Most days, people begin leaving the beach when daylight fades. But on Sundays at Siesta Key Beach, things are just getting underway as the sun sinks toward the horizon. At first, the gathering is small. People trickle in from the parking lot and, kicking their shoes off in the sugar-fine white sand, head toward the sound of drumming.
A short distance down the beach, half a dozen rag-tag hippie musicians beat out a rhythm on a collection of percussion instruments. Some are hand held tambourines; others are carried underarm and played with one hand; still others are squeezed between the musician’s knees and played like a bongo. One young man has even hauled a traditional drum set down to the beach, complete with bass and cymbals.
As the last of the daylight fades, the intensity of the drumming ratchets up. The crowd is much larger now, perhaps twenty or thirty deep around the drummers. Bikini-clad teens and belly dancers bedecked in silks and jangling coins push their way into the center of the circle and begin to trance dance, while tattooed bikers stand at the periphery, hoping to catch a glimpse of the more scantily clad dancers. Many of the spectators have brought instruments: flutes, maracas, drums of their own. All are welcome. Under the cover of darkness, they lose their inhibitions and join in, gleeful in their anonymity.
When the weekly Siesta Key Drum Circle began more than 12 years ago, no one expected it to grow to this size. The few dedicated musicians who started the event had no definite plans other than to get together on the beach for a night of spiritual drumming. Today, the Drum Circle has a regular attendance of several hundred to several thousand people, especially during the winter tourist season, and is considered to be one of the largest in the nation. Its popularity may have something to do with “freak factor” – with their long dreadlocks, raggedy T-shirts, and expressions of transcendental bliss, the drummers are a sight to behold, and many of the spectators provide additional eye-candy. But my guess is that the Drum Circle; by its very nature free, uncontrolled, and spontaneous; is an event where people can forget about their daily stresses, walk on a beautiful beach, bang on a drum till their hands hurt, and dance to exhaustion.
The weekly event begins a couple of hours before sunset and usually continues until 10 or 11 p.m. Siesta Key, reputed to have the whitest sand in the world, is a Gulf Coast barrier island located in Sarasota, Florida.