“BlueGrass Kirtan” — a CD featuring Jon Seskevich and fiddle great AC Bushnell combining ancient sacred words in Sanskrit, Latin, and Tibetan chanted with old-time American Appalachian fiddle and banjo tunes. There are 11 cuts on the album, and they are all fantastic!
What Happens When You Mix Kirtan and Bluegrass Music?
BlueGrass Kirtan is ancient sacred words in Sanskrit, Latin, and Tibetan chanted with old-time American Appalachian fiddle and banjo tunes. It is chanting that will knock your socks off! Check out these videos…
“Mantra chanting can be an extension of shaking your ass or raising your voice in joyful exultation, with no fundamentalist associations. It’s sheer joy to sing, a good way to loosen one’s heart in the world.” — Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
This poem by the renowned beat poet skeleton Allen Ginsberg has delighted and inspired me as a veritable foreshadowing of the spirit and experience of BlueGrass Kirtan.
Living in the Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina, I have enjoyed old-time/bluegrass jam sessions. Listening to the melody of tunes as they repeated in a regular pattern, in my mind, heart, and soul, I began to “hear” a mantra that fit the melody and rhythm. These were the same mantras I had learned during my time of study in the 70’s and 80’s with Ram Dass, noted spiritual teacher, friend of chanting and author of the book Be Here Now.
In 2006, I went to a concert to hear fiddle great AC Bushnell playing with Stillhouse Bottom Band. Afterwards AC and I chatted, discussed this concept and began a fun musical and spiritual collaboration that has culminated in this album! AC who has many rich years of playing, recording, and performing, has brought together wonderfully talented North Carolina musicians for this East-West project. They highlight their skills and artistry with traditional bluegrass instrumental breaks woven throughout the pieces.
“…When Todd was here, I had him listen to BlueGrass Kirtan and he loved it! He thought a friend of his going through cancer treatment would be as enamored, and I gave him a CD for her to have.
“Get this, she receives it the day of her 2nd chemo treatment. She’s listening to the music in her kitchen doing a jig! Not your typical post-chemo mindset…”
Inside Duke Medicine published this story about our “East Meets West” collaboration.
Visit the website of fiddle great AC Bushnell!
BlueGrass Kirtan Song List, Lyrics, and Credits All tunes are traditional music and words arranged and titled by Jon Seskevich and AC Bushnell.
1. Krishna and Ram 5:59
Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram Hare Krishna Hare Ram.
The words mean: Victory to God, Praise God Who preserves and sustains us. In the Hindu tradition, Ram and Krishna are incarnations of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. Sandy Boys is a traditional old-time fiddle and banjo tune from the Appalachian Mountains.
Jim Beckwith, vocals, harmony vocals; Jon Seskevich, AC Bushnell, John Moore, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo; Robbie Link, bass; Bill Parsons, guitar.
2. Neat Hanuman Chalisa 6:40
Neat Hanuman Chalisa English & Hindu
This 40 verse praise for the mighty Hindu hero Hanuman combines neatly with Charlie’s Neat, a traditional old-time tune. Hanuman represents the perfect servant of God, as all his actions are in service of the Lord. Many around the world do this chant everyday.
Jon Seskevich, vocal; Ambika Cooper, vocal and harmony vocal; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo; Robbie Link, bass; Bill Parsons, guitar.
3. Allen Ginsberg Waterbound 4:09
The Tibetan Buddhist mantra, Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Pedme Siddhi Hum is added to the old-time North Carolina fiddle tune Waterbound. The Tibetan pronunciation of Pedme is used here. Allen Ginsberg gave this translation of the mantra “Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum” referring to Padma Sambhava, founder of N’yingma, the Tibetan Buddhist old sect. It translates as “Body Speech Mind Diamond Teacher Lotus Power Amen.”
Each singer takes a turn on lead, and all join the chorus at the end. Leads in order: Jon Seskevich, Mark Smith, AC Bushnell, Jim Beckwith, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo; Alan Julich, bass; Mark Weems, guitar.
4. Shiva at the Falls of Richmond (Remix) 3: 40
Om Namah Shivaya. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shiva Om Namah Shivaya
Devotion to Shiva the Lord of Change and Impermanence. A previous version of this tune is on AC Bushnell’s Dancing on the Water CD. For BlueGrass Kirtan, Jim Beckwith’s free form chanting is added to the mix! Falls of Richmond is a traditional old time banjo tune.
AC Bushnell, lead vocal; Jim Beckwith, Jon Seskevich, harmony vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, bass; Alan Julich, banjo; Mark Weems, guitar.
5. Jesus Before Breakfast 5:37
The traditional tune Whiskey Before Breakfast is joined with the Latin sacred phrases of the Christian tradition “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison” which means “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” The second part is the prayer “Dona Nobis Pacem” — Grant us peace. There is something profoundly healing for the family when one substitutes “God” for “whiskey” before breakfast!
Betsy Bickel and Marilyn Grubbs, lead vocals; Jon Seskevich, AC Bushnell, Jim Beckwith, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo and mandolin; Robbie Link, bass; Bill Parsons, guitar.
6. Money and Sri Ram in Both Pockets 5:01
Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram
Victory to God, Blessed God
Not a well known tune, Money in Both Pockets was first recorded by Charlie Bowman and his brother in the 1920’s.
AC Bushnell, lead vocal; Jon Seskevich, Mark Smith, Tim Wells, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, bass; Alan Julich, banjo; Mark Weems, guitar.
7. Buddha’s Square Dance 5:17
Muni Muni Mahamuni Sakya Muniye Swaha Muni Muni Mahamuni Sakya Muniye Gate Gate Paragate Bodhi Swaha.
This chant refers to Lord Buddha: Silent One, Great Silent one of the Shakya clan, Gone, Gone Beyond, Hail the Enlightened One. So be it!
When asked the question, “Are you God?” Buddha is said to have answered “No.” “Well, who then are you?” “Awake!” was his answer. This chant inspires us to awaken. The traditional tune Seneca Square Dance was originally recorded by Fiddlin’ Sam Long of the Ozarks in 1925. The music and these words form a beautiful new creation.
Jim Beckwith, lead vocal; AC Bushnell, Marilyn Grubbs, Betsy Bickel, Jon Seskevich, John Moore, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo; Robbie Link, bass; Bill Parsons, guitar.
8. River by the Temple in October 6:02
In India there is a small village in the foothills of the Himalayas with a temple on a riverbank. Every year in October hundreds gather there for a nine day ceremony in honor of the Divine Mother. These and other sacred sounds may be heard by the river. Sita Ram Siya Ram Sita Ma Siya Ma Sri Ma Jai Ma Jai Jai Ma Durga Ma Ram Ram Ram
This tune with chants honoring the Divine Mother is a wild sound painting. Like a river flows, what is experienced in the present moment will not be repeated in exactly the same way. The old-time tune Cluck Old Hen has been transformed here by AC and the Stillhouse Bottom Band, with Jon and Jim on vocals, all merging with the Great River of the Divine.
Jon Seskevich and Jim Beckwith, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, bass; Alan Julich, banjo; Mark Weems, guitar.
9. Walking with Krishna 3:47
Govinda Jai Jai, Gopala Jai Jai Radha Ramanahari, Govinda Jai Jai
Govinda is another name of Krishna. This chant is a love song celebrating the union of Krishna and his consort Radha. It reflects the joy of both lover and beloved of God. Walking Georgia Row is a rarely heard, beautiful fiddle tune.
Tim Wells, lead vocal; AC Bushnell, Mark Smith, Marilyn Grubbs, Betsy Bickel, Jon Seskevich, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo; Alan Julich, bass; Mark Weems, guitar.
10. Mother’s Sweet 4:37
Radhe Durge Namoh, Radhe Durge Namah Sri Ma Jai Ma Jai Jai Ma. Sri Ma Jai Ma Jai Ma
Devotion to the Divine Mother of the Universe. Victory to the blessed Mother.
Radha is Krishna’s consort, and Durga the form of the Divine Mother usually pictured with a tiger. This chant is about the love of union with the Divine and unlimited power used for the benefit of all. This old-time fiddle tune Sugar Hill was first heard by AC played by Tommy Jarrell of Surrey County, NC. It has such a sweet feel, we couldn’t help but call this song Mother’s Sweet.
Jon Seskevich and Betsy Bickel, lead vocals; Jim Beckwith, AC Bushnell, Marilyn Grubbs, John Moore, vocals; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo; Robbie Link, bass; Bill Parsons, guitar.
11. Jimmy Johnson Gopala 3:35
Gopala Gopala Devakinandana Gopala. Devakinandana Gopla
Gopala is baby Krishna. Krishna’s mother is Devaki. Ananda is the word for bliss. This chant is about the bliss of the mother that comes from the unconditional love for her baby. This was the first BlueGrass Kirtan track we recorded. It is from the traditional Appalachian tune Jimmy Johnson.
Jon Seskevich lead vocal; AC Bushnell, harmony vocal; AC Bushnell, fiddle; Bobb Head, banjo; Alan Julich, bass; Mark Weems, guitar.