Bhakti Fest 2019 : Spiritual Woodstock Of The Decade

Oct 9, 2019


The 11th annual Bhakti Fest was held September 25 – 30,2019 at Roadrunner Dunes.  Bhakti Fest, a 6-day festival in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, is a Yogi’s paradise where they celebrate love for the divine through incredible music as well as a wide variety of Yoga, Workshops, and Intensives. 

Words and Images by Prema Ma Jaya

Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

Bhakti Yogis Live Here

I had been awake only 30 minutes, lying in my tent on a small patch of grass in the full desert sun when I overheard light guitar playing.  People were beginning to make camp stove coffee and debate whether they should have steeped Bhudda Tea’s Crown Chakra Tea instead to really, “open myself to the divine for this weekend of Bhakti Yoga (celebration of love for the divine).” 

There were conversations on the Bhagavad Gita floating in the air, Ram Das quotes repeated from Govind Das’s pre-intensive workshop, and camp neighbors reassuring one another that the wet tents we awoke in from the previous night’s windy desert rain would dry in the next hour as the heat of the masculine sun energy would coax the land to a dry 98º – ahhhh, spiritual camp life. 

As I put my notes down to leave my tent for the day, yet another conversation I couldn’t ignore overhearing, “Good morning!  Do you guys want to be Saged?”  There was no shortage of the traditional Indian temple smell of Nag Champa, Sage, or the sharing of essential oils. 

Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek
Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

A Vegan/Vegetarian’s Heaven

I emerged from my tent and crossed a long portion of the 50-acre property of Roadrunner Dunes Resort to find the “food court” area.  After the 10-15 minute walk, I was thrilled to find a wide variety of strictly vegan dishes (except for traditional pizza served up by Pie for the People) including out of this world vegan comfort foods like the Reuben, Wings, and Ceviche Tostada (yes, seriously, entirely Vegan and entirely amazing) by Veg Box, superfood acai bowls by Asana Foods, raw quinoa veggie bowls from Bite, falafel perfected by Ihsans Falafel, wellness drink and raw desserts by La Vie Wellness, delicious whole-food based smoothies by Raw Revelations, and a staple vegan spot of these festivals, Lydia’s

Going to eat is not just an act of refueling your body, it’s a social experience – a chance to connect with people you might not have been able to have a conversation with during the previous workshop or Yoga class.  It’s a chance to share a blanket with a stranger or to even be offered their leftovers in an effort to not waste food. The food court is an opportunity to join in on an impromptu jam session, to oversee Yoga Hall 3 with its magical backdrop of desert and mountains, to listen in on the fire puja offerings, peek in as you pass by the Bhakti Shop, and to flip through your program guide in an effort to plan out the rest of your day. 

Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek
Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

The Cure for Yogi FOMO: Deep Practices

As Yogis working hard to remain present and resist falling into an endless hole of desire, we hate to admit that we suffer from a fear of missing out, but with such an abundance of about 50 musical performances on two stages, 26 sound experiences in two sacred temples, 12 Kirtan classes, 16 men’s sacred gatherings, 23 women’s sacred gatherings, 60 some Yoga classes in three Yoga halls, and 46 different workshops in three workshop halls, it is not possible to see, hear, and do it all, but still I tried. 

Day 1, Workshop 1, and I was COMPLETELY BLOWN AWAY. 

I had walked another 10 minutes beyond the food court area to arrive at two large white open-air tents where I put down my yoga blanket (most people used a yoga mat, but I found the blanket to be more comfortable in most situations) and began to settle in.  I watched Dharma Devi coordinate the final details of her sound check, setting up her microphone, Harmonium, and special wooden flute in front of her cozy seated space. 

Her workshop began with its attendees turning to greet one another…we were encouraged to offer a hug, to hold hands, look into the eyes of a nearby new friend, share some personal reasons for our attending Bhakti Fest, and to allow ourselves a few moments for genuine connection with another being.  This idea of connection and of love is truly the underlying feel of Bhakti Fest which I would experience over and over and over again through the next several days both in and out of workshops. 

Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

Next we were invited to come laying flat on our mat/blanket and close our eyes.  She began to guide us into Pranayama, or a special breathing practice, and somewhere between the breath, the sacred sounds, and the loving guidance of Dharma Devi, I disappeared into my soul.  The experience is different for everyone, so I won’t get too deep here, but understand that no matter how well you ever thought you knew yourself, no matter how much deep healing work you’ve done, there is always more to uncover. 

Less than 12 hours after my transformative spiritual practice with Dharma Devi, I attended one of Bhakti Fest’s most sought after workshops, “Bold New Frontiers in Heart Based Awakenings,” with Michael Brian Baker of The Breath Center.  Here, I opened to an even more expansive practice reminding me that our spiritual work is ever deep and unending.  I was fortunate enough to sit with Michael in an interview the following day to gain some really profound insight into his teachings, which I share in a separate write-up.

Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

MUSIC: A Bhakti Yogi’s Expression of Love for the Divine

The next afternoon, on my way from an intense Kundalini Yoga class with the passionate and inspirational Kia Miller, I crossed paths with a new friend I had made the day before.  Our initial meeting had gone from a quick question about Dr. Bronner’s coed, clothing optional, foam experience shower, to a deep unraveling of the “why” behind his trip to Bhakti Fest.

We all come for different reasons, but love, connection, and devotional expression for the divine are common among most all of us.  I invited him to join me on a walk to the next Workshop, but before we could make it there, we were stopped in our tracks by the devotional song coming from just over the hill.  As with most Bhakti Fest attendees, we let our hearts guide us and instead of the workshop, we found ourselves sitting in front of loaner Harmoniums at Old Dehli Music’s Kirtan School where we would spend the next hour learning, from Mike Cohen and his team of Kirtan Leader Institute teachers (Dawnia Dresser, Robyn Broyden and James Hoskins), to use the Harmonium to play some of my Krishna Das favorites.  It was just enough time to fall in love with the traditional Indian organ instrument almost essential to any Kirtan practice.  The good news?  Old Dehli Music also had a nearby vendor tent set up where you could purchase the instrument on site.


Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

Because music is such a perfect way to express our love for the divine, it is a huge focus of Bhakti Fest.  You cannot walk through the festival without hearing some form of devotional song whether in the form of a small impromptu jam band in the grass, traditional Sanskrit Kirtan led by well known artists like Jai Uttal, newer singer-songwriters like Mikey Pauker and Samuel J, husband and wife duos such as Rob & Melissa or Govind Das & Radha, spiritually rooted reggae vibes like Mike Love, unique ancestral and indigenous one-man orchestra sounds like Porangui, innovative combinations like Kirtanica by Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda, or conscious hip-hop based artists like Kiyoshi and MC Yogi

One of the most beautiful and noteworthy things about the musical experience of Bhakti Fest is the unity and collaboration amongst these talented artists.  It is common for them to join one another on stage at different times, or jump in to provide sacred sounds in the background of a Yoga class.  Entirely leaving behind any sense of ego or competition for notoriety, blending sounds across such a variety of genres, these artists seek to inspire, support, and lift each other up representing the true definition of Yoga, which translates to, “yolking” or “union.” 

The union of positive energy can be felt deep and wide as Bhakti Yogi’s join shoulder to shoulder and sway to the sacred sounds, move their bodies around one another, jump and raise their arms overhead in gratitude, and even lie hand-in-hand beside each other during the Gong and Crystal Bowl Sound Baths.  In an interview with founder Sridhar Silberfein, I learned that this open arms welcome to new artists is something he expects to see grow even more in the years to come as the conscious music community is on the rise. 

Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

This is Magic. Take Some Home With You.

As you first enter the desert, you see dust, sand, cacti, Joshua Trees, and wind turbines, but as if someone sprinkled magic over Roadrunner Dunes Resort, the 50-acre campground is transformed into a small Yoga village for one very special weekend and all you can see before you leave…is love. 

Arriving back to, “the real world” after an experience like Bhakti Fest will have you showing up to your local coffee shop without shoes on your feet, and a curiosity about why you aren’t still receiving endless hugs and love from everyone you encounter. 

If we could all just bring back a little dose of Bhakti Fest to sprinkle around, the world might be filled with more love. 

Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek
Bhakti Fest 2019 | Prema Ma Novacek

Here is a sampling of the Bhakti Fest 2019 Photo Gallery.  Visit the full Bhakti Fest Photo Gallery HERE.

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