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Burning Bush Drum Circle
I carry with me two qualities I would say I’m less than proud of: an (occasionally) limited attention span and a painful lack of rhythmic sense. Both factors might mean I’m not the girl to bring to a drum circle. I get really excited to go, and the first hour or so is incredible; a great gathering of souls beating out primordial sounds that change shape, color and feel through individual perturbations. The experience is transcendent in that all these different beings unify in a collective sound. People dance and celebrate, all type of people, of all ages. It’s inspiring…
Then, eventually, I get a little bored. No matter though, with an enterprising and independent spirit the Melrose Curve in Phoenix is a hotspot for adventure.
With a drum in his hand, my fella has no concern for where I am so I’m free to wander at will.
I first find the Arizona Rollerderby girls skating around in fabulous ensembles, some more sparkly than others. Definitely wouldn’t want to face any of these ladies down with wheels strapped to my feet but I definitely want to catch a bout.
There are fire dancers, fierce hula-hoopers, local artisans displaying their wares… all amid one of the Metro area’s most adorable locales, complete with locally-owned coffee shops, boutiques, and vintage stores. At Go-Kat-Go, a vintage boutique on 7th Avenue next to the Drum Circle, I found a white vinyl purse with a hand-painted tiger on the front which I am now the proud owner of.
Feeling hungry, I bebop over to a little, late-night Italian place called Caffe Italiano for some delicious food to accompany me and my new handbag back to the circle.
Feeling swell but a little tired, I catch the close of the Circle, even dancing (just a bit) and leave looking forward to the next Drum Circle.
Frank Thompson is a musician, educator, and every First Friday he leads the Burning Bush Drum Circle in downtown Phoenix. The Circle draws all walks of life to the Melrose Curve with each person in attendance crafting an individual experience from the eclectic offerings of Frank’s rhythmic gathering to the area’s other highlights. Two different writers share their two very different nights at the same event hosted by Thompson and the AZ Rhythm Connection.
You can hear the drums from a quarter mile away. The pulsating, heart beat rhythm that drives forward the night. People have congregated from all over the Valley to tap into its raw energy, and with each step it becomes louder. The boom! of the bass is growing deeper. You can feel it in your chest and eyes. You round the corner and notice the multitude of people: the fire breather, the hula-hoop girl, the tattooed dancer. They have all come to take part in the Burning Bush Drum Circle. It’s only 8:30.
Search for a spot among the drummers. Locate old friends and greet them with a shaken hand, a friendly embrace. Listen carefully to what’s being played around you. Find the rhythm. How is the djun djun keeping the beat? Dive in with a bass tone. Another. Keep the rhythm. Perpetuate the feel of the song. What is the brother doing next you? Who’s shaking that thing? Just keep the rhythm.
The sound is morphing, changing. It takes on different pentameter and tempo. I’m sweating with a long-sleeved shirt pulled over my head. Sunglasses on. Keeps the sweat out. There are arms flailing all about me, driving forward the progressive force. The sky behind me alights with fire. The man in front of me is playing the flute. I scream. Begin to chant and sing. We’re all doing it.
Begin to wind down. My drum feels heavier than before. The rhythm has broke apart. The cool down begins. All the way down, the drums drop out until only the gong remains. After a time tambourines twinkle in. Two sticks clack! together. A conga drum slowly appears. Piece by piece, a new rhythm is being unveiled by this impromptu orchestra. It’s quiet at first. But then it grows. It swells into a massive wave that captures all the players’ intent. Their meaning. The reason why they bang on a dead goatskin.
I leave with a sense of strange pride. Strangers come together, mystify out of the ether, to create sound that cannot be created alone. We come for the pure enjoyment of it all. An excuse to step outside and play wildly in the street, meet new and old friends, and to talk about what’s going on. I thoroughly enjoy the Burning Bush Drum Circle and I shall continue to dwell on it until next First Friday when I get to participate in the festivities all over again.