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Singer-songwriter Tim Isberg stages Ancient Cities Tour in Israel, Greece

Tim Isberg and his spouse Oxana on stage at Jacob's Ladder, a major folk festival in Israel.

Tim Isberg and his spouse Oxana on stage at Jacob’s Ladder, a major folk festival in Israel.

Tim Isberg conducted a performance workshop for Bedouin students at a school in the Negev desert.

Tim Isberg conducted a performance workshop for Bedouin students at a school in the Negev desert.

Tim Isberg returned to familiar ground earlier this year in a new role.
The singer-songwriter put together a 10-concert Ancient Cities Tour that took him across Israel, where he once served as a member of the Canadian Forces.
This time Isberg, who was raised in Fort Macleod, carried his guitar and wore the clothes of a singer-songwriter rather than a weapon and military fatigues.
“I was generally very content and happy to return and re-visit familiar sights, but it was different, but mostly in a good way because I was freer to be myself and be a little less obvious as a civilian and not in military vehicles and uniforms,” Isberg said of returning to Israel.
“I recognize the beauty and in-your-face history that exists in the current political State of Israel and Palestinian Territories, but the underlying strife, risk, loss of freedoms and walls that cast shadows everywhere doesn’t get lost on me.”
Isberg first went to Israel in 2005-’06 to do some foreign liaison training and later with the United Nations during the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict.
In 2009-’10 Isberg returned to Israel as a lieutenant-colonel in charge of a joint operation centre for all UN operations in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
The plan to return as a singer-songwriter started last November when some friends in Israel began urging Isberg to tour there in support of his new album.
An independent artist without a major record label or booking agent in his corner, Isberg had to do all the ground work in setting up the tour — contacting clubs and other venues — and his familiarity with the country came in handy.
One of the keys to putting the tour together was to land an anchor gig — in this case a spot at Jacob’s Ladder, Israel’s major folk festival at a resort on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Once that gig was set, Isberg went out arranging the rest of the tour and added three dates in Greece to boot.
After playing at Jacob’s Ladder, Isberg performed at Tiberius, Ra’Anana, Be’er Sheba, Soerot, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well as Athens and Youliagmeni in Greece.
After the Jacob’s Ladder festival, Isberg performed in small bistros and clubs, and at house and garden concerts.
“One venue was special,” Isberg said. “It was a high school library in a Bedouin village in the middle of the Negev desert where I conducted a sort of performance workshop with students where we shared music in English and Arabic.”
The students learned the words to some of Isberg’s songs in advance, and sang along as he played.
Isberg, who was accompanied onstage by his wife Oxana and in some cases by local musicians, was pleased with the positive reception to his music and the support on social media that he received from the Canadian embassies in Tel Aviv and Athens.
The Jerusalem Post did a full-page feature on Isberg and in another article his performance at Jacob’s Ladder was No. 5 on a list of the Top 10 things to do in Israel. An Elton John concert was No. 4 on the same list.
“I was pleasantly surprised at such favourable reception for my songs and performances in both Israel and Greece,” Isberg said. “People actually listened to the lyrics and the stories in-between songs and followed the banter on stage with them. I very much appreciated the line-ups of people to talk to me after shows and buy CDs — as I would anywhere — but when I was told that line-ups for CDs is not so common for many venues in Israel, it was even more appreciated and somewhat humbling.”
Isberg’s songs resonated with his audiences, and for good reason. The Wall, for example, was inspired by the massive security around Bethlehem, and Tears Along the Road by the deaths of soldiers on dangerous roads.
“At one festival, in introducing that song I jokingly asked if there were any military veterans in the large audience,” Isberg recalled. “Of course this drew much laughter because pretty much everyone was a vet in Israel where there is compulsory service after high school graduation.”
“The point is that, although the Tears song for instance is related to my own experiences in Afghanistan, many Israelis have had the same experiences. I didn’t realize that I or my songs were going to connect so well and be well received. I even got to experience fans coming to more than one show and over hear them singing my lyrics with me. As a songwriter, it’s a huge compliment.”
Fort Macleod residents have a chance to catch Isberg in person when he performs Aug. 6 at the Southern Alberta Music Festival at Aspen Crossing near Mossleigh, and on Aug. 27 at Carlsons on Macleod in High River.
Isberg is hopeful adding an international tour, and playing at a major folk festival, to his resume will boost his budding career as he nears the halfway point of his self-alloted two years to test out being a singer-songwriter. He leaves the Canadian Forces for good on Sept. 1.
“I’m realistic and want to keep things practical, fun and meaningful,” Isberg said. “I will continue to write and perform where I’m able, and hopefully make another record sometime. I hope to perform a full show or shared bill at the Empress Theatre sometime of course — it’s a magical place.”
“Meanwhile, I’ll continue to jam with fellow musicians of varying styles, but also listen and watch others play to not only enjoy their songs, but also every show you can learn something from them, too. Learning — no matter where, no matter what — is good.”