Can we just say how much we love livestream? We envision a day when every festival and concert, kirtans included, is streamed free to living rooms and laptops everywhere. With perfect audio. And a strong, steady feed. And — since we’re dreaming — professional camerawork that zooms in on the action. While we’re at it, could we get a caption here and there identifying featured musicians? (Who was that on violin with Karnamrita Dasi anyway?)
Until that vision is reality, we’ll take what we can get. What we got yesterday from Shakti Fest — thanks to New World Kirtan and Kitzie Stern for persevering with the technicalities — was two full sets of the bhav in Joshua Tree, Dasi and Jai Uttal, plus smatterings of choppy, wildly fluctuating audio from Saul David Raye, Deepak Ramapriyan, and David Newman’s sets earlier in the day. By the time Dasi took the stage, it seemed like the bugs had been worked out on the stream AND video had been added. Not only did it sound better, but we had a back-row view of the action. We’re glad we stuck it out and kept listening…
From the stage to the altar. (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)
This is, of course, the first Bhakti Fest without Shyamdas, the beloved “elder statesman of bhakti,” as emcee Shiva Baum described him last night. Normally, Shyamdas would be steering the ship of bhav here, both behind the scenes and stage center, particularly during the legendary final set, where all the wallahs and musicans crowd the stage for a final Hare Krishna mahamantra. (Check out the action from last fall’s finale in the video below.) While he may not have been there in body, it was clear from listening in on the goings-on in the high desert that Shyamdas was on everyone’s minds, and in everyone’s hearts.
In every set that we caught, the artist paused to say a few words, share a personal remembrance, or dedicate a song to Shyamdas. Jai Uttal devoted a Sri Radhe chant in what he called “a sad melody” to Shyam; Dasi closed her set with one of Shyam-ji’s favorites, The Song of Sweetness, which glorifies the nectar of Krishna’s form and love. Govindas, one half of Govindas and Radhe and the founder of the Bhakti Yoga Shala, Santa Monica’s temple to kirtan, spoke at length between sets about his time “sitting at the feet” of Shyamdas.
The master of Hari Katha was eternally present.
Jai Uttal & Friends (Photo courtesy of Bhakti Fest)
Just before Uttal played, Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein came onstage to pay tribute to his dear friend in words and a three-minute slide show with an audio track of Shyamdas being interviewed in India just weeks before his death. Putting it together, sifting through images and recordings of Shyamdas, “has been tearing me up emotionally every single day,” Silberfein said. He told of the Bhakti Yatra group tour to India in January, for which Shyamdas was a very large part of the itinerary but never made it to the entourage waiting for him.
You may have heard the story before…but Silberfein added some new details. He said Shyamdas called him just before they were slated to rendezvous saying he was suffering a breakout of shingles and wouldn’t be able to join the group of 25 or so Westerners who had traveled to India fully expecting a Shyamdas-led tour of Vrindavan, the holy city in India that Shyam so loved (and was practically the town’s adopted mayor , from what we’ve heard). Instead, Shyamdas stayed in Goa to rest and recuperate; the motorcycle accident that ended his life happened a few days later.
K.d. Devi Dasi and Prajna Vierra tending the Main Stage altar (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)
The audio on the slide show dropped out from the livestream feed so it was difficult to catch, but Shyamdas was telling a funny story involving Uttal and Krishna Das, something to do with Uttal’s assertion that KD was too “masculine to be a Gopi.” (Who can fill us in on the details?) Whatever it was that was lost in cyberspace, it was enough to elicit lots of guffaws from the audience, as well as a good-natured comment from Uttal, who joked that Shyamdas was “hounding me even from the grave.”
Mohan Baba, Shyamdas’s friend of 40 years and one of the close satsang who was with him the night he passed, told of how Shyamdas — in his final hours of life after the accident — was “totally focused inward.”
“He didn’t say a word and was just sitting there calmly, in an intense devotional space,” Mohan said.
One of the things he loved about Shyamdas, Mohan said, was that “he was just a regular guy. He was not a swami, not a renunciate. He lived a householder’s life, and was totally fixated on the divine lila.” Even though he came from a wealthy Connecticut family, “he turned his back on all that, choosing to live very simply.”
During Gina Sala’s set (Photo by Kamaniya Devi)
“There’s a big lesson for all of us there,” Mohan said, “to live life as fully as you can, every day.”
Just when you thought you might make it through this tearjerker tribute without breaking down, Shiva Baum broke down, his voice cracking as he introduced Jai Uttal’s set.
“Shyamdas is irreplaceable, and he will be with us always,” Baum said before turning it over to Uttal “His love blankets this entire festival.”
Here’s the video from last fall’s Bhakti Fest, with Shyamdas steering the bhav in the festival-closing raucous, windblown, stage-lights-about-to-topple all-wallah finale. Through it all, Shyamdas just kept singing to Krishna.
You Can Count On Me, the much-anticipated sequel to David Newman’sStay Strong charitable project for Global Green USA, was released this week with a new single available on iTunes and Amazon and a nice long video of the joy-filled jam session that created it. Newman spoke with The Bhakti Beat about the project’s Aha! moment, kirtan activism, and how his own practice has evolved in the 20 years since he founded Yoga on Main in Philadelphia (hint: fatherhood has factored!).
Have you seen this video yet? It’s a bhaktified joyride with a boatload of the wallah world’s favorite musicians singing their hearts out and generally having a blast recording the charity single, You Can Count On Me, in one of the music industry’s most famous recording studios.
The epic jam session began as a twinkle in David Newman’s eye when he was driving to Los Angeles after Bhakti Fest last September. “I just got a very strong feeling about doing it,” he said. “I thought: wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic studio and we recorded this together, and filmed it all?”
Photo courtesy Stay Strong Project
The pieces came together at the speed of an L.A. minute. iPhones were humming all over Southern California — Newman said everyone was invited by text!– and the response flowed in. Shiva Baum signed on to co-produce the single with Newman and long-time axeman/collaborator Philippo Franchini. Amy Dewhurst came aboard to produce the video. The very next day — and lots of thumb-tapping later — anyone in the bhakti world who was in L.A. at the time gathered at the legendary Village Recorder studio to give it up for Global Green USA.
Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project
“Everything was put together in a 24-hour period,” Newman said. “The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night.”
Talk about instant karma…
Just look at the list of musicians who showed up to collaborate in the band, choir and dance party. “I guess you could call them the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars,” Newman said, adding that many artists who were invited had already left the area.
You Can Count On Me , written by Newman and Donna De Lory, is a feel-good anthem chant in the songwriter-meets-wallah style Newman is known and loved for. The medley fuses Newman’s original lyrics evoking an “I’ve got your back” loyalty and kinship with a rollicking Shyam Bolo refrain that you can’t help but sing and dance along with (see the video for evidence of that). The single — available digitally only as a single short track or a two-track set with the longer Shyam Bolo jam — features the vocal nectar of De Lory, C.C. White, and Shyamdas, in addition to all three of the Newmans. Yes, even toddler Tulsi got her chance at the mike (she’s officially listed in the credits for “giggles”). Cuteness overload alert!
Pulled To Do Something Different
With this song and the original Stay Strong single, which broke the top 5 in the iTunes world-music chart, Newman said he had felt pulled to do something different. “You could say these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me.” At Bhakti Fest he sang a somewhat mellower version of Count On Me, and it was during the course of the festival that “it started becoming clear that the song would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong,” he said.
Mira & Tulsi Newman (Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project)
All proceeds from the song go directly to Global Green’s Green School program, supporting the organization’s effort to build green schools in needy communities and help foster appreciation for sustainability in the next generation, the future stewards of the planet. With Tulsi as a constant reminder, Newman says these are the topics he thinks about a lot these days. Read the interview below.
Q&A With David Newman
THE BHAKTI BEAT:You Can Count On Me is a benefit for Global Green, as was the first Stay Strong. Why this cause?
DAVID NEWMAN: As we’ve seen with Hurricane Sandy, there are lot of issues going on in our environment, and sustainability for our future and for our children’s futures is an important issue. The idea of green schools is critical to building a sustainable future .
Now that I have a child, I think a lot about what this world is going to be like for her.The children are really the shepherds of a future sustainable life on this planet Earth, so environmental issues are very dear to me.
Initially, I did Stay Strong with Global Green partially because I really loved what they were doing, and partially because the chief operating officer, Richard Wegman, is a bhakti yogi/Reiki kind of person – he is someone who really sees the relationship between living with an open heart and activism. I have a real strong connection with Richard, so there’s a synergy there between us.
TBB: What inspired you to create this sequel to Stay Strong?
DN: I would say 50 percent or more of what I do on the Stay Strong project in terms of my impetus or inspiration is just simply to put something out there that inspires people, opens hearts and brings a smile to those faces who see it. That’s my main inspiration.
Secondarily, with both this new song and the first Stay Strong release, there was something unusual about the writing process that motivated me to do something different. I guess you could say, for whatever reason, these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me. When I wrote the song You Can Count on Me, I just felt that I wanted to do something special with the song. Then when I was at Bhakti Fest, it started becoming clear that it would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong. That’s how it came about.
Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project
The inspiration to do the video at this legendary recording studio called Village Recorders in Los Angeles really came to me while I was driving back from Bhakti Fest to L.A., where I was going to be for a week. I just got a very strong feeling about doing it, I thought wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic recording studio and we recorded this together and filmed it?
What was so graceful about the project was that everybody involved, including the producer, musicians, singers, film-makers, it was all put together in a 24-hour period. The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night. And, talk about the technology of 2012 — every single person invited was invited via text message.
TBB: Wow. What does that say about this community coming together?
DN: The outpouring of energy was amazing. The evening in the studio was just absolutely charged, really a creatively high experience. To some degree I was limited by the people who were still in L.A. [after Bhakti Fest]; there were others I contacted who had already left the area. So in a lot of ways this is kind of a Los Angeles project — the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars, I guess you could say.
TBB: Does that mean there will be an East Coast version to balance it out?
DN: I never know. This all came alive in such a short period of time. The Stay Strong project to me is a mystery: I didn’t expect it to happen the first time and didn’t expect to do a second release, so who knows what could come from it moving forward.
TBB: We’re seeing a lot of “kirtan activism” these days, from Hurricane Sandy relief to sex trafficking in India. What role can or should kirtan play in activism?
DN: I think the practice and the sharing of bhakti kirtan is its own form of activism (chuckles), because it activates people’s hearts and that inspires them to follow their bliss and passions and to participate in life in a conscious and joyful way.
For all of us road warriors out there doing door-to-door kirtan, that is activism. It’s playing an active role in the upliftment of the planet. I think all of us who practice bhakti are connected to serving humanity. I can’t really speak about what the role is in getting involved in more traditional activist settings, but to me, [bhakti yoga] is a means to help in a broader way. That’s always been a big part of what I do, and one of the reasons my presentation of kirtan has a little more of a Western flair is to bring it to more people.
In terms of supporting charities and nonprofit organizations, I can’t speak for other people but it definitely plays a role for me. My last CD, Stars, gave a portion of every CD sold to Peter Gabriel’s Witness.org, a humanitarian organization that distributes cameras and iPhones to people around the world to document human rights violations. The video we made, Love Belongs to Everyone, was dedicated to the work that Witness does.
TBB: You’ve just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the yoga studio you founded in Philadelphia, Yoga on Main. How has your practice evolved in the past two decades?
DN: I think the way in which my practice has evolved is that it has expanded, in a very profound way. When I was younger I had very strong ideas about what was “spiritual” and what was a “spiritual experience,” so in a way I was confined to identify with that through certain kinds of practices – which were very supportive of my spiritual expansion.
Now 20 years later, there isn’t anything that isn’t spiritual to me. It matters less and less what particular activity I find myself engaged in, whether it’s talking with you or having a cup of tea or practicing yoga or taking a walk. Whatever it is, to me, it’s all part of the same oneness. It’s really been quite liberating, like letting go of a burden of seeing it in some places and not in other places. To see everything as spiritual, as divine — for me that’s been a big shift.
Photo by Balramdass, from ImageEvents.com
To me this is what we’re working for as bhaktis. As my guru Neem Karoli Baba said: “See the divine in everything and in everyone.”
He also said: “The best form to worship god is in every form.” This is the bhakti vision, the divine is in all beings and in everything. So 20 years later, I feel that there’s a much deeper awareness of spirituality in exactly what the moment presents. There is less of a compulsion to make it look different.
TBB: How has fatherhood contributed to that evolution?
DN: In a huge way! My daughter Tulsi is just full of love and full of awe. She’s so present and so joyful. Being with her, you just see the transparency of spirit, because she’s so close; she’s living in that. Being serious, being heavy, or being preoccupied just doesn’t work in her presence.
I always say: who needs a guru when you have a child like Tulsi?
On the altar at Bhakti Fest. Photo courtesy of Kailash Ananda.
For all the festiveness of Bhakti Fest, the nonstop bhav was tinged with an underlayer of shock and sadness as the news spread that one of bhakti’s own had died suddenly just two days prior to the gathering in the desert. Geoffrey Gordon, master percussionist, producer, composer, wallah and Neem Karoli Baba flame-keeper, was gone. Gordon was one of the original bhakti brothers from the Ram Dass era who helped sow the seeds of the Western kirtan movement, drumming alongside Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Bhagavan Das, and many others.
It was fitting, perhaps, that so many heard the news first at Bhakti Fest, because, as Girish told the fest’s emcee, Shiva Baum: “There is only a Bhakti Fest today because of the work that Geoffrey started with Jai Uttal all those many years ago when it wasn’t widely popular yet to sing kirtan.”
We first heard the news from the Bhakti Fest Main Stage, early on Day 1. Ben Leinbach was about to launch into a song in his set with Prajna Vieirra, when he silenced his guitar abruptly, whispered “I just thought of something…”, then put his head down, hand at forehead, as if trying to collect himself. His voice deep with emotion, he told us of Gordon’s death and dedicated the set to his friend and collaborator. The morning crowd hushed and people exchanged perplexed glances, heads shaking in disbelief.
Photo Courtesy of Mike Crall
Leinbach’s was the first of many heart-rending tributes to a man who — while not exactly a household name in the broader world of kirtan — was deeply loved and respected by the brotherhood of bhaktas that forms the core of modern Western kirtan. The wallahs knew him, without exception, and their love for him poured forth. Sruti Ram fought back tears as he dedicated the Hanuman Chalisa to Gordon during SRI Kirtan’s set. Sean Johnson recounted how Gordon, in their last conversation, had told him how pleased he was to see the next generation of artists moving kirtan forward. Girish moved half the crowd to tears with a poignant tribute at the end of his set on Sunday. Krishna Das called him “a good friend for a long time” in his Sunday afternoon workship (Gordon played tabla on KD’s debut CD, One Track Heart, and they have collaborated many times since).
Jai Uttal: ‘A Great Buddy’
Gordon and Jai Uttal. Photo courtesy of Jai Uttal.
In his headline set Thursday night, Jai Uttal told the crowd that Gordon was “a very very dear friend of mine and of the bhakti community here in the United States.” He said he had first met Gordon in 1969 or ’70, when they “were both young yogi kids looking to get high.” (“And we did,” he added with a wink, to a ripple of chuckles.) But then, normally joyful Jai got uncharacteristically serious. And quiet….He quickly introduced the next song — an 18-minute joyride of a Hare Krishna chant interspersed with his now-signature “Help! I Need Somebody” Beatles-inspired chorus. Perfect.
In an email, Uttal said “Geoffrey and I played so much music together for so many years. He was a key member of the Pagan Love Orchestra and he also played tablas and sang with me for literally thousands of kirtans. He was deep into the devotional path and also a committed musician, always trying to learn and grow. He was also a great buddy.”
“I trust that by now Geoffrey is jamming in the heavenly Kirtan band, gazing into Maharajji’s shining face, and showering love and bliss upon his family and beloveds still here on Earth,” Uttal wrote in a facebook post Sept. 6, the day of his Bhakti Fest performance.
Shiva Baum: Gordon ‘A True Bhakta’
Shiva Baum recording Girish's tribute to Gordon at Bhakti Fest.
Shiva Baum, who as the former head of A&R/Triloka Records pioneered the mantra music movement in the West and views Gordon as a “beloved uncle…friend, mentor and co-conspirator,” told us in an email: “Geoffrey was loved by all who knew him. He was extraordinarily passionate and always on the side of the artist. He was an advocate for the “little guy” — the musicians behind the scenes who the spotlight often missed but whose contributions were essential. His heart was massive and he was able to pull you over to the right side of the road if you ever fell astray. He was someone who truly valued friendship and knew that the value of life was love. He was a true Bhakta.”
And, Baum added: “Perhaps most importantly, he sang one of the most beautiful versions of the Hanuman Chalisa I have to this day ever heard. You can only sing like that if you are truly a devotee. Geoffrey was and will always be.”
Influenced Early On by George & Ravi
Gordon’s love affair with the tabla apparently begain in 1971, when according to a biography on Gordon’s website, he went to see The Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, the epic East-meets-West event organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar and featuring Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and many others. Ravi Shankar and tabla maestros Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Allarakha — Gordon’s future teachers — performed as the opening act.
“This concert had a profound effect on Geoffrey,” his bio says. “He knew there and then that he wanted to study North Indian classical music and learn to play the tabla.”
A year later, he met Ram Dass and became a devotee of Neem Karoli Baba. His bio details a long and rich history as a student-turned-teacher and professional percussionist for recordings in many musical genres as well as plays, films, and dance theatre. “He wasn’t ‘just a drummer,'” says long-time friend Mohan Baba. “He was a full-on, professional world percussionist.” To which Baba quickly adds: “Of course, his real love was his spiritual focus, and his drumming reflected that.”
Gordon’s passion for devotional music stayed with him to the end. He reportedly received a standing ovation for a percussion solo at a concert in Sedona the Sunday night before his death. He was on his way home to Santa Fe that Tuesday when he suffered a massive heart attack along the way, Mohan Baba told The Bhakti Beat. He said Gordon was evacuated by helicopter to the nearest hospital but resuscitation attempts en route failed to revive him.
‘Turn Off and Float Downstream’
My first kirtan with Gordon leading was at Bhakti Fest just last year. It was a morning set, and the low desert sun was already blasting its intensity onto the musicians on stage and the small crowd of early risers. I remember the set being quietly powerful somehow, in a way I can’t readily describe — it was as if it really didn’t matter to Gordon if anyone was there, because he was singing to something deeper…
When I searched my files for the photos I was sure I had taken that day, all I found was a single three-and-a-half-minute video:
The song, Tomorrow Never Knows, was written by John Lennon. Jai Uttal covered it, with Geoffrey Gordon on percussion, on the 2001 Grammy-nominated CD Mondo Rama by Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra, where it was fused with a Shiva chant. It seems to have been a favorite of Gordon’s in his fairly new incarnation as kirtan wallah; he sang it again at his last kirtan in Sedona the Sunday morning before he died, according to Sedona kirtaneer Natesh Ramsell, who met Gordon for the first time that weekend.
Here are the words, as Gordon sings them in the video:
Relax your mind, turn off and float down stream It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, It is shining, it is shining.
That you may know the meaning of within It is being, it is being
Om Namah Shivayah, Shivayah Namaho…
Or play the game “Existence” to the end Of the beginning, of the beginning, of the beginning, of the beginning.
Photo Courtesy of Mohan Baba
Memorial Services Honor Gordon’s Life
A memorial service for Geoffrey Gordon was held Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Open Secret Bookstore in San Rafael, Calif., where Jai Uttal, Ben Leinbach, and dozens of other artists offered their musical tributes. And on Sunday, Sept. 30, friends will gather at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, N.M., to chant and celebrate his life. The Ashram’s page includes a link for contributions to assist in the funeral and memorial expenses and other financial needs of Gordon’s long-time wife, Sandra.
The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest: There was heat on the stage Saturday night at Bhakti Fest Midwest, and it wasn’t just from the fire-spinners. Backed by an all-star cast of musicians, Shyamdas lit up the late-night crowd in Madison, Wisc. – already primed after three hours with Krishna Das – with his inimitable style of Hari Katha (sacred story-telling). He masterfully weaved classic stories of Krishna and Radhe inside crescendo-building chants that went straight to the heart of the bhav and engulfed the sea of chanters in a blur of ecstatic joy. It’s a wonder the stately old weepers on Willow Island, where the main stage was situated, didn’t pull up their roots and join the lila.
Shyamdas’s talents as Sanskrit scholar, translator of sacred texts, revered teacher, and wallah extraordinaire were on brilliant display. He enthralled with stories of the passionate love affair between Krishna and Radha, slipping in bits of wisdom amidst a slowly climaxing “Radhe Krishna, Radhe Krishna, Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe, Radhe Shyam, Radhe Shyam, Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe” chant. Breathless.
He told of the Sadhu in India who was inching his way around a sacred mountain, bowing to Krishna in full prostration (with the body laid flat out on the ground) 1,008 times before he would take the next step on his yatra. The man was 5’2” tall, and the journey was 14 miles long.
“He was not in a hurry,” Shyamdas deadpanned with one of those killer expressions. Then, the segue. “And this is what he sang all day long…” Music up. Voices together. “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare….”
He told the story of Krishna as a young boy toying with his mother about “eating dirt,” a Hindu metaphor for worshiping false gods, then busted into a 17-minute-long Gopala raga that peaked in a tidal wave of fervor on stage and off. Brilliant. (Video below.)
The stories and the chants flowed seamlessly for two hours, one deep sacred river of bhav. By the end of it the crowd of bhaktas were eating out of his hand and eager for more nectar. We’re guessing Shyam-Ji could have gone on like this for hours longer, swimming in the vibestream and taking us all along for the ride. But alas, Emcee Shiva Baum was waiting in the wing, and that was the signal to wrap it up. Sigh.
Shyamdas let us down ever so gently with the final morsel of young Krishna’s miracle-making and one last sweet round of “Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala.” It ended in a whisper and a deep silence that was broken only when Shyamdas, with a look of sweet satisfaction, uttered simply: “That was exquisite.”
In the Bhav with Shyam
The crowd punctuated his sentiment with a roar. He wasn’t patting himself on the back. It was more an acknowledgement of the quality of the bhav, the delicious flow of energy from “caller” to “responders” and back, then all as one — the depth of the emotion of devotion we had all just shared. Long exhale.
Joining Shyamdas for this luscious Bhakti Fest lila were: Nina Rao on kartals, Arjun Bruggeman on tabla, Yehoshua Brill on electric guitar, Sruti Ram and Ishwari of SRI Kirtan on vocals, break-out violinist Samuel Salsbury, and Hanuman Das on sitar.
Who needs fire-spinners when you’ve got Shyamdas and this band on the stage? (No, really, we love fire-spinners…)
The Bhakti Beat @ Bhakti Fest Midwest (June 30-July 1, 2012) The grand All-Wallah Finale has become a Bhakti Fest closing tradition. It’s also become one of those love-it-or-leave-it affairs, depending on who you ask. Over the course of attending five of them since 2010, we’ve observed a lot of mixed feelings about the inevitably raucous everyone-gets-to-be-a-wallah jam-out that officially closes out each Bhakti Fest. Some wallahs avoid it altogether, as Krishna Das has managed to for three years running at the West Coast Fest in Joshua Tree.
A pillar of stillness in the cacophany of the Bhakti Fest Finale
But there he was stage center at the Madison, Wisc. fest, a pillar of maroon-shirted stillness in a sea of bhaktified motion, his gravelly repetition of the Maha Mantra standing out even amidst the cacaphony unfolding all around him. At least 50 musicians, yoga teachers, workshop leaders, staff and volunteers jammed the stage, dancing, leaping, twirling, and conga lining in ecstatic joy as everyone chanted as one.
The Bhaktified Gratitude Dance
Bhakti Fest Founder/Executive Producer Sridhar Silberfein with Shyamdas.
Sridhar Silberfein, the founder and executive producer of Bhakti Fest who is rarely seen on stage until this finale, poured out gratitude to his staff, the wallahs, teachers and everyone who made Bhakti Fest happen. He somehow maintained order in the chaos of celebrating the successful completion of The First Ever Bhakti Fest Midwest, assuring the cheering Heartlanders that Bhakti Fest would be back.
Sridhar did a gratitude dance across the stage with one person after another. He sashayed with Shyamdas, rapped with Ishwari, got down low with DJ Lakshmi, and spun circles ’round Ragani. But when it was time to reach out his hand for KD to join him, KD wasn’t going for it. He responded — playfully of course — with a certain arm gesture that fellow New York native Sridhar was sure to understand. Did you catch that? Yeah, he gave him “the arm,” the Italian salute. We can’t prove it with a picture but we saw it with our own eyes.
But Sridhar wasn’t about to give up. He pulled on KD’s arm while Ragani pushed from her seat next to him on stage. Finally, the kirtan rock star gave in, reluctantly rising to receive the thunderous approval of the crowd. He did not dance a jig across the stage. After barely a moment he gave a look to Sridhar that seemed to say, “Can we get this over with now?” and went back to his lotus, back to his chanting. Classic KD humor, legendary humility.
It’s moments like that that make us really glad we hung around for the Last Hari of Bhakti Fest.
The Bhakti Beat @ Shakti Fest: It was one of those quirky moments that Bhakti Fest is becoming famous for, like the two weddings last year. No matrimonials occurred during this year’s fest, but a young man named “Irish Dave” did get the ball rolling after Jai Uttal’s set Saturday night at Shakti Fest.
Slender and blonde with a pierced lip and a shock of long hair off one side of his crown, Dave jumped up on stage (at the invitation of Bhakti Fest emcee Shiva Baum) just as Jai and his musicians were putting down their instruments. Then he turned to his beloved…
Huh? Proposing to....Daniel Paul??
Ooops that’s not it. Hahaha, couldn’t resist this crop.
No, it wasn’t Daniel Paul Dave wanted to marry. He called his girlfriend to the stage, a lithe, tattooed young woman who promised to “get him for this,” and he made a short, touching speech before pulling a small black box from his pocket and dropping to one knee to …well, you can figure out the rest. Right there in front of 1,500 or so bhavved out bhaktas glued to the drama unfolding on the stage. Just look at the faces on the back-stage onlookers…
Daniel ducks just in time...
It was a match made in kirtan heaven: apparently the couple met at a concert with Deepak Ramapriyan and his Breath of Life Tribe. “Thirteen months ago I had no idea this community existed,” Dave told the crowd in a slight Irish brogue before turning to his beloved. “Before I met you I was in darkness and you brought me into the light. I truly, madly, deeply, love you. Would you be my wife?” Yes, the proposal even rhymed…
Talk about pressure. Thankfully for Irish Dave’s ego, the object of his adoration, Tonia, said yes. Make that, SCREAMED yes!
And perfectly on cue, the music rose up again. See for yourself: