascended up from the ground. After the couple exchanged original vows and the union was made kosher, the glass — er, test tube — was broken.
The party, which took place at the Dumbo Loft, featured raucous traditional Jewish dances and songs, potluck vegetarian fare, and guests dressed in originally conceived costumes. Performance artist Jenny Romaine arrived as what she called “burnt encyclopedias morphing into an orange grove.” There was a collapsing blond (dancer Ofra Wolf) and a lady in waiting (dancer Sarah Locke), along with Cat Woman and Bat Man, Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum, a Spartan Warrior, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, an anemic lawyer and two couples dressed as Darriau and Down themselves.
Hipster Jewish dance luminary Steven Lee Weintraub, flown in fresh from Chicago, wore three hats: party ringmaster, Hassidic storyteller and rabbi (he wed the couple). Weintraub, who performed a bottle dance and other offerings while the bride and groom sat watching, knew the couple from the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, where he choreographed a culminating dance class of a staged shtehtl wedding in which Darriau and Down acted as the betrothed couple. As Weintraub confided to the crowd, “Matt liked it so much that he was ready to wed Katie on the spot, even though they had only been dating seven months.
Slavic Soul Party played and Michael Winograd led an ad-hoc klezmer performance. With impromptu acts by Lila and Ukuladies, as well as those by Frank London and Lisa Gutkin of the Klezmatics, Ben Holmes, Aaron Alexander of Hassidic New Wave and Rob Schwimmer on theramin, this neo-Hassidic affair sounded like a musical kaleidoscopic odyssey.
Among the guests were some of the most accomplished and interesting in the New York music scene, including Frank London, Benji Fox Rosen, Rima Fand, Chris Rael, Vlada Tomova, Avi Fox Rosen, Matt Moran and members of Slavic Soul Party, plus a couple of hundred friends and family members, many actively contributing to the New York cultural milieu, both Jewish and otherwise.
The unconventional ceremony and soiree of Down-Darriau (or, as Weintraub quipped, Katie-Mattistan) was nothing short of any Baal Shem Tov or Nachman of Bratslav story. No tricks, and definitely all treat.