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Coming to the Fillmore: yoga

By Barbara Kate Repa

Trance dancing.
Nurturing food from the earth.
Music by the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart.
A crowd of true believers at the Fillmore.

It sounds like the ’60s all over again. But this time, in a wholly wholesome good way, it’s a unique happening called Wanderlust coming to the historic Fillmore Auditorium on May 21.

The idea for the event came from a New York couple with California roots whose lives took some serendipitous turns. Jeff Krasno was already managing, producing and recording musicians when his wife Schuyler Grant decided to open a yoga studio.

“At the same time my music business was taking off, I also saw the growth of the yoga industry and became very close to its value and cultures,” Krasno says. “I thought perhaps we could marry the music with that progressive, social, environmental community to create a large-scale event.”

Grant’s yoga studio was a success, even though she says she was a reluctant yogi. “I grew up in Sebastopol,” she says. “My parents were of the old school yoga variety — really truer to more classical yoga practice than what we do these days, jumping around on our mats.” She adds: “A big component of their yoga involved belching, which I really hated. There was definitely some cleansing going on. I just didn’t want to have to hear it.”

But Grant became a devotee around age 20 when a friend encouraged her to take up yoga emphasizing movement to help overcome back pain from a childhood injury. It worked, she says, and transformed her views on pain and wellness — and yoga.

“I still have yet to become a convert to the belching yoga, much to my parents’ chagrin,” Grant says. “But they’re the best examples of a lifelong yoga practice. They still do stretching, breathing and meditating — and don’t make it super-precious. They wouldn’t know it, but they’re a big inspiration to me.”

Krasno and Grant moved into an old brownstone in Tribeca just after 9/11, hoping to calm their nerves and find a place to allow his new business, Velour Music Group, to flourish. “Everyone was scrambling to do something positive then,” Grant recalls. “So I decided to start a side business, a yoga studio, in our new building. Ten years later, we’ve taken over three of the building’s four floors. Now we’re going for world domination,” she laughs.

Krasno and his business partner Sean Hoess now produce and coordinate the Wanderlust events. But the idea of creating a yoga and music event arrived as something of a thunderbolt. Krasno was reluctantly accompanying Grant on a yoga retreat — and he found that the participants were not the granola-eating airy-fairy types he feared they would be.

Grant remembers: “He kept saying, ‘These people are so cool. They’re like normal people — not like yoga people at all. They’re funny and cultured and interesting and fun-loving. It would be amazing to get these people together, add a music festival and blow it up 50 times the regular size.’ ”

The first Wanderlust event was held at Lake Tahoe in 2009. It combined music, yoga, organic food and nature.

“There’s a growing community of people who are interested in living what we call ‘the mindful life.’ They’re not hippies anymore, but mainstream,” says Krasno. “We also love to have fun and book great bands and DJs. There are fun underpinnings to a serious message.”

The success of the initial event primed the pump for additional festivals in 2010, including the first event at the Fillmore. San Francisco seemed like a perfect place to spread the word, says Krasno, who was friends and fraternity brothers with Bill Graham’s son in college. Krasno says he’d been to the Fillmore maybe 100 times and had formed a business relationship with Michael Bailey, who has been booking concerts at the Fillmore since 1988.

“One day I called up Michael and said, ‘What do you think about 250 people doing yoga on the floor of the Fillmore?’ ” Krasno says.

The idea was too perfect to resist. But there are challenges to the forum — not the least of which is the logistical difficulty of cramming hundreds of yoga mats into the Fillmore’s auditorium. To make that work, the yoga portion of the event is limited to 250 people. Once the mats are rolled up, there’s room for 800 or more to attend the music festival later that night.

Krasno says the biggest challenge at the first event at the Fillmore last year was the unknown. “The Fillmore never had an event like this. It’s a music venue, known for beer,” he says. “We were concerned folks would get drunk by osmosis.”

Fillmore management calmed those fears by bringing in an ecological clean-up crew and burning incense to help create the right atmosphere in the auditorium.

Another surprise was the novel scene outside. “I’ve been to the Fillmore so many times for rock shows,” says Krasno. “I’m used to seeing the long line that goes down Geary, with people smoking cigarettes, dressed in rock and roll clothes.”

But what he saw before last year’s Wanderlust was different: “Geary was crammed with 250 people dressed in yoga gear all lined up the same way,” he says. Those near the doors stood on a 40-foot yoga mat unfurled like a red carpet. Inside, it became a yoga rave. “Legendary yogi Shiva Rea did amazing things with movement, weaving in the music,” says Krasno. “And this year we’ve got a lot of great music planned. We reached out to Mickey Hart, who’s best known as the Grateful Dead drummer, but he’s also a spiritual guy and has been involved lately in a lot
of interesting world drumming projects.” Hart will play drums with a DJ and improvised music along with the yoga. Then, after the yoga ends, Krasno predicts: “People will rock it out and start dancing.”

Organic food will be served in the Fillmore’s poster room upstairs.

Photographs of the first event at the Fillmore in 2010 courtesy of the Wanderlust Festival.

This year, local resident Stephanie Snyder, a longtime teacher at YogaTree studios, will kick off the yoga practice. “The Fillmore is the place where legendary, legendary musicians have performed. The fact that they’re willing to welcome yoga into this venue is supercool,” Snyder says. “And for me personally, it’s ironic because I’ve spent a lot of time there doing things far less savory than yoga.”

Snyder is also jazzed by doing yoga to the beat of live music. “Music is uplifting in general. When it’s live, even more so,” she says. “And practicing with live music is like the difference between doing yoga to a DVD and in person. The musicians are sensitive to what’s happening in room and they can guide us. It becomes a co-effort, with a much higher energy.”

Grant led the yoga class at the Fillmore last year. She says she found it a bit strange at first to be leading a yoga class from a stage as opposed to her usual hands-on approach, but that quickly passed. “It’s a cool space, with cool pictures, and a place we knew we could put something on that had a good cross-over vibe,” she says. “And it worked. It just felt right.”

While the iconic auditorium is not a traditional venue for yoga, it turned out to be a good fit. “The Fillmore is so emblematic of so many of the things that Wanderlust comes from: good soulful music and progressive culture,” says Grant. “The music that had gone on there had the same kind of cultural roots for the explosion of the counterculture that included yoga in the ’60s.”

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