Jewish Music Festival Avenue J Brings Alex Clare to the Grove

Clare is a convert to Orthodox Judaism.
Clare is a convert to Orthodox Judaism.
Photo Courtesy of Avenue J

Alex Clare is no stranger to struggle. The English singer/songwriter, best-known for his 2011 dubstep crossover hit “Too Close,” owes much of his success to the setbacks he had to overcome. Speaking of being dropped from Island Records early in his career, Clare is insistent that he would not have had it any other way: “Creatively, it’s a great place to be when you’re on your own.”

Clare will not find himself alone on January 24, though, when he will be performing as the headlining act at Coconut Grove's third-annual Avenue J Festival. Now in its third year, Avenue J is a Jewish music festival that tries to merge modern indie and alternative music with religion. Clare will be supported by the bands Zusha and Moshav, and his set at Avenue J marks his first performance in Florida, although he’s already well-acquainted with the state. “I’ve been to Miami. I love it,” Clare remarked. “If you put me near the sea, I’m generally happy.”

Between his status as a convert to Orthodox Judaism and his crowd-pleasing, anthemic tunes, Clare is the ideal headlining act for such an event. Born in Southwark but having come of age in Bromley — the same area where the recently passed David Bowie experienced his upbringing — Clare spent several years enveloped in a hedonistic music scene before discovering Orthodox Judaism.

Discussing his conversion, Clare exudes a tone of reverence and love. “I was always kind of religious, and one day I wanted to learn more.” In Clare’s eyes, Judaism offered a nourishing alternative to a chaotic and shallow music scene. 

Clare’s moment of clarity came when trekking out from Camden Town (the district of London that gave birth to Britpop) to participate in shabbat at a Chasidic synagogue, only to wind up staying and eating dinner with a family he had never met before. Telling the story, Clare describes the experience as a revelatory one. “For the first time in ages, I felt completely normal,” Clare said. “I felt nothing but contentment. Everyone was so mellow and happy and chilled. That family really had a big influence on me.”

It must have, as Clare’s faith has not only refused to waver over the years but has sometimes put a damper on his musical career. To name one of many examples, Clare is shomer Shabbos. For those who have never seen The Big Lebowski, this means that from when the sun sets on Friday to Saturday evening, Clare doesn’t work, doesn't drive a car, doesn't ride in a car, doesn't handle money, doesn't turn on an oven, and he sure as shit does not perform shows.

For most musicians, choosing between one’s faith and playing weekend concerts is as existentially threatening a prospect a working artist can face. But for Clare, the decision is easy. “I really felt that in the music world, the immediate world, and the art world, people are generally unhappy,” Clare says. “Everyone around me was so depressed and unfulfilled. I realize now that the Torah is really the greatest tool to help facilitate balance and rationality behind making decisions.”

As for how Clare got involved with Avenue J, that story is much more straightforward. “I was approached by my good friends in Moshav. They said that there’s a Jewish music festival going on in Miami, and I said, 'OK!'” For the festival, Clare will be playing a mostly acoustic set composed primarily of his solo material.

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Looking forward to the rest of the year, Clare has every intention of returning to the studio to hone his first new work since 2014’s Three Hearts, as well as assemble his musical side project, Tale of Lions. Whatever material Clare decides to play at Avenue J, it is sure to make for an intimate, singular evening. 

Alex Clare, with Moshav, and Zusha. 5:30 p.m. Sunday, January 24, at the Barnacle State Park, 3485 Main Hwy., Miami. Tickets cost $36 plus fees via

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