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…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.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.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. 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?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!