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!