Harmony Through the Years: A Melodic Journey of Music at Esalen (1962–2024)

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Joan Baez at the Big Sur Folk Festival, 1969.

The Big Sur Folk Festival played a few of the opening notes of Esalen’s rock and folk musical legacy. Celebration at Big Sur, the documentary film about the legendary 1969 concert, begins with Joan Baez, seven months pregnant, singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" in her iconic soprano. The lawn, surrounded by mountains, forest, and ocean, forms Mother Nature’s amphitheater, packed with a rainbow of humanity. On the pool deck, Joni Mitchell harmonizes alongside Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before the crowd jumps to the soulful rhythms of gospel classic "Oh Happy Day!" belted out by Dorothy Combs Morrison and Baez.

Since those early days of the 1960s, legends and aspiring artists have performed, studied, taught, and found refuge at Esalen, including Charles River Valley Boys, gospel singer Vernon Bush, folk singer Johnsmith, Donovan, Devendra Banhart, cellist David Darling, sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Taj Mahal, Kris Kristofferson, and countless others. From folk singer-songwriters to rock royalty, pop princesses, the African drums of Babatunde Olatunji, and today’s electronic artists, music is evermore an essential part of Esalen. 

In our first decade, the canyon echoed the folk tunes and the soft strumming of acoustic guitars. “A group of mountain guys who played drums and flutes and guitars played every Sunday afternoon,” Healing Arts’ Peggy Horan remembers. “The deck was celebratory with their music and lots of dancing.”

As the counterculture movement swept across America, we grew into a musical scene with the likes of George Harrison and Ringo Starr helicoptering in to jam with Ravi Shankar and his sitar. Judy Collins, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mama Cass Elliot, Mitchell, and Baez all sang their songs at Esalen. Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald T, John Sebastian, and Mimi Farina (who got married at Esalen) all came down the hill seeking creative inspiration. A container for birthing new ideas became a place — at the Lodge, lawn, pool deck, and across campus — where the voices of several generations merged introspective lyrics with hypnotic sounds.

Babatunde Olatunji, the renowned Nigerian drummer and percussionist responsible for Drums of Passion, played a pivotal role in shaping Esalen's musical landscape during his tenure and long residency as a village elder. Babatunde’s rhythmic mastery and traditional African beats infused with free-spirited energy helped establish the campus as a drumming haven. His influential classes left an indelible mark and laid the groundwork for other artists.

From the beginning, Esalen has provided space for artists to share their talents through workshops, starting with Baez’s The New Folk Music in 1964 and A Weekend with Ravi Shankar in 1965. Others have come for their own personal transformational growth. "I have had so many healing moments at Esalen. Some in workshops, some in the baths, some when I was there on personal retreat. All of them rich and moving and balm-like," wrote Alanis Morrisette, who also led a workshop titled Hurtling toward Wholeness in 2015. "It has been the ground upon which I've done so much learning, researching, diving deeply within, taking responsibility, and then cracking open and shutting down, falling down, both. back and forth. down low and up again, like a delicate, feisty, vulnerable, and audacious human ping pong ball." 

Flash forward to 2023, our inaugural Summer Groove festival —  headlined by drumming legend (and student of Babatunde Olatunji) Sanga of the Valley on the djembe — revitalized an on-campus music scene that was still recovering from pandemic closures. Local musician Danté Marsh provided soulful funk. Bay Area musicians Keenan Webster and Daniel Berkman played acoustic and electric koras. Los Angeles-based String Theory transformed the Lodge deck with an installation of supersized strings that transfixed and enthralled as the sun set. Brooklyn’s Michael Hewett plucked away on guitar. Philadelphia’s Luther Bangert’s sitar work provided music for morning pages and, come nighttime, sound experiences at the baths. Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach Hotel gave lunchtime a vibe with some poolside sessions. 

In early 2024, our Go Within wintering festival went deep, both spiritually and musically. The breathtaking sound journey of Indigenous Sakha singer Snow Raven, originator of Arctic beatbox, transported a captivated audience with the mouth harp, throat singing, and drumming. A sound bath experience, accompanied by Micha Merrick and Jovinna Chan, included Snow Raven’s drumbeats and magical voice. The angelic tones of Mary Lattimore enchanted guests and staff as she plucked her harp, as described by The New York Times, “like a solo guitarist.” The “vertical music” of ambient music pioneer Laraaji led the inaugural festival, bridging the gap between the terrestrial and the cosmic to bring us into a state of present-moment awareness.  “It’s all happening simultaneously. It’s not linear. I guess I was initiated into continuous present time. The whole picture, the whole event, is accessible at any point within the event,” said Laraaji.

Our sonic evolution continues with Esalen’s artist-in-residence program. In January, pop singer Kesha shared her creative process during her Alchemy of Pop class. She taught the session in Rooftop, which led to a singalong that organically morphed into a songwriting boot camp. Participants, both new and seasoned songwriters, had the rare opportunity to be coached by a Grammy-nominated artist. 

The vibes are good and the beat goes on. We are feeling more and more like a destination for artists to come play — to energize minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits — and relax into our creative laboratory, an idyllic space for emerging creative talents to experiment and grow.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Steven Gutierrez

Steven Gutierrez is an editor, writer, and ghostwriter. He has worked in book publishing and at several major (and some minor) magazines.

< Back to all Journal posts

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Joan Baez at the Big Sur Folk Festival, 1969.
Harmony Through the Years: A Melodic Journey of Music at Esalen (1962–2024)

The Big Sur Folk Festival played a few of the opening notes of Esalen’s rock and folk musical legacy. Celebration at Big Sur, the documentary film about the legendary 1969 concert, begins with Joan Baez, seven months pregnant, singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" in her iconic soprano. The lawn, surrounded by mountains, forest, and ocean, forms Mother Nature’s amphitheater, packed with a rainbow of humanity. On the pool deck, Joni Mitchell harmonizes alongside Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before the crowd jumps to the soulful rhythms of gospel classic "Oh Happy Day!" belted out by Dorothy Combs Morrison and Baez.

Since those early days of the 1960s, legends and aspiring artists have performed, studied, taught, and found refuge at Esalen, including Charles River Valley Boys, gospel singer Vernon Bush, folk singer Johnsmith, Donovan, Devendra Banhart, cellist David Darling, sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Taj Mahal, Kris Kristofferson, and countless others. From folk singer-songwriters to rock royalty, pop princesses, the African drums of Babatunde Olatunji, and today’s electronic artists, music is evermore an essential part of Esalen. 

In our first decade, the canyon echoed the folk tunes and the soft strumming of acoustic guitars. “A group of mountain guys who played drums and flutes and guitars played every Sunday afternoon,” Healing Arts’ Peggy Horan remembers. “The deck was celebratory with their music and lots of dancing.”

As the counterculture movement swept across America, we grew into a musical scene with the likes of George Harrison and Ringo Starr helicoptering in to jam with Ravi Shankar and his sitar. Judy Collins, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mama Cass Elliot, Mitchell, and Baez all sang their songs at Esalen. Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald T, John Sebastian, and Mimi Farina (who got married at Esalen) all came down the hill seeking creative inspiration. A container for birthing new ideas became a place — at the Lodge, lawn, pool deck, and across campus — where the voices of several generations merged introspective lyrics with hypnotic sounds.

Babatunde Olatunji, the renowned Nigerian drummer and percussionist responsible for Drums of Passion, played a pivotal role in shaping Esalen's musical landscape during his tenure and long residency as a village elder. Babatunde’s rhythmic mastery and traditional African beats infused with free-spirited energy helped establish the campus as a drumming haven. His influential classes left an indelible mark and laid the groundwork for other artists.

From the beginning, Esalen has provided space for artists to share their talents through workshops, starting with Baez’s The New Folk Music in 1964 and A Weekend with Ravi Shankar in 1965. Others have come for their own personal transformational growth. "I have had so many healing moments at Esalen. Some in workshops, some in the baths, some when I was there on personal retreat. All of them rich and moving and balm-like," wrote Alanis Morrisette, who also led a workshop titled Hurtling toward Wholeness in 2015. "It has been the ground upon which I've done so much learning, researching, diving deeply within, taking responsibility, and then cracking open and shutting down, falling down, both. back and forth. down low and up again, like a delicate, feisty, vulnerable, and audacious human ping pong ball." 

Flash forward to 2023, our inaugural Summer Groove festival —  headlined by drumming legend (and student of Babatunde Olatunji) Sanga of the Valley on the djembe — revitalized an on-campus music scene that was still recovering from pandemic closures. Local musician Danté Marsh provided soulful funk. Bay Area musicians Keenan Webster and Daniel Berkman played acoustic and electric koras. Los Angeles-based String Theory transformed the Lodge deck with an installation of supersized strings that transfixed and enthralled as the sun set. Brooklyn’s Michael Hewett plucked away on guitar. Philadelphia’s Luther Bangert’s sitar work provided music for morning pages and, come nighttime, sound experiences at the baths. Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach Hotel gave lunchtime a vibe with some poolside sessions. 

In early 2024, our Go Within wintering festival went deep, both spiritually and musically. The breathtaking sound journey of Indigenous Sakha singer Snow Raven, originator of Arctic beatbox, transported a captivated audience with the mouth harp, throat singing, and drumming. A sound bath experience, accompanied by Micha Merrick and Jovinna Chan, included Snow Raven’s drumbeats and magical voice. The angelic tones of Mary Lattimore enchanted guests and staff as she plucked her harp, as described by The New York Times, “like a solo guitarist.” The “vertical music” of ambient music pioneer Laraaji led the inaugural festival, bridging the gap between the terrestrial and the cosmic to bring us into a state of present-moment awareness.  “It’s all happening simultaneously. It’s not linear. I guess I was initiated into continuous present time. The whole picture, the whole event, is accessible at any point within the event,” said Laraaji.

Our sonic evolution continues with Esalen’s artist-in-residence program. In January, pop singer Kesha shared her creative process during her Alchemy of Pop class. She taught the session in Rooftop, which led to a singalong that organically morphed into a songwriting boot camp. Participants, both new and seasoned songwriters, had the rare opportunity to be coached by a Grammy-nominated artist. 

The vibes are good and the beat goes on. We are feeling more and more like a destination for artists to come play — to energize minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits — and relax into our creative laboratory, an idyllic space for emerging creative talents to experiment and grow.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Steven Gutierrez

Steven Gutierrez is an editor, writer, and ghostwriter. He has worked in book publishing and at several major (and some minor) magazines.

Harmony Through the Years: A Melodic Journey of Music at Esalen (1962–2024)

About

Steven Gutierrez

Steven Gutierrez is an editor, writer, and ghostwriter. He has worked in book publishing and at several major (and some minor) magazines.

< Back to all articles

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Joan Baez at the Big Sur Folk Festival, 1969.

The Big Sur Folk Festival played a few of the opening notes of Esalen’s rock and folk musical legacy. Celebration at Big Sur, the documentary film about the legendary 1969 concert, begins with Joan Baez, seven months pregnant, singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" in her iconic soprano. The lawn, surrounded by mountains, forest, and ocean, forms Mother Nature’s amphitheater, packed with a rainbow of humanity. On the pool deck, Joni Mitchell harmonizes alongside Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before the crowd jumps to the soulful rhythms of gospel classic "Oh Happy Day!" belted out by Dorothy Combs Morrison and Baez.

Since those early days of the 1960s, legends and aspiring artists have performed, studied, taught, and found refuge at Esalen, including Charles River Valley Boys, gospel singer Vernon Bush, folk singer Johnsmith, Donovan, Devendra Banhart, cellist David Darling, sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Taj Mahal, Kris Kristofferson, and countless others. From folk singer-songwriters to rock royalty, pop princesses, the African drums of Babatunde Olatunji, and today’s electronic artists, music is evermore an essential part of Esalen. 

In our first decade, the canyon echoed the folk tunes and the soft strumming of acoustic guitars. “A group of mountain guys who played drums and flutes and guitars played every Sunday afternoon,” Healing Arts’ Peggy Horan remembers. “The deck was celebratory with their music and lots of dancing.”

As the counterculture movement swept across America, we grew into a musical scene with the likes of George Harrison and Ringo Starr helicoptering in to jam with Ravi Shankar and his sitar. Judy Collins, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mama Cass Elliot, Mitchell, and Baez all sang their songs at Esalen. Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald T, John Sebastian, and Mimi Farina (who got married at Esalen) all came down the hill seeking creative inspiration. A container for birthing new ideas became a place — at the Lodge, lawn, pool deck, and across campus — where the voices of several generations merged introspective lyrics with hypnotic sounds.

Babatunde Olatunji, the renowned Nigerian drummer and percussionist responsible for Drums of Passion, played a pivotal role in shaping Esalen's musical landscape during his tenure and long residency as a village elder. Babatunde’s rhythmic mastery and traditional African beats infused with free-spirited energy helped establish the campus as a drumming haven. His influential classes left an indelible mark and laid the groundwork for other artists.

From the beginning, Esalen has provided space for artists to share their talents through workshops, starting with Baez’s The New Folk Music in 1964 and A Weekend with Ravi Shankar in 1965. Others have come for their own personal transformational growth. "I have had so many healing moments at Esalen. Some in workshops, some in the baths, some when I was there on personal retreat. All of them rich and moving and balm-like," wrote Alanis Morrisette, who also led a workshop titled Hurtling toward Wholeness in 2015. "It has been the ground upon which I've done so much learning, researching, diving deeply within, taking responsibility, and then cracking open and shutting down, falling down, both. back and forth. down low and up again, like a delicate, feisty, vulnerable, and audacious human ping pong ball." 

Flash forward to 2023, our inaugural Summer Groove festival —  headlined by drumming legend (and student of Babatunde Olatunji) Sanga of the Valley on the djembe — revitalized an on-campus music scene that was still recovering from pandemic closures. Local musician Danté Marsh provided soulful funk. Bay Area musicians Keenan Webster and Daniel Berkman played acoustic and electric koras. Los Angeles-based String Theory transformed the Lodge deck with an installation of supersized strings that transfixed and enthralled as the sun set. Brooklyn’s Michael Hewett plucked away on guitar. Philadelphia’s Luther Bangert’s sitar work provided music for morning pages and, come nighttime, sound experiences at the baths. Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach Hotel gave lunchtime a vibe with some poolside sessions. 

In early 2024, our Go Within wintering festival went deep, both spiritually and musically. The breathtaking sound journey of Indigenous Sakha singer Snow Raven, originator of Arctic beatbox, transported a captivated audience with the mouth harp, throat singing, and drumming. A sound bath experience, accompanied by Micha Merrick and Jovinna Chan, included Snow Raven’s drumbeats and magical voice. The angelic tones of Mary Lattimore enchanted guests and staff as she plucked her harp, as described by The New York Times, “like a solo guitarist.” The “vertical music” of ambient music pioneer Laraaji led the inaugural festival, bridging the gap between the terrestrial and the cosmic to bring us into a state of present-moment awareness.  “It’s all happening simultaneously. It’s not linear. I guess I was initiated into continuous present time. The whole picture, the whole event, is accessible at any point within the event,” said Laraaji.

Our sonic evolution continues with Esalen’s artist-in-residence program. In January, pop singer Kesha shared her creative process during her Alchemy of Pop class. She taught the session in Rooftop, which led to a singalong that organically morphed into a songwriting boot camp. Participants, both new and seasoned songwriters, had the rare opportunity to be coached by a Grammy-nominated artist. 

The vibes are good and the beat goes on. We are feeling more and more like a destination for artists to come play — to energize minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits — and relax into our creative laboratory, an idyllic space for emerging creative talents to experiment and grow.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Steven Gutierrez

Steven Gutierrez is an editor, writer, and ghostwriter. He has worked in book publishing and at several major (and some minor) magazines.

< Back to all Journal posts

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Joan Baez at the Big Sur Folk Festival, 1969.
Harmony Through the Years: A Melodic Journey of Music at Esalen (1962–2024)

The Big Sur Folk Festival played a few of the opening notes of Esalen’s rock and folk musical legacy. Celebration at Big Sur, the documentary film about the legendary 1969 concert, begins with Joan Baez, seven months pregnant, singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" in her iconic soprano. The lawn, surrounded by mountains, forest, and ocean, forms Mother Nature’s amphitheater, packed with a rainbow of humanity. On the pool deck, Joni Mitchell harmonizes alongside Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before the crowd jumps to the soulful rhythms of gospel classic "Oh Happy Day!" belted out by Dorothy Combs Morrison and Baez.

Since those early days of the 1960s, legends and aspiring artists have performed, studied, taught, and found refuge at Esalen, including Charles River Valley Boys, gospel singer Vernon Bush, folk singer Johnsmith, Donovan, Devendra Banhart, cellist David Darling, sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Taj Mahal, Kris Kristofferson, and countless others. From folk singer-songwriters to rock royalty, pop princesses, the African drums of Babatunde Olatunji, and today’s electronic artists, music is evermore an essential part of Esalen. 

In our first decade, the canyon echoed the folk tunes and the soft strumming of acoustic guitars. “A group of mountain guys who played drums and flutes and guitars played every Sunday afternoon,” Healing Arts’ Peggy Horan remembers. “The deck was celebratory with their music and lots of dancing.”

As the counterculture movement swept across America, we grew into a musical scene with the likes of George Harrison and Ringo Starr helicoptering in to jam with Ravi Shankar and his sitar. Judy Collins, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mama Cass Elliot, Mitchell, and Baez all sang their songs at Esalen. Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald T, John Sebastian, and Mimi Farina (who got married at Esalen) all came down the hill seeking creative inspiration. A container for birthing new ideas became a place — at the Lodge, lawn, pool deck, and across campus — where the voices of several generations merged introspective lyrics with hypnotic sounds.

Babatunde Olatunji, the renowned Nigerian drummer and percussionist responsible for Drums of Passion, played a pivotal role in shaping Esalen's musical landscape during his tenure and long residency as a village elder. Babatunde’s rhythmic mastery and traditional African beats infused with free-spirited energy helped establish the campus as a drumming haven. His influential classes left an indelible mark and laid the groundwork for other artists.

From the beginning, Esalen has provided space for artists to share their talents through workshops, starting with Baez’s The New Folk Music in 1964 and A Weekend with Ravi Shankar in 1965. Others have come for their own personal transformational growth. "I have had so many healing moments at Esalen. Some in workshops, some in the baths, some when I was there on personal retreat. All of them rich and moving and balm-like," wrote Alanis Morrisette, who also led a workshop titled Hurtling toward Wholeness in 2015. "It has been the ground upon which I've done so much learning, researching, diving deeply within, taking responsibility, and then cracking open and shutting down, falling down, both. back and forth. down low and up again, like a delicate, feisty, vulnerable, and audacious human ping pong ball." 

Flash forward to 2023, our inaugural Summer Groove festival —  headlined by drumming legend (and student of Babatunde Olatunji) Sanga of the Valley on the djembe — revitalized an on-campus music scene that was still recovering from pandemic closures. Local musician Danté Marsh provided soulful funk. Bay Area musicians Keenan Webster and Daniel Berkman played acoustic and electric koras. Los Angeles-based String Theory transformed the Lodge deck with an installation of supersized strings that transfixed and enthralled as the sun set. Brooklyn’s Michael Hewett plucked away on guitar. Philadelphia’s Luther Bangert’s sitar work provided music for morning pages and, come nighttime, sound experiences at the baths. Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach Hotel gave lunchtime a vibe with some poolside sessions. 

In early 2024, our Go Within wintering festival went deep, both spiritually and musically. The breathtaking sound journey of Indigenous Sakha singer Snow Raven, originator of Arctic beatbox, transported a captivated audience with the mouth harp, throat singing, and drumming. A sound bath experience, accompanied by Micha Merrick and Jovinna Chan, included Snow Raven’s drumbeats and magical voice. The angelic tones of Mary Lattimore enchanted guests and staff as she plucked her harp, as described by The New York Times, “like a solo guitarist.” The “vertical music” of ambient music pioneer Laraaji led the inaugural festival, bridging the gap between the terrestrial and the cosmic to bring us into a state of present-moment awareness.  “It’s all happening simultaneously. It’s not linear. I guess I was initiated into continuous present time. The whole picture, the whole event, is accessible at any point within the event,” said Laraaji.

Our sonic evolution continues with Esalen’s artist-in-residence program. In January, pop singer Kesha shared her creative process during her Alchemy of Pop class. She taught the session in Rooftop, which led to a singalong that organically morphed into a songwriting boot camp. Participants, both new and seasoned songwriters, had the rare opportunity to be coached by a Grammy-nominated artist. 

The vibes are good and the beat goes on. We are feeling more and more like a destination for artists to come play — to energize minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits — and relax into our creative laboratory, an idyllic space for emerging creative talents to experiment and grow.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Steven Gutierrez

Steven Gutierrez is an editor, writer, and ghostwriter. He has worked in book publishing and at several major (and some minor) magazines.

Harmony Through the Years: A Melodic Journey of Music at Esalen (1962–2024)

About

Steven Gutierrez

Steven Gutierrez is an editor, writer, and ghostwriter. He has worked in book publishing and at several major (and some minor) magazines.

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Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Joan Baez at the Big Sur Folk Festival, 1969.

The Big Sur Folk Festival played a few of the opening notes of Esalen’s rock and folk musical legacy. Celebration at Big Sur, the documentary film about the legendary 1969 concert, begins with Joan Baez, seven months pregnant, singing Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" in her iconic soprano. The lawn, surrounded by mountains, forest, and ocean, forms Mother Nature’s amphitheater, packed with a rainbow of humanity. On the pool deck, Joni Mitchell harmonizes alongside Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young before the crowd jumps to the soulful rhythms of gospel classic "Oh Happy Day!" belted out by Dorothy Combs Morrison and Baez.

Since those early days of the 1960s, legends and aspiring artists have performed, studied, taught, and found refuge at Esalen, including Charles River Valley Boys, gospel singer Vernon Bush, folk singer Johnsmith, Donovan, Devendra Banhart, cellist David Darling, sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Taj Mahal, Kris Kristofferson, and countless others. From folk singer-songwriters to rock royalty, pop princesses, the African drums of Babatunde Olatunji, and today’s electronic artists, music is evermore an essential part of Esalen. 

In our first decade, the canyon echoed the folk tunes and the soft strumming of acoustic guitars. “A group of mountain guys who played drums and flutes and guitars played every Sunday afternoon,” Healing Arts’ Peggy Horan remembers. “The deck was celebratory with their music and lots of dancing.”

As the counterculture movement swept across America, we grew into a musical scene with the likes of George Harrison and Ringo Starr helicoptering in to jam with Ravi Shankar and his sitar. Judy Collins, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mama Cass Elliot, Mitchell, and Baez all sang their songs at Esalen. Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald T, John Sebastian, and Mimi Farina (who got married at Esalen) all came down the hill seeking creative inspiration. A container for birthing new ideas became a place — at the Lodge, lawn, pool deck, and across campus — where the voices of several generations merged introspective lyrics with hypnotic sounds.

Babatunde Olatunji, the renowned Nigerian drummer and percussionist responsible for Drums of Passion, played a pivotal role in shaping Esalen's musical landscape during his tenure and long residency as a village elder. Babatunde’s rhythmic mastery and traditional African beats infused with free-spirited energy helped establish the campus as a drumming haven. His influential classes left an indelible mark and laid the groundwork for other artists.

From the beginning, Esalen has provided space for artists to share their talents through workshops, starting with Baez’s The New Folk Music in 1964 and A Weekend with Ravi Shankar in 1965. Others have come for their own personal transformational growth. "I have had so many healing moments at Esalen. Some in workshops, some in the baths, some when I was there on personal retreat. All of them rich and moving and balm-like," wrote Alanis Morrisette, who also led a workshop titled Hurtling toward Wholeness in 2015. "It has been the ground upon which I've done so much learning, researching, diving deeply within, taking responsibility, and then cracking open and shutting down, falling down, both. back and forth. down low and up again, like a delicate, feisty, vulnerable, and audacious human ping pong ball." 

Flash forward to 2023, our inaugural Summer Groove festival —  headlined by drumming legend (and student of Babatunde Olatunji) Sanga of the Valley on the djembe — revitalized an on-campus music scene that was still recovering from pandemic closures. Local musician Danté Marsh provided soulful funk. Bay Area musicians Keenan Webster and Daniel Berkman played acoustic and electric koras. Los Angeles-based String Theory transformed the Lodge deck with an installation of supersized strings that transfixed and enthralled as the sun set. Brooklyn’s Michael Hewett plucked away on guitar. Philadelphia’s Luther Bangert’s sitar work provided music for morning pages and, come nighttime, sound experiences at the baths. Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach Hotel gave lunchtime a vibe with some poolside sessions. 

In early 2024, our Go Within wintering festival went deep, both spiritually and musically. The breathtaking sound journey of Indigenous Sakha singer Snow Raven, originator of Arctic beatbox, transported a captivated audience with the mouth harp, throat singing, and drumming. A sound bath experience, accompanied by Micha Merrick and Jovinna Chan, included Snow Raven’s drumbeats and magical voice. The angelic tones of Mary Lattimore enchanted guests and staff as she plucked her harp, as described by The New York Times, “like a solo guitarist.” The “vertical music” of ambient music pioneer Laraaji led the inaugural festival, bridging the gap between the terrestrial and the cosmic to bring us into a state of present-moment awareness.  “It’s all happening simultaneously. It’s not linear. I guess I was initiated into continuous present time. The whole picture, the whole event, is accessible at any point within the event,” said Laraaji.

Our sonic evolution continues with Esalen’s artist-in-residence program. In January, pop singer Kesha shared her creative process during her Alchemy of Pop class. She taught the session in Rooftop, which led to a singalong that organically morphed into a songwriting boot camp. Participants, both new and seasoned songwriters, had the rare opportunity to be coached by a Grammy-nominated artist. 

The vibes are good and the beat goes on. We are feeling more and more like a destination for artists to come play — to energize minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits — and relax into our creative laboratory, an idyllic space for emerging creative talents to experiment and grow.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Steven Gutierrez

Steven Gutierrez is an editor, writer, and ghostwriter. He has worked in book publishing and at several major (and some minor) magazines.