Ahhh Chantlanta. How we love thee. Let us count the ways…
- Your goal is to spread the bhav.
- You put on a two-day festival with seven great regional bands, all for FREE.
- You topped it off with KRISHNA DAS on the schedule, concert + workshop. Nice.
- You raised more than $3,000 to send an impoverished young woman in India to college.
- You brought the community together and opened up kirtan to people who would otherwise be clueless.
- You did it all in a Baptist Church that practically donated its space.
- You came up with a killer name to boot.
We finally got to Chantlanta this year, its fourth year running. It was worth the trip. In fact, we’d say it’s officially a “destination kirtan” — can we use that term? As in, not just for the locals. Maybe you won’t fly in from California — yet — but if you’re East Coast or Midwest, hey, Atlanta’s a hub airport…
This year, Krishna Das was the headliner at Chantlanta, and he showed up fully. (Read that story here.) That said, it was Chantlanta’s line-up of regional bands that really got us excited. That, and the Chantlanta organizers’ formula for eking out success from a notoriously unprofitable venture like a regional chant fest. Did we mention that there were 12 hours of great kirtan from seven regional bands, all for free? Topped off by Krishna Das, in concert and workshop? And that Chantlanta still managed to raise over 3 grand for a small charity in India (The Learning Tea)?
Chantlanta proved that you can have your bhav and serve too.
Not that it came easy. Chantlanta founder Ian Boccio, who started the fest in 2010 to “raise the profile of kirtan in Atlanta,” freely admits that he and the all-volunteer team that pull this thing together are learning as they go. The first two years were all local bands, all offering their music to the community for free. About 250 people showed up the first time — more than they dreamed — and the numbers have grown consistently. Last year, Chantlanta brought in three “national” kirtan artists — David Newman, Wah!, and Sean Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band — to sweeten the pot and boost attendance. This year, Boccio aimed even higher, successfully bringing Krishna Das back to Atlanta for the first time in at least four years.
The results, Boccio said, “exceeded my expectations in every way.” We don’t think he was just blowing smoke.
The catch 22 of any chant festival, large or small, is that the “big names” that bring in more people also increase the expenses, making it more challenging to break even, never mind have some left over for charity, or (gasp!) a little profit for the folks who are making these things happen. The key for Chantlanta, Boccio said, has been to line up sponsors — local yoga studios, merchants, artists, and natural-living businesses — who buy space in the festival program and in the “merch hall” at the festival. This year, sponsorships effectively covered the overhead for the event.
Volunteers do the bulk of the work, people like yogi-musician Stephanie Kohler (co-leader, with Boccio, of Blue Spirit Wheel) and yoga teacher Karen Dorfman — both of whom have taken lead organizational roles since the first Chantlanta. And like Stan Holt of Swaha Productions, a co-sponsor of the weekend fest and host of the post-fest workshop with Krishna Das.
This formula enables organizers to offer the bulk of the festival at no charge (this year, everything but the KD events were free), and donate any at-the-door donations to the chosen charity. It builds the community and turns new people on to chanting by not giving anyone an excuse NOT to come — it’s free! The “Big Headliner” draws the crowd (Krishna Das packed the place), and everyone else — all those “unknown” local bands who are putting out great kirtan regularly for those in the know — tags along on the coattails of the Rock Star, playing for bigger crowds than they might normally get and opening up new audiences to their devotional art. What’s not to love?
More than anything else, Chantlanta proved just how many great local bhakti bands are out there doing their thing and spreading the bhav in their own little (or not-so-little) communities, just kinda’ waiting for people to wake up to this thing called kirtan.
Stay tuned to this site for more about Chantlanta’s “unknown” bands.
No doubt there’s a Chantlanta waiting to happen in every nook of the nation, drawing together all the locals, maybe bringing in a big name or two, and growing the bhakti community in their little — or not-so-little — corner of the world. It’s already happening, of course, in Denver, in Houston, in Minneapolis and Montreal, in Oregon and Ojai…hell, even in Vermont. We can only hope it continues.
Bravo, Chantlanta, for showing how it’s done.See also: Fresh from The Grammys, Krishna Das Shines at Chantlanta, With Band of One Chantlanta’s ‘Unknown’ Bhakti Bands Reveal Depth & Diversity of Southern Bhav Chantlanta Photo Journal (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page) Krishna Das at Chantlanta Photo Journal (on The Bhakti Beat facebook page) Chantlanta Playlist on The Bhakti Beat YouTube Channel (new videos being added) www.chantlanta.org www.swahaproductions.com (produces kirtan events in the South) www.krishnadas.com