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Amazing Grace by Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out


Sanctuary from the storm

It must have taken amazing grace to pull off what Krishna Das accomplished on Saturday night of Bhakti Fest.

Rained out of the main stage by a rare desert thunderstorm that began at exactly the moment he was sitting down at his harmonium, his set was reconvened in the Joshua Tree Retreat Center’s sanctuary hours later, near midnight. Everyone who had converged for the headline act of the weekend — a thousand? two thousand? — were now jammed inside a sweltering, airless room designed to hold 500.

It was hot. It was late. Some of us had been up for three days straight. Personal space was at a premium, even for KD and his band. Dozens of artists and Bhakti Fest bigwigs, who would normally have been seated back-stage, were huddled around and behind the stage. Deepak Ramapriyan and MC Yogi had the best seats in the house, tucked into alcoves above the alter on which Krishna Das played.

Their view must have looked something like this picture snapped by Kimo Estores, guitarist for Larisa Stow and Shakti Tribe (actually, five photos brilliantly stitched together in Photoshop):

Later in the set, when MC Yogi left to get ready for his own performance following KD, CC White climbed into the perch next to Deepak. The two together — she in her signature red turban and he in his signature shirtlessness — looked every bit like kirtan royalty gazing with adoration upon the kingdom’s most favored musician.

But I digress. The real king of this night was KD, who delivered what the people came to experience: classic Krishna Das, just like you hear from the CD in your car stereo. Except in this case there were a couple thousand bhaktas gyrating along. It was a pretty standard set (based on my experience having chanted with him 30 or so times), and was delivered in substandard conditions, but somehow the end result was very super-standard. He would begin each chant low and prayerful, just like always, slowly upping the tempo bit by bit with a nod to Arjun Bruggeman to kick those tablas up a notch. But this night he seemed to take every song a notch or two beyond usual, as if feeding on the energy of the swarm before him and sending it right back to them, times 108. A 30-minute-long Hare Krishna Maha Mantra went right over the top when Grammy-nominated David Nichtern laid into a guitar riff that whipped the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy. If you weren’t dancing by then, you might as well have been in bed. (Or maybe you were deep in Samadhi…)

Despite the hour, the lightning storm wash-out, the oppressive heat and the over-stuffed space, Krishna Das proved again that he can flow through just about anything with the grace of a guru.

Maybe that’s why, on Sunday afternoon, in a much less crowded, much cooler workshop in the same sanctuary space, KD broke out spontaneously into a verse of Amazing Grace toward the end of a sweet rolling Maha Mantra. Play this all the way through to hear it…

mmmm…how sweet the sound!


Best of the Bhav


The desert sun has set on another Bhakti Fest. The last wallahs have wailed their Maha Mantras, the superstar yogis have left the tent, and the long journey home is complete. Time to review and reflect.

“What was the highlight for you?” is a question that always comes up in these periods. And I’m always baffled. How does one choose favorite moments from a bhakti-feast that spanned four full days and nights? Fifty-nine kirtan performances, by my count — nearly 100 hours of music on two stages, not even counting all the great live music in the yoga sessions and workshops (and there was some serious going on in those sessions). From new artists you’ve probably never heard of, to the kings of kirtan that you know and love, to collaborations that you only get at places like Bhakti Fest, what WASN’T a great moment would be an easier question.

Magic in the Air
There was magic all around this 3,626-mile trip to Bhakti Fest (via Boston, Atlanta and San Diego). On the way out, my partner Jim and I stayed at a Motel 6 outside San Diego to sleep a few hours before driving the three last hours to Joshua Tree. As we’re packing up, Jim, on a whim, randomly opens the Gideon’s Bible in the room and lands square on Psalm 98: “O sing unto the Lord a new song, for he hath done marvellous things.” hmmmm.

Fast forward to the trip home two days after Bhakti Fest ended, a bleary-eyed drive from Boston after 12 hours of airports, coach seats and schlepping too many heavy bags. Around 3 a.m. we stopped at a rest area in New Hampshire, which was deserted save for a trucker or two napping in their cabs. I headed for the ladies’ room, squinting from the approaching flourescence. No one was in sight, but music was blasting from a speaker somewhere. Is that…? Yup. The Maha Mantra, ala George Harrison in “My Sweet Lord.” All I could do was smile.

Here are some other moments that stand out from our journey to Joshua Tree, offered with complete bias and in no particular order…

Deepak Ramapriyan, Show Stealer

Show Stealer: Deepak Ramapriyan and the Breath of Life Tribe made their first appearance on the Bhakti Fest main stage, and did not disappoint. They delivered an enchanting mix of ancient mantra, modern pop and innovative musicianship and topped it off with “the bhakti dance” to get the whole crowd moving in unison. Original, inventive, captivating!

Crowd-Pleaser: Celebrating the release of her first CD, CC White worked the crowd into the kind of frenzy that only the Diva of Soul Kirtan can.

Larisa Stow, Mover & Shaker

Mover & Shaker: Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe proved they could shake things up last year and moved us again with their hard-edged, soft-hearted mantra rock with a message. Larisa’s tete a tete with audience at the end, with her sitting on the stage and everyone crowded around her like students eager to hear their teacher’s words, was priceless.

Rock Star: Donna De Lory’s set on Saturday night — her birthday — was electrifying. Literally. Her fiery rock-mantra music was punctuated by a spectacular light show from an encroaching thunderstorm (a really BIG one).

Surprise Treat: Krishna Das breaking into Amazing Grace mid-Maha Mantra during his workshop Sunday afternoon.

Dave Stringer with...well, everyone!

Master Collaborator: Dave Stringer loves a good jam kirtan, so he brought everybody he could think of up for his last couple songs. Marti Walker, Brenda McMorrow, Ishwari and Sruti Ram, Meenakshi…who else? He also guest-starred in sets by Joey Lugassy, McMorrow and Meenakshi.

Fantuzzi wakes us up

Late-Night Wake-Up: Fantuzzi, who came on around 4 a.m. Friday morning (Night 1), rocked the worlds of the few die-hards who resisted the lull of sleep (or who were, like me, lurched out of it by Fantuzzi’s high-energy reggae/rock/kirtan love).

Ready for Main Stage: Brenda McMorrow, Canada’s shining starlet of kirtan. Have you seen her rockin’ that acoustic guitar to the Maha Mantra?

Mark Gorman (bass) and Yehoshua Brill (electric guitar), with Donne De Lory

Stage Staples: Deepak Ramapriyan may have broken the record for most on-stage appearances in bands other than his own (28 performances, according to his facebook status). But so many other musicians are called upon again and again: Mark Gorman, Yehoshua Brill, John de Kadt, Dave Allen, Vish from the Mayapuris…who else?

Sweetest Synchronicity: Arriving at the registration tent within minutes of Larisa Stow and Benj Clark of Shakti Tribe and getting the sweeeeeeetest hugs.

And the winner is… I could go on, but what I really want to know is, What were the highlights for you? If you were at Bhakti Fest, what was your favorite moment? If you weren’t there, share your best moment in the bhav anywhere. Please tell us in comments below!


Reggae Kirtan from Jai Uttal


There was so much incredible kirtan at Omega’s Ecstatic Chant weekend that it’s hard to decide what to post first. We love this Jai Jai Ma from Jai Uttal’s first set Friday night.

Jai’s new CD, Queen of Hearts, dedicated to Radha, is now available. Have you heard it yet?


Rad Swami Blues


Lit up.

In his book The Journey Home, Radhanath Swami tells the story of standing on the banks of the Ganges and throwing his beloved blues harmonica — his last possession and final vestige of his Western life — into the sacred waters. It was a heart-wrenching moment, but something he felt compelled to do for the very reason that he knew how attached he was to that harm, and his path was one that disavowed material possessions. His days singing the blues were done.

Well, at least they were until last weekend’s Omega’s chant. With a little teasing from Miten and a lot of cajoling from the audience, Swami-Ji took to the stage at the end of Deva Premal’s set to bust out a pretty wailin’ harmony for Miten’s take on the blues classic, “You’ve Got to Move.”

The crowd went wild. And Swami-Ji lit up like a child.

It was one of those moments in kirtan that are completely unexpected and wholly unforgettable. Check it out:

What has been your most unforgettable moment in kirtan so far?