Hip-hop yogi to headline alcohol-free dance party
At first, yoga and hip-hop seem an odd pair.
The ancient practice of gentle stretching, often preparatory to meditation, versus a modern art-form that blends high-energy, high-emotion dance and music.
But for musical artist Nick Giacomini - commonly known by the stage name MC Yogi - they are a perfect fit.
Giacomini will headline the Rock Steady Fest at the Phoenix Theatre on March 21.
A musician, Buddhist, yoga teacher and writer, his theme for the alcohol and drug-free dance party for all ages is simple - you don’t have to get high to have a great time. A fundraiser for Clean and Sober, the show will also feature writer/musician Kevin Griffin and his band, Laughing Buddha.
This will be Giacomini’s second appearance at the Phoenix.
As a reckless and troubled teenager roughly two decades ago, he took the stage uninvited one night and was ejected from the theater.
“I grew up in Petaluma, where I got kicked out of various schools, including high school,” he said. “I was sent to the Hanna Boys Center, where I lived for two-and-a-half years. It provided a structure for my life that I needed - the regularity of cleaning my room, cooking, receiving counseling, and having teachers who cared about me.”
The hip-hop came before the yoga.
“At the group home, lots of kids were into hip-hop,” he said. “I painted graffiti in the Bay Area, had lots of friends who were MC’s, went to lots of parties. Hip-hop was an outlet for my feelings and problems.”
Giacomini got into yoga at 17, after leaving the group home. He ended up going to India, where he learned more about the practice.
“For me, yoga created a way to understand my mind and my body,” he said.
Giacomini views hip-hop as a form of storytelling.
“What I learned in India became material for my musical art,” he said. Over time, his devotion to hip-hop has evolved into a broader passion for music in general. He writes, produces, arranges, and plays instruments, although he has no formal training.
Over the past decade, Giacomini has released seven hip-hop albums while building a following, both at yoga gatherings and music festivals. His first three records were all #1 on I Tunes World music. His album “Ritual Mystical” was #1 on Electronic Music. He has toured the world repeatedly, headlining at every major yoga festival.
Giacomini is the author of the 2017 memoir “Spiritual Graffiti: Finding My True Path.” The book recounts his journey from troubled youth to yoga practitioner and teacher, as well as musical pioneer. It won a Silver Nautilus Award for best memoir. Upon publication, Jason Mraz, a multi-platinum and Grammy-winning musician, said, “MC Yogi’s story of grit and graffiti reminds us that yoga meets us where we are and introduces us to who we are.”
Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, said, “Let MC’s journey be a reminder to inspire you to follow your own spiritual heart.”
“What yoga and hip-hop have in common is that they bring people together,” Giacomini said. “And when the music is integrated into a drug and alcohol-free venue such as Rock Steady, it promotes healing and transformation.”
Giacomini has plenty of friends in recovery, he pointed out.
“I’ve seen the incredible transformations that people have gone through,” he said. Having performed so much in all kinds of environments, Giacomini has seen how a “loaded” audience differs from one that is sober. Giacomini and his wife, Amanda, a visual artist, operate a yoga studio in Pt. Reyes Station, but the musician is constantly on the move. He performed in 30 cities last year. His April schedule includes Chile, Florida and New York.
“The events I enjoy the most are the local ones,” he said.
The Phoenix show includes Kevin Griffin, another artist who combines music and spirituality. He often speaks at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Author of five books, his 2004 title “One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps,” is a well-known work on the recovery movement. It combines Buddhist mindfulness practices with a 12-step recovery program. A former rock guitarist, Griffin still plays and writes music, and released his CD “Laughing Buddha” in 2013, a collection of dharma-related rock songs.
A special guest at the show will be Sonoma County poet Xerxes Whitney, an inspirational speaker. As he described in a 2014 TED Talk, Whitney was born with cerebral palsy. For years, he tried to “overcome” the disease by climbing mountains and running marathons, but only after he began to meditate and “go within” was he able to accept who he was and thus achieve the peace that had eluded him.
The Rock Steady Fest will be the first of an annual series, according to organizer Jeffrey Trotter, artistic director of Clean and Sober. “We love music and we love health, so we want to offer a substance-free music festival to people,” he said, noting that the show is already selling out.
Clean and Sober, based in west Marin County, has been operating for four years. A few years ago, Trotter became friends with Giacomini.
“He noticed that I was doing shows at the Phoenix, a place that is full of spirit, that provides a safe environment for kids,” Trotter said. “So, he offered to play for a fundraiser.
Trotter points out that this is MC Yogi’s only West Coast appearance this year.
“It’s going to be a celebration,” Giacomini said, “an epic dance party for all ages.”