This summer VibeWest attended the 3rd annual PranaFest in Ashland, Oregon. An enchanting 3 day Kirtan Festival held at the Jackson Wellsprings that brings together some of the biggest names in the contemporary devotional music scene for an intimate weekend of solo and collaborative performances, workshops, dance parties and lots of Yoga. While the kirtan genre pervade throughout the performances and workshops, bringing together artists such as C.C. White, Dave Stringer, Jai Uttal, and Jaya Lakshmi proved that the participatory practice of call and response music can apply to many different styles.
The Workshops geared towards the Kirtan crowd ranged from Flow Arts classes to Mantras and Molecules, and Meditation techniques to the Self Improving Awakening through Love. Oh yeah, and lots of Yoga.
Friday nights headlining spot was given to C.C. White, who brought her unique style of Soul-Kirtan to energize the crowd and get our hips moving. She commanded the stage with flavors of soul, southern blues, reggae, gospel, and R&B, all setting up the groove for traditional Kirtan mantras. Her joyful presence at the Festival was inspiring throughout the weekend as C.C. was often seen in the crowd meeting fans and taking pictures with everyone. As the weekend lineup become a collaboration on many levels, C.C. was also sitting in with other performers as well as the “All Star Jam” at weekends end.
Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda were also present throughout the weekend both performing and teaching workshops, it was Ananda performing sans Lakshmi that moved the crowd to emotional heights through his own acoustic performance. Set under a giant bedouin tent snuggled up against the Spa and Pool area, filled with pillows and rugs and soft lighting, the atmosphere was perfect for a relaxed and uplifting set of love songs and mantras. Whispers of this performance were heard throughout the rest of the weekend.
As well Jaya and Ananda performed together on the main stage during Sunday afternoon, and again the crowd was blessed with their beautiful Kirtan that refcts years of devotional practice, a passion for mantra and music, and a deep love for each other.
Before Jai Uttal took the stage on Saturday night, festival goers were treated to a performance by Dakini Rose Devadasi, a performance dance collaboration based in Belly Dance, Odissi Indian Dance, Tantric Dance, and other modalities of movement. As well their performance is accompanied by electronically produced beats, creating an otherworldly experience of prayer in motion.
Jai Uttal is one the most widely know Kirtan musicians in the world today. He is a Grammy nominated composer, recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, and ecstatic vocalist. His music combines influences from India with influences from American rock and jazz, creating a stimulating and exotic multi-cultural fusion that is truly world spirit music. Having led Kirtans for over 30 years, his devotion to Bhakti Yoga is obvious as well as his love of music. “These ancient chants,”says Jai,”contain a transformative power and healing energy. By singing these prayers we join a stream of consciousness and devotion that has been flowing for centuries.”
Jai Uttals new album “Return to Shiva Station,” a re-imagination of his groundbreaking recording “Shiva Station” will be released by Sounds True in March 2014.
One of the main reasons Pranafest was an intimate and rejuvenating weekends was in no small part due to the venue, the mystical gardens and healing spa at Jackson WellSprings.
The WellSprings is a 30 acre natural hot springs spa and events center located 2.5 miles from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in beautiful Ashland, Oregon. The WellSprings spa, event facilities and gardens offer a healing environment to relax, enjoy and gather. Home to the Health Research Institute, a non-profit sponsoring educational, botanical and environmental restoration projects, WellSprings is dedicated to promoting optimal human and environmental health.
While camping at the Festival. is an option, there are many places in the surrounding area to stay. Ashland Oregon is home to a number of charming B&Bs, hotels, and campgrounds not too far either. The camping area at the Festival is particularly special as you have constant access to Spa and Pools at the Wellsprings.
Many vendors lined up selling crafts, clothes, energy, altar pieces, and much more. Food Vendors were limited to a few but with a diverse enough selection that you could enjoy a different meal every day, as well an assortment of coffee and chai, elixirs, kombuchas, and more.
One of the biggest musical draws of the weekend was definitely Dave Stringer. Not only did Stringer close out the Festival on Sunday night with his own electrifying set as well as leading the “All Star Kirtan” jam directly following, he also drew quite a crowd for his lecture on ‘Molecules and Mantras’. Speaking to an overflowing Lotus Lounge, Dave talked about how “bliss is a chemical state that the body itself produces”.
“Chanting affects the areas of the brain that create our sense of where our body ends and the world begins. It also slows and steadies breathing, producing hormone and neurological changes in the body that feel simultaneously calming and thrilling.
Moving from the individual level to the collective level, the effect is magnified. Through chanting, one’s sense of separation diminishes, and one’s feeling of connection increases. You feel somehow intimate with all the strangers surrounding you, and intensely, vividly, alive.”
His Kirtan set was an uplifting, absolutely religious experience. With a fiery voice, Stringer leads the crowd in an almost down home gospel jam in which you can’t help but sing along.
“Dave Stringer has been widely profiled in publications all over the world as one of the most innovative artists of the new Kirtan movement. Stringer’s sound marries the transcendent mysticism of traditional Indian instruments with the exuberant, groove-oriented sensibility of American gospel.”
A somewhat organized group “performance” dubbed the “Kirtan All Star” jam directly followed Stringers set and continued on as basically one big sing along at times led by different members of cast, weaving in and out of different mantras and resulting in a truly communal experience with audience and stage. And after the main stage closed down for the weekend, a Kirtronica dance party led by Jaya Lakshmi and acoustical performances throughout the Festival continued on until sunrise…
Pranafest is still in its infancy and this was VibeWests first year attending, being such a positive and uplifting experience made it a Festival we look forward to attending year after year!