Review & Photography by Michelle Grambeau
Before arriving on the grounds of Bhakti Fest 2012, I had spent the past month ‘desert hopping’ from the Negev Desert in Israel to the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man. Needless to say, I was a bit tired and more than a little apprehensive about heading into yet another lesson-filled, arid environment.
As I pulled up to Joshua Tree Retreat Center, I had only a vague idea about what to expect from Bhakti Fest. All I knew were the basics: 4 full days of yoga, kirtan and workshops. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how deeply and profoundly this highly conscious, high vibration event would affect my mind, body and spirit.
Throughout the past year I have become entranced in the West Coast music festival scene, travelling from one intoxicatingly powerful speaker system to the next. Although my digital new age soul enjoys being swept away by synthesized sounds and robotic-alien languages played at earth rattling frequencies, Bhakti Fest provided a much-needed digital detox.
Instead of looking up at the musicians on stage and seeing a white apple glowing from the back of the computer screen, I saw instead real human hands gracefully maneuvering across exotic instrumentation: hand drums, tablas, sitars, ukuleles, harmoniums, chimes, violins, harps, hand symbols, pianos, guitars, basses, and drums of all shapes and sizes. The world class musical line up featured more than 70 musicians including Krishna Das, C.C. White, WAH!, Shyamdas, Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer, The Mayapuris, Govindas and Radhas, and Fanna Fi Allah.
With shows running into the wee hours of the morning and live musicians in every yoga class, it is safe to say that the sounds of Bhakti made the festival. I fell asleep each night in a grove of Joshua Trees with the sounds of love and devotion running through my mind; this sacred combination made for the sweetest dreams I have had in quite some time.
Waking up each morning, the only real choices I needed to make were what amazing food I was going to have for breakfast and which of the 30 life-changing workshops I would participate in that day. As a self-diagnosed movement junkie with a passion for all things organic and green, this proved to be a real challenge.
Internationally renowned teachers such as Shiva Rea, Sianna Sherman, Saul David Raye, Mark Whitwall, Micheline Berry and Kia Miller led classes throughout the festival. There were over 30 teachers participating in this event and many of the attendees were, like myself, also certified yoga instructors.
I have been practicing yoga for over 7 years and have taken my fair share of classes, but I must say, the classes at this event were on an entirely different level. With studio spaces overlooking the wild topography of Joshua Tree and live musicians in every class, I found it easier than ever to drop into “the zone.” What a profound experience it was to practice yoga in tune to exceptional live music and live chanting. In this high vibration environment, in a studio filled with over 100 diverse practitioners, I found myself swept up in the sounds around me. The devotion from the teachers, musicians and students was palpable and exceptionally contagious. I found I was breathing more fully than ever before and I left each workshop with a greater understanding about how to take care of my body and enliven my spirit.
Another vital component that helped to make Bhakti such a wonderful event were the vendors. The production team carefully screened and selected the vendors and as a result the booths boasted the highest caliber food and merchandise. At this meat-free, alcohol-free event, I had stepped into a vegetarian-foodies dream come true. There were Coconut Bliss Ice Cream Socials, a Bhakti Chai Tea Lounge, Purple Goddess Salads, Cacao Smoothies, Green Alkalizing drinks and shots of VitaMineral Green in abundance.
During my interview with Sridhar Silberfein, the founder of Bhakti Fest, he provided me with some deep insight into the importance of diet and conscious consumption as it pertains to spirituality. He spoke about the importance of knowing where your food comes from and the vibrations your food holds. He also discussed the transformational power of chanting and mantras. Prior to Bhakti Fest, I understood intellectually the energetic and vibrational power of Sanskrit, (the ancient language used in Kirtan music) but had not fully experienced the yogic benefits of dropping into these sounds. In Joshua Tree I was able to completely submerge myself in this music and I found these ancient mantras helped me to not only open my throat chakra but also access that inner sanctuary of peaceful non-thinking. My entire being was calm, my heart was open and I was connected to both community and my authentic self.
On the last night of the festival, amidst threats of thunderstorms and flash floods, the All Star Jam with musicians from throughout the entire weekend was scheduled to take place. The gale force winds picked up pace as this final jam came to a climax; it was as if Mother Nature needed to add her own tone to this grand finale production. The winds were so strong that the crew and backstage volunteers had to rush to disassemble the large decorative tapestries and video projectors in the middle of the set. Although the winds of change were in full force that evening, the performers and crowd continued the celebration unphased; hearts were wide open and the bliss meter was at an all time high. As flower petals were thrown into the wind, 50-plus sparkly-eyed musicians from around the world chanted, danced and sung ancient mantras into the desert night sky.
At Bhakti Fest I found myself submerged in an exceptionally empowered community that had collectively stepped into the present moment. I was overcome with that rare feeling of clarity that arrives when one is living exactly right here, right now. Those four days of kirtan and yoga in the desert penetrated those hard to reach places in my soul that were aching to be reawakened. I felt myself becoming more human, more comfortable in my own skin and more grateful for the gifts in my life.