Libi, a 63-year-old rocker with a pierced nose and ripped fishnets, presents an unexpected amalgam of contradictory traits.
Her long, dyed black hair and thick bangs that just brush her well-lined eyes. Her always-torn jeans. Her voice, throaty and deep, perfect for belting out the lyrics to her favorite, 40-year-old classic rock tunes. Her use of just one name, Libi.
And her Brooklyn accent that hasn’t disappeared after nearly 30 years in Israel, with a heavy dose of “God willing”s and “thank God”s sprinkled into her conversation.
It’s all classic Libi, a familiar personage on the local rock ‘n roll scene who will perform with her band, Libi and the Flashback in this week’s Jerusalem Woodstock Revival VII, while in the midst of competing on the Israeli reality show “The X-Factor.”
That’s because belting out classic rock tunes onstage is what Libi does best.
“I know exactly who I am and I shall remain this way, God willing,” said Libi.
The rock ‘n roller, who moved to Israel in 1979 and has had about “20 comebacks,” most recently as the lead singer for Libi and the Flashback, decided to try out for the reality show after returning to Israel following several stints in the US to care for her mother and then pregnant daughter.
She thought of the show, now in its second season, as a good platform for getting back onstage and teaching local kids about classic rock.
“The problem with this country is too much talent,” said Libi. “God has blessed us with an amazing amount of entertainers and when you have so many, you get lost in the shuffle.”
The reality show, like other talent-driven TV shows, aims to launch musical careers of young singers, much like the local version of “A Star is Born” helped start the career of Shiri Maimon, now one of the four “X-Factor” judges.
“The people who used to see me had no way of knowing I was around,” said Libi. “I wanted the kids of this country to hear classic rock, to hear what I feel is the most incredible music.”
The challenge, said Libi, has been intense. After getting through the first rounds of tryouts, Hart made it to the televised audition in front of judges and is now in the “X-Factor” boot camp, “learning a tremendous amount.”
Now her “X-Factor” mentor, 61-year-old punk rocker and judge Rami Fortis, grins broadly at Hart every time she appears on stage.
“I fluctuate between ‘I can’t believe I’m going to do this and oh my God, what a great opportunity,” she said. “I’m surrounded at boot camp by 70 singers and they’re all just so wonderful and sweet and adorable, and then there’s the tech crew and musical production. I never had any direction in what not to do which is more important than what to do. I’m challenging my brain big time.”
Libi, who grew up in Monsey, New York, which she called a “Disneyland for Jewish kids,” was raised in the Modern Orthodox world of the 1960s. Her mother went to the hairdresser every Friday to freshen up her beehive hairdo and her parents attended the Metropolitan Opera, and “God forbid if you put a milchig (dairy) spoon into the fleishig (meat) sink,” she said.
Her musical education began with Shabbat zemirot sung around the Shabbat table, as well as the tutelage of her mother, who had been a radio singer in the 1940s and her father, a former Shakespearean actor who taught Hart and her sister proper breathing and diction without amplification.
It was when her father bought his daughters transistor radios for listening to the Yankees in the backyard that the young Libi tuned into a local station and heard the Beatles for the first time.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” she said. “That’s when I got turned on.”
While she was told by a teacher that her love for Paul McCartney was idol worship, Libi knew she’d be a singer. Her first performance? In classmate Isaac Gindi’s basement at the age of 15, and it progressed from there, she said. She was, however, “a very good girl,” said Libi, and still is.
At the age of 18, a chance meeting at a New York City cafe with an agent almost turned into Libi’s first album, but she was on her first date with her future first husband, and he told her he didn’t want a rock ‘n roll wife.
It took another few years until they moved to Israel and she started performing with a few guys, ranging from busier periods of 32 shows a month to weekly duets at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
“X-Factor,” however, has challenged her. While she says she’s “pretty stuck in the 60s — it’s the greatest music ever”– she’s enjoying the opportunity to learn new songs “all the time.”
Her local following depends on the city — in Jerusalem, it’s “my tattooed, tichel (kerchief-wearing) crowd, and all these hip, pierced Israelis in the rest of the country,” because “everybody loves classic rock and roll.”
Ditto for Woodstock, said Libi, who will be performing for the fourth time with Flashback to the usual crowd of older Anglos and younger Israelis, with three and sometimes four generations of families showing up for a late afternoon and evening of music, including, she hopes, her own grandsons.
“It just proves to me once again that the music we’re doing needs to be sung,” she said.
Of course, it’s only fitting that Libi rocks the stage at the local festival, given her own Woodstock history. When Max Yasgur opened his farm in 1969, Libi was the only one of her friends who had a ticket, but her parents found it and switched it for an El Al plane ticket.
“I was on a plane full of angry teens and self-satisfied parents,” she said. “I was bitching to the girl next to me, but the second the door opened, I smelled something in the air and I was crying my eyes out.”
The rest is Libi history.
Libi and the Flashback will be joined at this year’s Woodstock Revival by Geva Alon, returning to sing the songs of his favorite Neil Young; Gal Nisman and his popular young blues band, Full Trunk, who will be playing the hits of Eric Clapton and Cream, and The Elevators will once again pay tribute to The Grateful Dead. Yasgur’s niece, Abigail Yasgur, will also be on hand with her new book, “Max Said Yes! The Woodstock Story,” coauthored with her husband, Joseph Lipner.