When Matisyahu climbs on stage in Vail tonight, he’ll be a little less scruffy than the last time he played here, in 2007 at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.
He was scheduled to play a Spring Back to Vail concert in 2009, but the concert was canceled with organizers citing budget concerns as the reason. But Matisyahu was recently invited back, this time to perform a free concert at Vail Snow Daze. He performs first tonight, on a bill that includes Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
Matthew Paul Miller, known by his Hebrew name and stage name Matisyahu, which means gift from God, is a roots reggae and alternative rock musician who was very well known for his Hasidic Jewish faith and traditional beard and dress.
He gave a video interview the last time he was in town where he talked about his first experience in Colorado.
“When I was 16 I came to Colorado on a wilderness trip,” Matisyahu said in the interview, which was filmed at the Ford Amphitheater. “That was my first taste of the wilderness and the mountains and the expanse. It was the first time I felt the great vastness, the unknown, and felt it in myself as well.” Soon after, the artist traveled to Israel. “I went from the mountains of Colorado to the mountains of Jerusalem. I felt something as ancient as the unknown of the wilderness. I felt it in a way that it was connected to me being Jewish, to that being at the core of who I am.”
It’s clear that Matisyahu has gone through some spiritual and philosophical changes. Before the release of his latest album, “Spark Seeker,” he shaved the beard that had come to define him in many ways. Some of his fans expressed disappointment, but the move revealed the spiritual turmoil the musician had been grappling with for years.
“There were a lot of people that were hurt, that were upset and didn’t understand why I shaved my beard,” he said in an interview with Metro newspaper in New York, which he referred the Vail Daily to during an email interview. “But for me, it was a very inner, organic and real process that lasted over the course of the last 12, 13 years ... At one point I was just able to make that realization that I can change and that it’s my life and that I can do whatever I want and that God will love me.”
The musician elaborated on that point and talked about his upcoming album, set for release this spring, and what people can expect from his Vail concert tonight during an interview this week.
Vail Daily: It seems as if you’ve experienced a spiritual transformation during the course of the past few years, made apparent when you shaved your beard. What kind of realizations have you come to?
Matisyahu: I basically like to leave the explanations to this in the music. There have been a lot of realizations throughout my journey. I don’t consider myself to be less or more of anything. My time spent in the depths of Judaism have taught me that things are not so clear as we would like to make them. The Torah and Chassidut is a living and breathing entity for me. It’s bigger than a beard, and it will always be a part of me.
VD: I heard you have a new record coming out in 2014. What can you tell us about it?
Matisyahu: It was recorded mainly last spring and summer. The idea started in 2010 after I began playing with the Dub Trio. I went to the southwest Ukraine to the grave of the first Hasidic master, the Bal Shem Tov. The record was produced and co-written with Stu Brooks, David Holmes and Joe Tomino of the Dub Trio. I also brought back old band members Aaron Dugan and Rob Marscher and brought in drummer Marc Juliana. During some down time this summer before our tour, we recorded at Studio G in Greenpoint (Brooklyn) with longtime friend and producer Joel Hamilton, who has worked with the trio for years on their records.
VD: What can people expect from your upcoming show in Vail? Will you play songs off the upcoming album?
Matisyahu: This will be our final show of our final tour of the year. We basically toured this summer and fall into this current tour, Festival of Light. Our show is continuously morphing, and we’ve been playing the best we ever have, in my opinion. Moving forward we will mostly be playing the new material, so this is kind of a farewell for a bit to the rest of the catalogue. We will play one or two new songs.
VD: Coming from L.A., and much warmer climes, are you nervous about playing an outdoor show in the winter in Vail? Any plans to ski or snowboard while you’re here?
Matisyahu: Planning to snowboard. I worked the ski lift on Mt. Bachelor in Oregon when I was 18 and 19. Like Chassidut, everything becomes a part. Looking forward to the snow and the mountains.