NEW PORT RICHEY — The sound of drumming filled the crisp, cool air at Sims Park last Friday night as several dozen members of the community warmed their hands around a bonfire and watched a performance by Tampa Taiko, a professional Japanese drumming ensemble.
After mesmerizing the crowd, duo Ron Collins and Julius Mendoza invited people onto the park stage to try their hand at drumming.
“What we are going to do is turn this into a participatory event and teach you,” Collins told the crowd.
About a dozen people clamored up the cement stairs to stand behind the large drums, made from recycled wine barrels. Their eyes lit up as they banged on the drums with mallets, especially the children, when they were told there was no limit to how loud they could be.
Isys Meier, 9, was one of several children who braved having all eyes on them for the opportunity to imitate the performers. Isys, along with her 4-year-old sister Kara, took the drumsticks and gleefully took her turn behind a drum as Mendoza taught her the proper strokes for long and short notes.
Although she’s played the drum in music class, Isys said, this time she was nervous because “we’re on stage and all eyes are on us.”
After the instructional period, Collins and Mendoza joined some other drummers, belly dancers and hoop dancers around the bonfire to continue the community experience, which was one of numerous events scheduled for Pasco EcoFest, a New Port Richey festival celebrating sustainable and local living.
The group formed a drum circle, an informal “jam session” in which participants improvise and create music and a sense of community. All were welcome to join and Pasco EcoFest Marketing Director Lia Gallegos said she hopes the drum circle event continues to grow at EcoFest and possibly spin off into more frequent drum circle events year-round.
“I know it’s a strange concept for New Port Richey,” Gallegos said. “People around here are not offered these type of opportunities. It’s a different experience.”
People buy into negative stereotypes of drum circles, clumping drum circle participants into “hippies, people with dreads like me and drugs,” Mendoza said. Those who experience it though “change their minds instantly.”
Drum circle culture embraces recycling and reusing and often go camping, learning to rely on nature and neighbors to get by, Mendoza pointed out.
“It makes us feel like a tribe,” Mendoza said. “And when you put drumsticks in people’s hands, they feel inspired and empowered.”
The exact history of drum circles is unknown, as drumming in many forms has been a part of various cultures globally for thousands of years. It appeared to gain traction in the United States with countercultures in the 1960s and ’70s, as part of war protests and meditations.
The drum circle was planned as part of EcoFest to bring a sense of community to participants who might normally travel to other parts of Tampa Bay, like St. Petersburg and Tampa, to attend cultural events.
It also empowered people to create their own experiences instead of merely participating in scheduled events.
“You’re not passive, sitting back and watching a band on stage,” said Ronald Hays, who led a crystal bowl meditation in the park earlier that day. “People can be part of creating their own experience.”
Pasco EcoFest was held at Sims and Jay B. Starkey Wilderness parks Nov. 8-10 and included an array of outdoor activities, including kayaking, bird watching, native plant walks, hiking, educational talks and workshops, camping, hoop and belly dancing, stargazing and a geocaching challenge.
The dates for next year’s EcoFest are not set yet but will likely be planned again for November. For updates and more information, visit www.pascoecofest.com.