This is the first of a new series, “Get the Bhav,” which covers kirtan festivals and retreats. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with information about upcoming events.
Move over “HotLanta.” After this weekend, the Big Peach, the City of Peace and of Trees may well have a brand new nickname: ChantLanta.
Now in its third year and bigger than ever, ChantLanta marries three big artists — WAH!, DAVID NEWMAN & MIRA, and SEAN JOHNSON & THE WILD LOTUS BAND — with EIGHT regional bhakti bands for two rockin’ days of call-and-response chanting plus yoga, sound and movement workshops throughout the day Saturday.
The music starts Friday night with three great local bands, BHAKTI MESSENGER, RAHASYA, and DHVANI, all for free. These three alone would be enough to get us to ChantLanta, even if they may be new names to many. BHAKTI MESSENGER, formed in 2009 by IAN BOCCIO, PHIL McWILLIAMS, BRIHASPATI and AMANDA FEINSTEIN, are Wallahs to Watch: they have opened for WAH! and SHYAMDAS, have played with other “big names” in kirtan, and have been invited to play at Bhakti Fest in September. Check out their music and new CD, “Now,” and hear for yourself why they are on the rise.
RAHASYA, based in Athens, Ga., is another band to remember — and hear. Comprised of SURDAS and VAJRA YOGINI plus keyboardist GERSHON, the group weaves Sanskrit mantras and Hebrew chants infused with southern gospel improv and heart-opening poeticism. They have been touring throughout the Southeast in celebration of their second CD, “Covered in Song,” which released just last month.
All day Saturday 3/10, bhakti love flows from five more local bands: FLYING MYSTICS, WOVEN TONGUES, KIRTAN BANDITS, SUNMOON PIE, and CHAITANYA KIRTAN. In addition to nonstop chanting, workshops throughout the day cover topics such as Sufi meditation, Five Rhythms Dance, mantra chanting, and breathwork. By the time Saturday night rolls around for the “big acts,” the energy at the Druid Hills Baptist Church, where ChantLanta unfolds, is likely be higher than…Sunday service at a Southern Baptist church?? The Saturday night line-up is the only part of the weekend that costs anything, and at $50 for three top performers, we think it’s a bargain. UPDATE: ChantLanta has graciously extended the discount ticket price of $35 to ALL until the day of the event, thanks to our article!
Putting HotLanta on the Chant Map
Birthing credit for ChantLanta goes to BHAKTI MESSENGER, whose co-founder Ian Boccio said in an email that the band “threw together” the first fest in March 2010 “as a way to increase awareness of kirtan and bhakti practices” and build a kirtan community in greater Atlanta and beyond. The strategy seems to be working: Ian says attendance at BHAKTI MESSENGER’s kirtans has “exploded,” new bands (including DHVANI) have formed, other bands (like RAHASYA) now play regularly in Atlanta, and the city is becoming a destination for touring national artists. “2012 looks to be a banner year for us, with WADE IMRE MORISSETTE, BHAGAVAN DAS, SHYAMDAS, and GIRISH all visiting our city in the first several months,” Ian said.
Omega Institute’s Ecstatic Chant weekends inspired him, Ian says. “That was the first time I got the idea of what it would be like to do kirtan for days on end.” He also found inspiration in the “Chant, Chai and Charity” events organized in Philadelphia by Steve Groff (Mira Newman’s father), and has used that as a model. Last year’s ChantLanta festival raised $6,000 for charity, even without charging attendees a penny! (The money came through sponsorships.) This year, the organizers are hoping for 1,000 attendees, and proceeds benefit two local charities: 50 Cents Period and AiJalon.
These bhaktas have big plans for ChantLanta, hoping to make it “the largest and most visible kirtan event in the South.” (They are not without competition: Sarasota, Fla.’s Rock the Bhakti weekend in January brought in SHANTALA and WAH! to join local groups PALMS TOGETHER and others, and in Houston, the Texas Yoga Conference last month hosted SEAN JOHNSON & THE WILD LOTUS BAND, DAVID NEWMAN & MIRA, SUZANNE STERLING, THE DESERT DWELLERS and Texas favorites THE BHAKTI HOUSE BAND.)
Somehow we think the South is big enough to handle all these festivals and more. As Ian says: “We believe that if more people are chanting, there will be more peace and harmony in the world!” Hear Hear.