Every now and again I find that I have been an accidental eyewitness to something extraordinary. Musically, I was at Newport the night Herbie Mann redefined the song “Comin’ home.” I was at “The Garden Party” when Rickie Nelson was booed. I happened to be in Tiananmen Square in Beijing the day the students occupied it. I’ve come to think of these as “Forrest Gump “moments.
On Saturday May 15, I had another sense of seeing the exceptional when I participated in drumSTRONG2010 at Misty Meadows in Weddington. The event‘s stated goal was to break its own previous record for non-stop drumming, and the cause was raising funds to beat cancer. I know both goals were achieved.
Along the way, the participants experienced something greater than themselves, and that’s always an extraordinary sensation.
First, there was the drum circle experience. DrumSTRONG founder Scott Swimmer rang a gong at 1:45 PM on the main stage, and 200 yards away, the drum circle started up the beat. My son Sean and I wandered over a few minutes later and were motioned to a couple of unoccupied drums in the third tier of the circle. We picked up the rhythm and started to enjoy the process.
I’m not sure I can describe the mental transformation that occurs when you are banging away on a drum in synch with 60 or so others. You get lost in the rhythm; hands never hurt, arms don’t ache and time passes without notice. It’s pleasant, sleepy and mystical all at the same time. The drum circle facilitators would occasionally change the pattern and offer individuals a chance to play a special drum as one became available. I spent my last 45 minutes drumming at one end of a huge bass drum that had been crafted from a wine cask and mounted head high on a sawbuck. On the other end was a woman who seemed the embodiment of the late Cass Elliot. Occasionally, she would vary the bass counterpoint that we were providing for the larger circle, and I would improvise back. It’s worth mentioning that the sum total of my musical training took place on a cello when I was nine, so this was a whole different deal. I was in drum nirvana!
Then, there was the diversity of people who sat or stood in to play. When I reluctantly left the circle in the late afternoon, I focused for a moment on who was there. Families with school age children drummed along side groups of high school and college students. People of all sorts of ethnicities were represented, and the generational mix was even more remarkable. Some drummers were my age and older, and a few seemed to have materialized from Haight–Ashbury and “the summer of love.” Everyone was smiling, or had that “lost in the rhythm” expression.
In his opening remarks, Scott Swimmer used the metaphor “bubbles of love”
to describe the fact that this same activity was happening simultaneously in over fifty cities in twelve countries. There was even a bubble machine that occasionally blew a cloud of bubbles over drum circle, reinforcing the image. (As long as you didn’t think of Lawrence Welk…)
“Bubbles of Love” It’s worth mentioning that drugs and alcohol were noticeably absent from the event (both were expressly prohibited and everyone I saw complied). I drove by Misty Meadows at sunset on Saturday night, and a multicolored tent city had mushroomed between the drum circle and Providence Road. Many people had organized themselves into teams to keep the drumming going through the night and into Sunday.
I planned to return to drumSTRONG Sunday afternoon, but other family activities intervened. We live about three miles from Misty Meadows, and at 5:45 pm, I walked into my back yard and heard a wonderful drum beat crescendo emanating to the North. It rose above the trees, it dwarfed the rumbling of thunder in the distance, and it marked the end of an extraordinary experience that I had been privileged to share. Psalm 95 came to mind - “ Make a joyful noise…” and for 28 special hours a group of individuals came together, and in the interest of beating cancer, they did.
Review from Guidestar
Drum Strong includes a festival in beautiful Piedmont of North Carolina horse country. Kids are welcome and we dance, play music and drum together-rain or shine.