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Sunset at shakti fest by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Photo by Kamaniya Devi

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…

Here’s the link for the livestream to Shakti Fest (May 17-19), which starts at 10 a.m. daily and will continue until the bitter(sweet) grand finale.

Shyamdas at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

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, by Bhakti Fest, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

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.

Altar at Shakti Fest, by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

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.”

chanters showing love for gina sala by Kamaniya Devi on TheBhaktiBeat.com

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.

Watch the Livestream here.
Shakti Fest kirtan schedule
See our coverage from last year’s Shakti Fest:
You Want Shakti? Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
Loco for Lokah & the Bhakti Dance
On-Stage Proposal a Bhakti Fest First
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted at Woodstock in ’69

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In the Bhav at Bhakti Fest Finale

“After the ecstasy, the laundry.”  In those few words author Jack Kornfield captured the essence of the seeker’s search for that “something else” and the back-to-reality recognition that, having tasted it even fleetingly, one cannot escape the laundry of life that awaits us in this 3-D world. 

Go ahead and taste the ecstasy.  Savor it.  Relish every moment of it.  But don’t forget to wash your underwear.

Kornfield’s popular title rings in my ears as I return home after an 18-day sojourn chasing the bhav from one end of the country to the other.  The Bhakti Beat’s Big Bhavalicious Adventure took us from Omega’s Ecstatic Chant in the heart of the “Bhajan Belt” in Rhinebeck, N.Y., to the high desert of Joshua Tree, Cali. for the 4th Annual Bhakti Fest West, and then back East to the cornfields of Pennsylvania for Sat Nam Fest, the kundalini yoga and chant retreat organized by Spirit Voyage Music.  Sandwiched in between was the  NYC premeire of Jeremy Frindel’s new documentary, “One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das.” 

That’s a lot of kirtan, even for a confessed junkie.  

Me & my cameras, chasing the bhav. (Photo courtesy of Maie P Jyoti)

I savored it.  Relished every moment.  And in the end, couldn’t wait to come home, with a resolute determination to bring the bhav right back with me.  Surely this immersion in the ocean of devotion, this tidal wave of spiritual energy generated from the ultimate Kirtan Trifecta — or Tri-Festa, as GuruGanesha Singh labeled my journey — would keep me high on life for days, weeks, maybe even months, right?  Right?

Ha.  Tell that to the dirty underwear.  And the stack of bills screaming for my attention.  And the deadlines looming for the day job that pays the stack of bills.  Videos to edit, pictures to post, blogs to write.  A boyfriend who has forgotten what I look like and secretly wants to heave my laptop out the window.  And so on. 

The crash came hard and fast.  Leaving me wondering:  Where’s the bhav now?

Easier said than done...

This, I gather, is where that “great magic trick of existence” comes in…how to “snatch the eternal from the desperately fleeting,” as Tennessee Williams wrote.  How to sustain the “blissful love or loving bliss,” as the religious studies scholar David Haberman defined “the bhav” in a workshop at Bhakti Fest, even when the fest is over and we’re faced with the unpleasant minutiae of daily life.  

Krishna Das has said it in so many workshops: “When you leave here, you’ve still got to pay the bills.”  His advice?  “Practice.”  He doesn’t care if you chant, meditate, do asanas…whatever;  just do something. “There’s a reason they call it practice,” he always says.  You’ve got to do it.  As in, every day, chant fest or no.

Note to self:  a crowd of 5,000 isn’t required.  A festival of One works too.

Shyamdas, the respected author, Sanskrit scholar, and master of Hare Katha (sacred teachings interwoven with bhav-inducing kirtan)  was asked what it means to “be in the bhav” during the Bhakti Panel workshop on Day 4 of Bhakti Fest.  Among other gems you can hear in the video below, he said this: 

“The bhav makes us understand that there is eternity within the present moment, and that makes the individual unconcerned with what is going to happen next, because everything is already a perfect manifestation as it is.”


In the bhav, Shyamdas told us, “everything is directed for the pleasure of the Beloved.”  By which he means the Supreme.  The Divine.  It matters not if you call it God, Krishna, Christ, Grace, Universal Oneness, Higher Self — label it as you will, or not at all.  The point is that when everything we do is offered up to the greater good, then — and only then — can we get anywhere near the bhav.  

Need a pay-off?  Shyamdas says: “When a person can have that attitude, I think they receive a response from the Source Bhav.” 

“A response from the Source Bhav.”  I like the sound of that.  I want that.


Tulasi & Purusartha Dasa

A remarkable woman I met on my journey, Tulasi Devi Dasi (whose husband, Purusartha Dasa, plays bass for The Hanumen), made this exact point to me a week before I heard Shyamdas say it, in a casual breakfast conversation at Omega the morning after four days of Ecstatic Chant.  She told an innocuous story of a large gathering at their home in the community of Krishna devotees in Alachua, Fla.  She said all the preparation and labors were seen not as effort, but as joy, because all was done in service to Krishna.  Every act, no matter how small, was offered up as a prayer to the Beloved. 

Her words had that goosebump effect on me.  You know, that tingly “hit” you get when something resonates deeply in your soul.  I nearly wept right there in the cafeteria. (Chanting for four days will do that to you.) 

Gong bath at Sat Nam Fest

Tulasi’s words stayed with me. 

“I offer my service to Krishna” became my mantra (I would interchange Krishna with Christ, God, Universal Oneness, The Divine, because to me they are all one).  I did this as I posted pictures.  I did it as I wrote emails and returned phone calls.  I did it as I sweated my way through NY rush-hour traffic to make my flight at JFK after Google Maps sent me on a ridiculously convoluted route.  And so on. 

Well, call me crazy, but you know what?  Doors started opening.  Interviews came through.  Connections were made.  Relationships were healed with a hug.  Helpful people were showing up precisely at the right time.  Oh yeah, and I made the plane.  With perfect timing.

I ran into Tulasi again on Day 3 of Bhakti Fest, five days later and 3,000 miles from our breakfast chat.  I told her how she had inspired me with her words, how it had made all the difference.  We hugged.  I wept.  She wept.  (Chanting for eight days will do that to you.) 

So here’s what I’ve learned…

You can chase the bhav all you want — and you might even snatch it for a fleeting moment.  But until you can find that sweet spot of devotion and gratitude, that attitude that life is a gift — that “ever-expansive loving feeling that we’re all thirsting for,” as Haberman put it — right in your own home, your own heart, even with the stack of bills screaming and the deadlines looming and the boyfriend glowering, you’re just running on empty. 

Make your life a prayer.  Then stand back and watch what unfolds. 

Sridhar Silberfein: Grace in Action

Or, as Bhakti Fest founder and executive producer Sridhar Silberfein so says:

“Do what you can.  Then get out of the way and let Grace take over.”


Additional Coverage from The Bhakti Beat’s Big Bhavalicious Adventure to Omega Chant, Bhakti Fest West and Sat Nam Fest East:
Bringing Home The Bhav: Bhakti-Fried Bliss-Chaser Faces ‘The Laundry’ of Life (Video)
Wallah to Watch: Jai-Jagdeesh, Songstress & Classical Dance Artist, Dazzles at Sat Nam Fest (Videos)
With Deva’s Miten, Krishna Das Does Dylan & Shyamdas Does the Blues (Videos)
‘It Is Not Dying:’ Geoffrey Gordon (1952-2012) Remembered in Bhakti Fest Tributes and Haunting Video
Photo Journals from all 3 festivals on our facebook page.
Check our YouTube channel for the latest video uploads.
Stay tuned to this site for more coverage coming soon!  Subscribe here.









Krishna Das. Like a rock...star.

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.

See our full coverage of Bhakti Fest Midwest!
Bhakti Fest First: Krishna Das In the Spotlight, Reluctantly, at Midwest All-Wallah Finale
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow and SRI Kirtan at BFMW (Videos)
Bhakti Fest Break-Out Set? Wallah-to-Watch ‘Kirtan Path’ Wows ‘Em (Video)
Sridhar Silberfein: Changing the Pace of Kirtan in the West, One Bhakti Fest At a Time
Plus Photo Journals from Each Set on The Bhakti Beat on Facebook
And from Shakti Fest 2012 & Bhakti Fest 2011:
Jai Uttal Captures the Essence of Bhakti Fest
You Want Shakti?  Larisa Stow’s Got Shakti
Loco for Lokah and the Bhakti Dance
Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted in Woodstock in ’69
Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal a First
Amazing Grace from Krishna Das after Bhakti Fest Rain-Out
Krishna Das, Bhakti ‘Rock Star,’ Keeping It Real

David Newman and the moon.



Jai Uttal: Seeing God in the mirror…

After having canceled his East Coast tour due to pneumonia, Jai Uttal was back strong as ever for the headline spot Saturday night at Shakti Fest.

Dancing Devi: Nubia Tiexiera and Subhadra

He filled the stage with master musicians — 13 or so, by our count, plus beautiful wife Nubia Teixeira dancing with the deities in the wings — and brought the crowd to its feet for nearly three hours, an exuberant joyride that had even Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein, who is rarely seen on stage, dancing with abandon at the back.

Daniel Paul and Mark Gorman

The set was classic Jai Uttal & the Queen of Hearts Orchestra in full-on heart-throbbing raucousness.  Long, rolling chants that built to an ecstatic frenzy were punctuated by soaring  guitar jams between Uttal, Yehoshua Brill on electric and Mark Gorman on bass, and playful call-and-response drumming between Daniel Paul on tabla and Visvambhar Sheth on mrdanga.

Yehoshua Brill. Remember the name.

It culminated in a new composition — being played for the first time ever as a group, Uttal said — that wrapped the Beatles mantra “HELP! I need somebody” inside a funky reggae-style Maha Mantra.

Interspersed through it all were the kind of down-to-earth, open-hearted “Jai-isms” that we love about this kirtan rock star.  Like his pointing out that Shakti Fest constituted he and Teixiera’s “first overnight date in seven years” without son Ezra Gopal (who declared to them just prior to the trip that he didn’t want to go, in classic 7-year-old fashion).

But the most spine-chilling moment of all for this writer, the moment that stands out not just from this set but from three days of world-class bhav-inducing kirtan — and for us captures the very essence of Bhakti Fest — is this one:

Simple, profound insight delivered in classic Jai style….unscripted, authentic, self-effacing, and straight from the heart.  Just the kind of person you want to see in the mirror…

Good to have you back singing Jai.

The band (L to R): Rasika (of Kirtaniyas), Shiva Rea, Vrinda and Visvambhar Sheth (of Mayapuris), Bob Wisdom (barely visible), Daniel Paul, Mark Gorman, Jai Uttal, Dave Allen, Prajna Vieirra, Yehoshua Brill, C.C. White, Dhanya and Bali Rico (of Mayapuris).

More Shakti Fest Coverage:

Loco for Lokah & the Bhakti Dance

Shakti Fest On-Stage Proposal A First

Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted at Woodstock in ’69


Bhakti Fest Seeds Planted at Woodstock in ’69


Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein vividly recalls standing on the stage at Woodstock next to Swami Satchidananda before half a million or so flower children in August 1969.

Barely 19 at the time, but deeply involved in chanting and yoga, he had been charged with bringing “an element of spirituality” to the festival by Woodstock producers Michael Lang and Artie Kornfeld .  Silberfein immediately turned to his guru Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga, and they flew together by helicopter to Yasgur’s farm to deliver the opening invocation that set the festival — and the “Woodstock generation” — in motion.  Swami famously called music ”the celestial sound that controls the whole universe” and led the crowd in chanting Om Shanti.

“At that moment, while I was standing there looking out at that sea of people, the seed for Bhakti Fest was planted,” he told The Bhakti Beat.  In 2008, 40 years later, the vision of a Woodstock-esque gathering completely devoted to kirtan and yoga came back to Silberfein, and he set forth to nurture the seed into life.  He likes to think of Bhakti Fest as a “spiritual Woodstock” — minus the drugs, sex and alcohol — a place for people to go and immerse themselves in the bhav for three or four days straight and “dive deeper into the self.”

Shakti Fest Dives Deep Into Ma

This weekend the fruits of Silberfein’s labor are ripening into Shakti Fest, the first of three big gatherings this year under the Bhakti Fest umbrella.  Shakti Fest, billed as a “more intimate” version of the 24-hours-a-day-for-3-days-straight bhakti blow-out that happens in September, is built around the theme of, well, shakti…a celebration of the divine mother. (It falls on Mother’s Day weekend, after all, and what self-respecting bhakta would pass up that kind of chance to get everyone singing ecstatic Jai Ma chants for hours on end?)

So, who’s chanting at Shakti Fest?  Who’s not chanting would be an easier answer!  Bhakti Fest’s spring fling is sort of a little sister to September in the same way that Omega’s Spring Chant is a little sister to Ecstatic Chant weekend in the fall.  As such, it lacks the really big names that headline the September Fest (like Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Dave Stringer).  But, seriously, with a line-up like this, who’s going to feel like they’re missing something?

The Line-Up for Shakti Fest. What's not to love?


If you can’t be in the bhav at Joshua Tree this weekend, you can still follow the flow by staying tuned to The Bhakti Beat’s ongoing coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and right where you are now.  We’ll be posting updates daily, talking with artists and producers, and posting more from our earlier interview with Sridhar.  Get the bhav, wherever you are!



Act Now & Win a Free 3-Day Pass to Shakti Fest!


UPDATE:  WE HAVE A WINNER!! Congratulations BRIDGETTA TOMARCHIO — you have won!!  Thanks to all who entered.  Check this space for live updates from Shakti Fest, beginning this Friday, 5/11.


Want to go to Shakti Fest?  Of course you do!

How about going for free?  Now’s your chance to win a FREE THREE-DAY PASS to the shaktified celebration of the divine feminine at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in California’s High Desert (May 11-13).  It’s simple to enter, and you can win a ticket worth over $275!


On Facebook:

SHARE the link to this blog post (http://thebhaktibeat.com/?p=851) and “tag” BOTH The Bhakti Beat and Bhakti Fest in your posting.  That’s it!  Tag and Share. You can write whatever you like (suggested wording below), just as long as you tag both The Bhakti Beat and Bhakti Fest — that’s our signal that you are entered in the contest.  (To tag on Facebook, first “Like” each page, then type @ before you type the name of the page; the pages you’re tagging will be highlighted and hot-linked.)

So, you might share the link with an intro that says, for example: Shakti Fest is THE place to be in the bhav!  That’s why I’m entering this contest from @The Bhakti Beat [tagged] and @Bhakti Fest [tagged] to win a FREE 3-day pass!  Find out how to enter here: http://thebhaktibeat.com/?p=851

On Twitter:

Same concept: tweet the link, tag the peeps!  You can use your own language — just don’t forget to tag @TheBhaktiBeat and @BhaktiFest.  Or, cut and paste this wording:  A free pass to Shakti Fest from @TheBhaktiBeat and @BhaktiFest? I’m in! Here’s how: http://thebhaktibeat.com/?p=851 

Not on Facebook or Twitter?

No problem.  Leave a comment here (in the blog comments) saying that you want to win the free pass, and be sure to include your email in the appropriate box (it won’t be shown publicly, and we’ll use it only to notify you if you win).

The Details

A winner will be randomly selected from all entries received by May 3.  So hurry!  Eligible entries are those that share the blog post link and tag BOTH The Bhakti Beat AND Bhakti Fest, as described above.

If you just can’t get to California in time for Shakti Fest May 11-13, Bhakti Fest has generously agreed to allow the winner to exchange the free pass for a pass to either Bhakti Fest Midwest (June 29-July 1 in Wisconsin) or Bhakti Fest’s fall bash in Joshua Tree Sept. 6-9.  How cool is that?

The Gratitude

Oodles of gratitude to Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein and producer Mukti Silberfein for generously making this contest possible.  We love you!!

Now, enter the contest!  Tell your peeps!  Be a winner!

Here’s the link to share:  http://thebhaktibeat.com/?p=851

Good luck!  Here’s what you have to look forward to…