We often get asked: “What are the can’t-miss chant events of the year?” It’s a loaded question, for sure, since everyone has their own idea about what is “can’t-miss.” Including us. So we’re sharing our picks for “The Big 5” chant events that are worth getting to, no matter where you’re coming from. Here’s part 1; stay tuned to this space for the rest (subscribe here). And tell us what your top picks are!
Omega’s Ecstatic Chant is the original. Now moving into its second decade as the annual destination for hard-core chantaholics, its roots can be traced back to Ram Dass’s annual retreats at the Rhinebeck, N.Y. campus in the ’80’s.
What’s So Special About Omega?
Omega is different from everything else on The Big 5 list because it is chant and only chant. It’s also the only one that is not a “festival” per se — more like a “retreat.” Or, in Omega parlance, a weekend workshop (The Yoga of Voice). The program is chanting. That’s it. No simultaneous yoga classes across campus. No lectures or experiential workshops to compete for your time. Just chant, chant and chant some more.
On the second day, there is an extraordinary all-night session that, if you are game, is pretty much guaranteed to take you so deep into the bhav that you just might, as Swami Satchidananda said, “forget everything.” Participants fairly camp out in the Main Hall, variously dancing furiously or quietly meditating, dozing or chatting in between sets… and before you know it, dawn is rising, right in tune with the lilting flute-play of Manose and Steve Gorn.
But what makes Omega stand out for us are those completely unpredictable moments that are pure gold for the soul — like Radhanath Swami wailing on the harmonica with Deva Premal and Miten. Or Donna De Lory joining C.C. White to sing Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. Or this little gem from Shyamdas, who never fails to liven things up with his stories and shenanigans:
‘The Super Bowl of Chant’
Jai Uttal once famously called Omega Chant “the Super Bowl of chant fests,” maybe because only a handful of artists make it to the line-up and the competition to be on the schedule is intense. (Each artist typically plays at least two full sets over the course of the weekend, and many play a third time at the Labor Day bonus session.) Rechtschaffen, who makes the line-up decisions, says he is inundated with artists’ CDs and promo tapes and is always on the look-out for bands with a “unique” sound, but knows that bringing in someone “new” means someone else gets bumped, even if they’ve been on the Omega line-up for years.
C.C. White was at fall Chant for the first time last year, and Dave Stringer returned after a few years’ absence. Snatam Kaur and Wah!, both long-time Omega regulars, were noticeably absent last fall, as was David Newman (Wah! played at Omega’s smaller Spring Chant in May; Newman and Kaur both led workshop at the retreat center this summer). Rechtschaffen openly lamented the absence of each of these favorites at fall Chant.
The 2012 Line-Up
Krishna Das, Shyamdas, Jai Uttal (with Daniel Paul) are constants on the Omega schedule. They have been leading the Omega Chant pack since the early days and it’s hard to imagine Chant Weekend without all of them. They can usually be counted on to be stage center during the famous closing session, when all the wallahs and musicians join together on stage for a final free-for-all. Typically, you can find Shyamdas directing the action, Jai Uttal playfully rebelling, and Krishna Das playfully grumpy at having to be in the spotlight at such an “early” hour (it’s only 11:30 a.m. or so, after all).
The ever-popular Deva Premal and Miten and Sikh songstress Snatam Kaur round out the top-bill headliners at this year’s Chant.
Vishal Vaid, who has trained in traditional ghazal (an ancient form of poetry in song that translates to “conversation with the divine”), astounds audiences every year (watch this for example) and seems to have a pretty solid position on the Omega roster. The Mayapuris, the Florida-based band of “Krishna Kids” who have leaped — literally — into the international kirtan scene are back for a third year, and if previous years’ pattern holds true, will join just about everyone else’s bands as well.
C.C. White is back for her second year, having solidified her return with two crowd-rousing sets last fall showcasing songs from her debut solo CD, This IS Soul Kirtan, which was “pre-released” at Omega. Gaura Vani and bansuri flute virtuosos Manose and Steve Gorn complete the bill of musicians. Radhanath Swami, who caused all sorts of excitement last fall when he joined Deva Premal and Miten on stage for an impromptu (and seriously wailin’) harmonica solo, will also be on hand. We hope he brings his harmonica.
Where: Omega Institute is located in Rhinebeck, NY, smack in the middle of the “Bhajan Belt,” the upstate New York region known for a confluence of kirtan. It’s about 90 miles north of NYC and roughly the same distance from Albany. There’s an Amtrak station nearby and a commuter train to NYC.
How Much: This is the only bug in the ointment. Tuition alone for Ecstatic Chant is $395. The Labor Day session is $125, or $75 if you’re doing the weekend retreat also. Accomodations are additional, and on-site cabins or dorms tend to be, shall we say, “rustic” (but pleasant enough). See http://eomega.org/workshops/ecstatic-chant for details.
What Else? Rhinebeck is a quaint and boho-chic Hudson Valley town with lots of restaurants, shopping and an indie movie house. But you may never want to leave the Omega campus, a rolling oasis with a small lake where you can kayak, hiking paths, great vegetarian meals, a wellness spa with all manner of body-work and subtle-energy treatments available, a soothing sanctuary at the top of the hill, and the charged energy of 30 years as a destination for spiritual masters and seekers of all stripes.
So, what do you say? Will you be going to Ecstatic Chant this year? Why or why not?