Many have heard the news about the recent "riot" at the Venice Beach drum circle. I used to attend that circle for many years & although it’s freestyle with no facilitator, it was always different & always fun. We created some excellent in the moment music there, & a few musical trainwrecks as well. That’s part of the fun of unorganized community drum circles.
Going to it helped me to deal with the everyday problems of life. I guess you could say, it helped me drum that stress away like it did for many other people. It was that way for a lot of the drummers & dancers. Going there kept me sane with all the rejection in the music & acting industries. The social part of it was important as well.
For decades, the Venice Beach drum circle used to be right near the boardwalk bike trail on a little grassy knoll surrounded by palm trees. It was simply a beautiful place to drum where the public could stop by & enjoy the sound as well. People on rollerblades & bicycles would roll by & stop to enjoy the scene for awhile & move on. We would all drum the sun into the sea together as the sun set.
Many people went out & bought drums so they could come down & be a part of it. Music making became a part of their lives. It was good for the community & brought a lot of them together despite their differences, language barriers, & cultural backgrounds.
As the story goes, Jim Morrison used to write songs & even drummed at that very spot. We would play every Sunday starting around 3pm, sometimes for 5 - 6 hours or more. It meant something to play right there where so much music history was created. And it went on like that for years.
There would be maybe 40 – 50 drummers by 6pm & lots of onlookers enjoying the rhythms. Most of them had never even seen a drum circle before. It kept growing, & yes there was a personality conflict now & then, but it was pretty rare & never violent.
In the late 90’s the cops moved it 100 yards away out by the shore. I’m not sure exactly why, complaints from nearby residents I think. I think another part of the problem was it didn’t generate any money for the nearby businesses, or the city. (Meanwhile music from various bars was much louder than we were.) So no more street lights – that was one of the reasons there were so few problems for so many years.
A lighted area is less likely to have problems. Out of sight, out of mind I guess they figured. Now we were way out by the water’s edge, so when night rolled around, it was pretty dark & isolated out there. It started attracting more people & more problems along with it. Sometimes over 200 – 300 people would be there, (but still maybe only 50 drummers.) so when it got dark, I would usually split. Venice is an attraction for some gang members, whether there is a drum circle or not.
The dust ups between a few people became more frequent. A few times a year the cops would show up, but almost every time it wasn't the drummers causing a problem, it was the curious onlookers (usually inebriated ones) that would gather around it that did. Venice beach is a pretty busy place that attracts all kinds of people from all around Los Angeles. The drum circle was just a tiny part of it, but it was a significant part of the culture & charm of the Venice Boardwalk. I could never really understand why they couldn’t support that, like they did other non financial generating activities that go on there.
I’m not defending what happened, but I think when you get any large group of the general public together almost anywhere, there's going to be a few problem people mixed in there.
Unfortunately this recent incident is being blamed on the drummers and/or the drum circle that has been going on there for over 40 years. I watched the video and didn't see any people with drums causing a problem. Many of us have worked hard, and always will, to clean up the image some get when they hear the words drum circle.
Because of the media jumping on freeform drum circles where anything negative happens, (rather than the positive. So many drum circle facilitators don't even use the term drum circle anymore, they are shifting away from it and going to PC terms like interactive drumming, community drumming, & words like that. Freestyle drum circles happen all around the country, in hundreds of cities, & most all of them with no problems. So media press on this kind of incident is unfortunate, but for me, it’s always going to be a drum circle.
Here’s the LA Times article: