The Namaste Counsel


Vermantra Bhakti: Overcoming Obstacles

Bhakti Bookends: Part Two

In the last Bhakti Bookends post, we featured Bhakti House Band from Fort Worth. Bhakti House was the first in the lineup of dozens that led kirtan at Bhakti Fest in California this fall.

Patrick and Jackie are another set of Bhakti Bookends. They were the last band to perform on the first day of Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, Calif. When pretty much everyone was in their hotel room, tent, or camper — asleep — a few crazy souls (like me) connected with the band. They danced and chanted to the unique beats and personalities of Yogi Patrick. The last band of the night was more like an early sunrise warm-up. Yogi Patrick was scheduled on the main stage from 2 to 4 a.m.

Patrick McAndrew is used to sparking fires with dry sticks. He created a vibrant kirtan community in Burlington, Vermont, starting in his living room. At first, there were just a handful of people.  No longer the lone ranger of New England kirtan, he found his musical and life partner, Jackie, with whom he’s graced some of the biggest stages.

In Joshua Tree, Patrick joked with insomniacs about the size of the crowd. Whatever. He had the energy as if he were playing in prime time for thousands. He understands size doesn’t matter.

“He co-created Vermantra, a local kirtan chant fest that includes many community members each leading their own set for an hour,” says Jackie. “He is the kirtan wallah of Burlington, and lovingly teaches all. Now that we have gotten married, we are focusing more on workshops and travel, to spread our Appalachian kirtan vibe. The rootsy nature of our Vermont kirtan is so special, there is no pizzaz, bells, and whistles, or what have you. It’s just people playing and chanting together, no-frills.”

Bhakti for the moonlight and the night owls.

In 2013, Patrick was first on the big Bhakti Fest stage in prime time, accompanying C.C. White, the Soul Kirtan queen.

“He went to La Guardia Performing Arts High School, so the diverse talent and music of C.C. White brought him back to the musical prestige that he knows and loves,” says Jackie.

For the next two years, he led his own band on the main stage. Being the closing Bhakti Bookend wasn’t that easy, however.

“It was TOUGH,” admits Jackie. “First off, we were on Vermont Time, so we basically played from 5-7 a.m. our time, with no sleep. So, we laughed, danced, chanted, meditated, and napped the hours leading up to our performance. It was all worth it, and we were so grateful for the opportunity to be there and share our music.”

Both Patrick and Jackie are yoga teachers, and they incorporate chanting in their classes. Jackie plays guitar and sings during savasana at the end of almost all her classes. Patrick integrates chanting, laughter, pranayama, and asana. The folks in Vermont are used to their style, and now welcome the incorporation of chanting with their physical practice. However, the pair has gone to other large stages, like Bonnaroo, where the attendees may be looking more for a big party.

At Bonnaroo

Big-name artists like Billy Joel, Alabama Shakes, Tears for Fears, Earth Wind and Fire are among the 100 bands that play over four days on a 700-acre farm in Tennessee at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Some estimate that 100,000 camp out on the summer nights to soak up the music. While many may stay up late at night, Patrick and Jackie offer yoga for the early risers.

“We bring kirtan and yoga to this different type of festival scene each morning. Patrick teaches while playing guitar or harmonium, and I model the poses. It is such a great hybrid class, we have done similar things at our yoga studio in Burlington. I have noticed students who were more unfamiliar with the yogic traditions, so I always preface with an explanation of what yoga is to me, and I explain the chant in laymen’s terms.”

They’re used to playing for people from all walks of life.

“Patrick started his music by walking around New York City as a youth with a guitar over his shoulder. He says, ‘Everyone had a video game in their hand as a kid, but I chose to have a guitar in my hand.’ His musical skill is so amazing, and he is a local musician many people look up to. His dedication to his practice, his dharma, and living a most compassionate life inspires those around him, and he is a pillar of strength and kindness for our community.”

Kirtan is deeply rooted in Jackie’s heart, but she’s humble to the bone.

“I get shy on stage, so I close my eyes and chant while he is more engaged and can invoke the divine in his music in a such a special way. My music with Patrick surfaced on our first anniversary. We met on the summer solstice of 2012. We had never played music together, but we were staying in beautiful woods of Vermont at a friend’s cabin that he built, and we were enjoying local lavender mead and making kitchari. My shyness faded, and we sang together for hours and hours.”

On stage in the wee hours of the morning at Bhakti Fest, Jackie doesn’t look tired, or shy. She looks like she’s in nirvana, strumming and singing.

“My bhakti practice started out as a personal experience and exploration, but Patrick has really brought out the performer within me. Without the intent to even perform, we chant together when he gets out of work, before dinner, after dinner, pretty much anytime either of us is near our guitars or harmonium. We played our first gig together at kirtan in Boston, and people just loved us. So, by the request of the bhaktas, we started playing together and the sweetness that comes out just warms my heart.”

Patrick and Jackie are now working on their first CD which will be called Romancha Radio, referring to the type of bliss that raises the hair on your arms. They continue to teach yoga, host kirtan sessions and keep down day jobs, too. Jackie is open to leaving the warm community of Vermont to head to another part of the country to study naturopathic medicine.

Somehow, in the I me mine world that we live, emotional and physical well being has escaped the vast majority. The Namaste Counsel encourages simple proven practices to live a healthier and happier life. Any time. Any where. By anyone.
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