Bibi McGill At Hanuman Festival This June
By Ashley Shires
Bibi McGill is a world-renown musician and yoga teacher on a mission to activate positive change. Born in Denver, Colorado, she later moved to Los Angeles and toured with Pink and as a lead guitarist for Beyonce. She currently leads yoga-based classes and vibrational medicine workshops around the globe. SF Yoga Mag was thrilled to catch up with her to talk about music, yoga, and her offerings at Hanuman Festival, June 14-17, 2018 in Boulder, Colorado.
What first prompted you to leave Denver to go to Los Angeles?
There wasn’t a music scene at all in Denver, Colorado, when I graduated college, not compared to what was happening in LA; the metal bands and the hair bands were coming out of LA. At the time, I was in a Christian heavy metal band, and I thought I would move to LA to explore the music scene and advance my music career. My parents supported me, drove me out and flew back to Colorado.
Did you discover yoga soon after that?
I discovered yoga in 1996: I had been working for a record label for about four years, and I got to the point where I was working 50 hours a week. I wasn’t allowed to take sick days; I was overworked and I felt like my music was suffering, and finally, I quit. Afterwards, I was home all day, with nothing to do, and I had always wanted to do yoga. I found a coupon to take a free class in Santa Monica. When I walked out, I felt different. I felt light, I felt clear. I felt that yoga was something I wanted in my life. I went to the YMCA because I was a starving artist and it only cost $40 a month for unlimited classes. I could take every type of yoga there – kundalini, anusara, vinyasa flow.
How did you first begin touring as a guitar player?
Once I left my job at the record label, and I wasn’t working 50 hours a week in an office, my friends started telling me about bands that needed a guitar player. The next five years, I played in bands all over Hollywood, all over So Cal, pounding the pavement. At one point, I had three back-to-back interviews with Courtney Love, and Mick Jagger wanted a female guitar player, but I was waiting and waiting to hear back from them, getting frustrated because nothing was happening. Then I got an unexpected call that I had been chosen to go to New York City to play with Pink – and I said, 'What are you talking about?' I had never auditioned with Pink, but she had picked me. I had all these things I was waiting to happen, and they weren’t happening. I didn’t believe that it would happen with Pink. But sure enough, in less than a week, I was on a flight to New York. I went straight to the studio, met Pink, was on MTV Live and everything exploded. People were like, ‘who is that girl with the afro and tattoos? We want her in our band.’
How did you incorporate yoga into your life on tour?
Regardless of what city or country we were in, I would go straight to the concierge and ask for the nearest yoga studio. Sometimes it was calistentics, sometimes it was dressing in white and then taking a cold plunge. The yoga wasn’t consistent. Then I discovered ashtanga, a consistent practice I could do anywhere in the world on my own. In 2004, I completed my ashtanga yoga teacher training in Thailand.
Did you begin teaching yoga right away?
I didn’t start teaching until 2005, when I left the music world. I had thought that I was done. It didn’t feel in line with my self-care goals. Around 2006, my bank account had dwindled – (laughs) you go from touring to teaching yoga, and that happens, but I thought that I had to trust somehow. Then in 2006, Beyonce decided to have an all-female band. I got bombarded with emails and texts, friends, telling me about it. At the end of the day, my phone rang and it was my dad, an elderly man in Denver, Colorado, a barber, and he said that someone had called looking for me, that Beyonce was looking for a guitar player. I told him no, that I wasn’t interested, that I was a yoga teacher now. But I felt a little bad for my dad, so I went to the audition, just to tell him that I’d tried.
It sounds like that audition changed everything.
When I showed up, I realized that I was supposed to be there. Girls were lined up at 10:00 in the morning around the block, and I felt that I was supposed to be there. I did the audition, and it felt flawless. A week later, I got a call to fly to NY for a final audition, but my plane was re-routed. I was sitting in the Atlanta airport, with a four-hour delay. I was looking at my watch, thinking I was missing it. When I finally got to NY, five hours late, I jumped out of the taxi and was told they already picked someone. I said, 'No I’m Bibi Mcgill, and I’m here to audition.' It turned out that they hadn’t actually picked a guitar player. They had picked two of every other instrument, one complete band on the right, one complete band on the left, but neither had a guitar player. I walked in and everyone looked at me. Beyonce’s dad was the manager at the time. He said, ‘I hope you’re good.' I didn’t even warm up – I just plugged in. He asked me to play a solo, and afterward, he said, 'You must be the luckiest girl in the world, because you just got the gig.’
That is an amazing story. How did you incorporate yoga into your life on tour with Beyonce?
Yoga was already a part of my life. Bringing it into the Beyonce tour was natural, like breathing. I was doing my self-care practice, getting up in the morning when everyone else was getting back from the bars with a hang-over. When you’re touring, there are a lot of people that like to party. I was doing my thing, and occasionally someone might go to yoga with me, but not always. Then there was a dancer in 2009 who wanted to learn yoga, the chanting, the mantras. But it took six years to catch on with the rest. Finally, in 2013, I was asked to go on tour again and share what I’d learned. I was told that while everyone else was stressed out, I seemed peaceful. They thought it had something to do with my lifestyle and they wanted to learn more. I was so excited; Oh my god, I get to share this! For that tour, my last tour with Beyonce, I did yoga with everyone, we drew angel cards, I was teaching them about juice cleanses, fasts, essential oils. I set up our rider so that our catering had a juice and smoothie station with kale, spinach, fruits and vegetables. It was a game-changer. Even security was coming by, drinking juice, feeling happy; it changed the whole vibe for me.
What changes did that experience lead you to?
The last show of the tour (the Jay Z and Beyonce “On The Run” Tour), was in France, at the Stade du Paris. I remember walking down the hall towards our tour buses, thinking, ‘Okay. I’ve done enough.’ I had been with Beyonce almost ten years, and I thought, ‘I’m good.’ That was the last show, the last tour, and ever since, I’ve put both feet in doing yoga, plant medicine, empowerment. Vibrational medicine.
We’re so excited that you’ll be teaching at the Hanuman Festival in Boulder this summer. Can you tell us a little about your offerings?
I will be offering a class on “Naad Yoga and the Essence of Sound.” It’s going to be a yoga class of eight classical limb movement, working with sound vibration, vocalization, chanting, and an awesome playlist of music. I’m also offering a class based on my favorite classic rock bands – everything from Led Zepplin to Heart, Styx, Bad Company. And I’ll be DJ’ing a Conscious Dance Party, giving people the opportunity to move their bodies, sweat their prayers and shift their energy, while dancing to a soundscape of world, mantra, tribal, house, electronic and glitch hop beats.
How does it feel, coming back to Colorado?
I’ve been fortunate the last four years to come back to Colorado to offer music and yoga at the Steamboat Yoga Festival, the Arise Festival, and this year at Hanuman. I get to be at home and see how Colorado has changed and to connect with a community that is there now that wasn’t there when I was growing up: the yoga community, the consciousness, the environmentally active community that is there now. I’m super excited about Hanuman Festival. I’m not in the mainstream yoga vibe of Beer Yoga, Sex Yoga. You go to LA and there is a meditation that serves wine before the meditation, encouraging people’s attachments and addictions. Yoga is not about being part of a trendy cool social group; it’s about working on yourself. I’m excited to come back to Boulder and experience that with the Hanuman Festival.