Went to my first drum circle Saturday night, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it ever since…
Picture a bonfire in a brewery parking lot, with stacks of empty aluminum kegs forming walls on two sides. On the other side of the kegs are railroad tracks. The bonfire is burning hot, but not roaring, and it’s surrounded by people drumming. The people are of every age and station. If you can think of a label – yuppy, granny, street kid, punk, goth, whatever – there’s someone here who belongs to that group. None of those groups are there, though. Instead, they’re just drummers. We’re just drummers.
The brewery doesn’t serve food, so my wife and I have some Lo Mein and dumplings delivered. Not wanting to leave, we eat the food quickly on an overturned oil drum, then join in.
There are drums of every size. Some people use sticks, but most just play with their hands. A belly dancer sways her way through the crowd, dances briefly, then disappears again. A guy in a black hat and ZZ-Top beard breaks out a digeridoo. To our right, a man in a cloth cap and patched jeans helps a young child get her drum set up. He turns her seat around so that he and she can drum to each other. The girl laughs, clearly torn between playing her own drum and just watching her daddy play.
Smoke swirls out of the fire, caught and carried away by the slightest of breezes. A train blows its whistle as it rumbles past. I swear that it’s in time to the music. I realize that’s not possible, that there’s no way the guy on the train can hear the drums, but it fits in perfectly.
The drumming is penetrating. There’s no leader or coordination, just people falling in and out of beat with each other. Some rhythms are complex, others primal. One guy shakes a tambourine. Another hits a cow-bell. It doesn’t matter. In fact, I saw one guy who was just banging two sticks together. No one cares. The beat is everywhere, everything.
In the far corner, a lady starts to spin fire sticks.
Unfortunately, it’s 10pm and we’ve got to get back to our babysitter, back to our own kids.