The spring chant-fest season has officially arrived, and the bhav starts flowing Friday night 5/3 with Spring Ecstatic Chant at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y. This weekend’s chant retreat, now in its fifth year, is the little sister to Omega’s epic Ecstatic Chant weekend over Labor Day, a don’t-miss destination for chantaholics for more than a decade.
Spring Chant headliner Jai Uttal has had to bow out of this weekend’s festivities due to an ongoing battle with pneumonia — and the whole bhakti community is praying for his complete, speedy recovery. Even without Jai, the line-up shines: Shyamdas, Wah!, Donna DeLory, SRI Kirtan, Gaura Vani, and — just announced and at Omega Chant for the first time ever — Masood Ali Khan, who will be joined by tabla virtuoso Daniel Paul and multi-instrumentalist phenom Sheela Bringi.
Ali Khan and Bringi are two rising stars in the sacred music scene, and their addition to the Spring Chant line-up cements their reputations as world-class artists in the “yoga music” genre. Ali Khan’s second album, “The Yoga Sessions: Hang With Angels,” released last September, features his percussive magic on the hang drum (pronounced “hung”) in collaboration with a star-studded list of world musicians that include bansuri flute master Steve Gorn, guitarist Ray Ippolito and vocal harmonies by the likes of Visvambhar Seth of the Mayapuris, Kamaniya Devi of Prema Hara, and West Coast yogi-wallah Suzanne Sterling. For a little taste of the magic that can be expected during Ali Khan’s set Friday night, check out this video:
For those who have never experienced a chant retreat Omega-style, put it on your bucket list! There’s something about Omega that sets the Hudson Valley center’s famous chant weekends apart from the rest. Maybe it’s the fact that there is nothing to do but chant, chant, chant and chant some more — there are no competing yoga classes or workshops to entice you away from the calling of the names. Or maybe it’s the fact that the audience tends to be “hard-core” chanters — everyone knows the words and they’re not afraid to sing them out, creating a resounding response chorus that you won’t hear many other places. Or maybe it’s just simply the magic of the Omega campus, a former Jewish camp at the foot of the Catskill Mountains converted to a high-end holistic wellness retreat center, where countless thousands of seekers have gone in search of enlightenment (or at least to get a little closer to it).
Whatever it is, there’s nothing quite like it. And while the younger and less-likely-to-be-sold-out Spring Chant doesn’t have the big headliners that Fall Chant has — including Krishna Das, Deva Premal & Miten, and Snatam Kaur — it remains a perennial highlight on our short list of must-do kirtan events.
Shyamdas will be there of course — he told The Bhakti Beat at last year’s Spring Chant that he has been there every year and wouldn’t miss it for the world. The Sanskrit scholar and wallah extraordinare’s inimitable style of Hari Katha — chanting intermingled with stories and teachings from Hindu scriptures — will be on display throughout the weekend, and he will lead the closing session on Sunday. That session has always been a highlight for us, as the whole kit and kaboodle of wallahs join together on stage for a last rousing round of Hari Bols (check out the video below for a taste of the fun from last year).
SRI Kirtan, the divine duo of Ishwari and Sruti Ram, will be joining Spring Chant for the third year straight, and we’re hoping they will be permanently on the line-up. Because they rock the bhakti, baby. They never fail to deliver a set that is pure heart-stirring joy and exploding with devotion, calling upon their diverse musical backgrounds (ranging from Gregorian Chant to punk rock!) to bring down the house. Or more accurately, bring UP the house?
Spring Chant this year also sees the return of Wah!, Gaura Vani and Donna DeLory — each world-class chant wallahs in their own right who have become Omega mainstays. Yes, Jai Uttal will be missed — it’s hard to imagine Omega Chant without him.
Nothing left to do but chant, chant, chant…