No, this is NOT a blog professing to proclaim the “best wallah” or the “best music” or the best anything at Shakti Fest, the Bhakti Fest franchise’s spring fling in honor of the Divine Feminine. Choosing a best kirtan artist would be like proclaiming azure blue or burnt orange to be the “best” color in the rainbow. Like the vast palette of hues on Earth, there is a vast range of kirtan “moods,” from soft and prayerful to raucously ecstatic, from pared-down and traditional to full-on electrified rock-out. Who am I to say what’s “best”? That’s a deeply personal opinion based on what resonates with any one of us. I know what I like, but that doesn’t mean it’s “best” for you…
And besides all that, I never met a kirtan I didn’t like, so picking a few “best” ones is nothing short of impossible for this chanthead.
Instead, I’m focusing on a few of the many moments during the course of Shakti Fest when my heart was touched deeply enough to fill this old softie cynic’s eyes with salty tears, or make me laugh out loud, or simply smile inwardly at the sweetness of it all. So here are my top 12 bhavalicious moments from Shakti Fest, in no particular order…
1) Meeting bhakti friends for the first time and getting hugged like they were your best friends for life. Does that ever get old?
2) The little pod of princesses who climbed up on stage to dance and prance about during Dave Stringer’s set and summarily stole the show. And Stringer’s “let it flow” response when asked if it was okay if they stayed. (Personally, my only problem with the adorable little girls was that they were blocking my view of Steve Postell; how could I ogle my guitar hero with a 7-year-old sweetie in the way?)
3) And since we’re on the subject, Steve Postell. Period. Because when a celebrated electric-guitar rock star from L.A. comes out to Bhakti Fest to play with every headliner plus a few others, that’s worth crowing about (and yeah, even ogling over). Stay in the bhav, Steve, we need you here. Please.
4) Manoj, the Deity Wallah, offering his humor-laced teachings about God and gods during the set changes. “God is not external,” he said, “He is not some old bearded guy in the clouds with an anger-management problem.” LOL.
5) Vijay Krsna welling up with tears on stage when he started to talk about his guru. Unable to continue speaking, his beloved wife Sarasvati Dasi, with a pump of the harmonium, seamlessly stepped into the silence while her husband composed himself. Divine union.
6) Wah! shimmering like the Bhakti Goddess of Love that she is in an iridescent plum-colored Gopi skirt and a big black bad-ass bass, reminding us all that if we want love, we have to give love. “Are you loved?” She yelled out, then answered with another question: “Are you LOVE??” (This simple exhortation is what unleashed the tears in me for the first time — but not the last — of the fest.) The crowd swooned.
“You’ve got to give love in order to receive love. With every step you take, give love, receive love. Give love, receive love. Give love, receive love…”
7) Story time with Jai Uttal during his “playdate” (his answer to a “workshop”), when he told of chanting at Maharaj-ji Neem Karoli Baba’s temple in India in the 1970’s. Each time the chant faded to silence — even after 6 hours of chanting — Baba’s voice from a back room would chime in, yelling: “Keep singing!” and the chanters would start anew. Jai’s playdate ended with a long, exuberant Radhe chant, which eventually slowed and faded to blessed silence. That is, until a voice from somewhere in the back yelled out: “Keep singing!” Wait, was that…?
8) Larisa Stow, Shakti Tribe Goddess, sitting at the edge of the stage and gathering her adoring fans close around her like a mother gathers her children to her chest, palpable love flowing in all directions. Whatcha gonna do with all that love?
9) Cooper Madison, extolling the virtues of the space between the chants. “I love that silence at the end of the chant,” he said from the helm of his new bhakti band, the Gandharvas. “It’s almost as if you work the whole song just to get to that point of silence. Then it’s just you and the Divine for a moment.” mmmmmm, yes.
10) Saul David Raye, pumping a harmonium with a bumper sticker on it that proclaimed LOVE WINS, staying gracefully composed and present despite the sound problems that plagued his set (and others). His mike was out for a good half of his set, cutting in and out loudly much of the rest of the time. He never lost his focus, never once lashed out in annoyance at the sound guys who seemed to be taking their sweet time getting the problem fixed. He just kept singing and smiling and pumping the harmonium we could barely hear. Yep, Love Wins.
11) This scene, from Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda’s luminescent love-feast of a set:
12) Gina Salá raising her hoarse-from-the-desert voice (she was on stage a lot) one final time during sivasana at Saul David Raye’s Post-Intensive to lull us all into sweet oblivion with a little diddy that went like this:
“I Love You, I Love You, I Love You….Just as You Are.”
And with that little love song came the tears again for this bhakti-fried chanter. Could there be a more perfect way to end this Shakti love Fest than a reminder that we are all love? Just as we are.
Now there’s something to take home with you…
OK, your turn. What was your favorite part of Shakti Fest? Or of any Bhakti Fest you’ve ever been to… The Bhakti Beat wants to know!
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