This article originally posted on Jewish Music Report.
The date: Monday, August 13, 2001.
The place: Camp Romimu, Sackett Lake, Monticello, New York.
It was my second summer at Romimu, and I was the counselor of Bunk Yud Beis, the second youngest bunk in camp’s day camp division. That meant I had a lot of free time on my hands, which was a good thing for several reasons. First of all, I am insufferably lazy. Second of all, I used much of my free time practicing the saxophone and clarinet. We musicians had a small practice room off to the side of the stage where we stored our instruments (a large walk-in closet, really), and I spent countless hours in there playing. That summer the camp’s grand concert featured Shlomo Simcha (ARE YOU PUMPED???????), and I was beginning to prep for Color War, which everyone knew was going to start sometime that week.
During the second week of August, I was approached by the camp keyboard player, who was in charge of the music and video at the camp. He asked if I would be available to play sax at a small, intimate concert for a couple of special-needs campers who were regulars at the camp. The headliner? Some guy named Avraham Fried.
My reaction: Something along the lines of, “You had me at hello”. Possibly with the added sound of me hyperventilating.
A few days later, I was approached again. Change of plans, I was told. The Avraham Fried concert would now be for the entire camp. Three songs (Shalom Aleichem, Didoh Bei, and Chazak), to be immediately followed by Color War Breakout.
The hyperventilating increased its intensity. The practice sessions in the side room went from frequent to constant.
Signs went up. A second big concert in camp? Amazing! And the hottest artist in all of Jewish music? What could be better? Even the too-cool-for-school kids (who knew that Color War had to be coming up soon) were having second thoughts about their skepticism when they saw me frantically practicing the same three songs over and over again.
Finally, it was time for the big night. I don’t think I had ever been so over-prepared for a gig in my life. The only red flag was that there had been no sound check, no dress rehearsal, and I hadn’t seen Avremel yet, despite the fact that I was assured he was going to be on time.
Boys and girls, this is what they call “foreshadowing”.
We were ready. The house lights dimmed. The keyboard played an opening arpeggio, and we all heard it from backstage:
“Shaaaaaaaloim Aleichem…malachei hashareis…”
It was him. Oh my gosh, it was really him. Avraham Fried himself. He was really here. In a green Camp Romimu t-shirt. Long black-ish beard and everything.
After we finished playing our three-song set, I kind of just stood there. I had no idea what was supposed to happen next.
Another arpeggio. “Yiddelach shrait, ad mosai….”
Oh. OK. Sheyiboneh. I knew that song.
“Yiddelach shrait, ad mosai….”
“Yiddelach shrait, ad mosai, ad mosai, ad mosai, until when will you believe that I am Avraham Fried?”
“COLOR WAR TWO THOUSAND AND ONE!!!!”
That’s when the beard miraculously started to come off, and the Romimu head staff joined our ersatz Avremel on stage and began to announce our Color War lineup.
The impostor, as you may have guessed by now, was the then-16-year-old Benny Friedman, Avraham Fried’s nephew, who was beginning to get into the music business by doing extremely accurate impressions of his famous uncle. Apparently, the Romimu show was his first ever concert. Looking back on it now, I almost can’t believe I was fooled by the fake beard, but that voice…. Apparently, I was the last person in the room to realize that we were being punked. Oh well.
In the camp administration’s defense, everyone involved in the hoax apologized for not letting me in on the gag—they insisted that the campers needed to see me practicing like a madman in order to complete the illusion that Avraham Fried was really coming.