News Column

'We want to bring people together'

July 17, 2014

By Ann Reily, The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.

July 17--Four years ago, a performance that he was not expecting led a local yoga studio owner to start what has become a successful annual fundraiser for two local charities.

Mike Houlihan of Roots to Wings Yoga & Healing in Byfield was attending a training session in the Berkshires when he first met percussionist and vocalist John de Kadt. At first, he wasn't too impressed.

"This guy walks in with a frumpy, old barn coat and a couple of canvas bags," Houlihan said. "He's late, and he pulls out these weird-looking drums and starts playing them."

About 20 minutes into the performance, Houlihan realized that he was familiar with the music from his early days of yoga and that he was really enjoying it.

"All these bells and whistles went off for me," he said. "I was so moved by his drumming music that I asked him to come to Greater Newburyport."

About six months later, Houlihan received a call from de Kadt, who offered to bring some friends along for a concert at the studio. Although he was a little apprehensive, Houlihan agreed.

"We'd never done anything like this before," said Houlihan, who had just recently taken over Roots to Wings with his wife, Beth.

Not sure what to expect, Houlihan did little promotion for the event -- until he saw a video online of de Kadt and his friends performing in Manhattan. The group, called The Hanumen, was a new collaboration featuring world music, mystic poetry and mantra chanting.

"When I heard that music, it was so incredible and I was completely freaked out," Houlihan said.

He immediately went into "panic mode," spreading the word as fast as he could about the upcoming performance at the studio, which he was able to fill to capacity.

The success of the evening spurred Houlihan to expand the event into an annual offering called "An Evening of Peace, Love and Healing for Greater Newburyport." The second concert was held at the First Parish Church of Newbury. Last year, it moved to Newburyport City Hall, which will again host this year.

The fourth annual event is slated for Saturday evening and promises an interactive experience that all ages will enjoy, Houlihan said.

"What happens when you begin to hear the music is the music affects you in such a way, that any of those fears we have about making a fool out of ourselves in front of other people completely gets washed away," he said. "We want people to experience this. We want to bring people together and make it a real community event."

The Hanumen's annual tour is organized by the Call and Response Foundation, a Vermont-based nonprofit that is on a mission to expand the mantra music community. The organization's goal is to share the experience of chanting with 1 million people by the year 2020.

In addition to bringing concerts to affluent communities like Newburyport, the group also brings musicians into prisons, mental health facilities and refugee populations.

"Typically, we work with conscious music, or sacred music -- music that has a message," said Jennifer Canfield, director of the foundation.

The name Call and Response is a reference to kirtan, an ancient Sanskrit practice of call-and-response chanting that is a popular soundtrack in yoga classes.

A Led Zeppelin and Beatles fan in college, Houlihan said his musical tastes have "kind of changed completely" since he first got into yoga.

"You don't have to have any familiarity or experience with this music at all to enjoy it," he said.

Named after Hindu monkey god Hanuman, The Hanumen are four musicians -- de Kadt, Purusartha Dasa, Gaura Vani and Benjy Wertheimer -- who get together each summer to tour.

"It's fun, and they're funny," said Jennifer Canfield, director of the foundation. "You just have this wonderful mix of funny, openness, singing, dancing, great music, poems, stories. It's really an unusual offering."

"Their music and their sound -- it's contemporary, it's bluesy, it's funky," Houlihan said. "They do a good job of blending the Sanskrit and English stuff."

Proceeds from Saturday night's concert will benefit The Pettengill House, a Salisbury nonprofit that helps children and families by providing education, case management and basic needs, and the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, which serves victims of domestic violence in the Greater Newburyport area.

"It helps the people who help people," Houlihan said. "It's really about healing, and there are so many things we can do to help people."

Since 2010, the concerts have raised more than $6,000 for the two organizations. Houlihan also raises money for The Pettengill House through his pay-by-donation yoga classes on the Newburyport waterfront, which are held every Friday morning throughout the summer.

If you go

What: "An Evening of Peace, Healing and Love for Greater Newburyport"

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Newburyport City Hall, 60 Pleasant St.

How much: $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Free for children 12 and younger.

More information:, or


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