Drum Circle with Grateful Dead Percussionist Brings Community Together in Reno

For a few hours on Sunday afternoon, Idlewild Park was transformed into a throwback to San Francisco in the 1960s, with dozens of self-proclaimed hippies dancing and drumming in a circle with former Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart during Artown's first day.

Artown has in the past focused opening day events such as parades and face-painting, festival manager Bryan Wildman said.

But by scheduling weekly family activities, Wildman said the opening day festival can cater to a wider variety of people.

"We always try to include the community, and it really became obvious to all of us that the audience wants a hands-on event," he said. "When the opportunity to get Mickey (Hart) came, (we) really wanted to do a drum circle."

Lifelong Grateful Dead fan Dennis Farias of Reno brought his 8-year-old son, Lukas, to the front row of the drum circle about half an hour before Hart arrived.

For Farias, whose son Lukas joked that his father was trying to turn him into Mickey Hart, participating in the drum circle was an inclusive way to connect his son to some of his favorite music.

"It's got a lot of freedom in it, both in the music and in the lyrics," Dennis Farias said. "It's not often you get to drum with Mickey."

For Dori Viel, who moved to Reno about a year and a half ago from near Redding, Calif., having cultural events are an important thing for the city and Artown.

Viel, who said she's been playing in drum circles about every other month since moving to Reno, said she had no idea of the amount of culture in Northern Nevada.

"This is great what Reno's been able to do," she said. "I had no idea the city was doing this."

Although many participants brought different types of percussion and drumming instruments, percussionist Nick Stone brought something unique: a handpan.

Handpans are made of hardened nitrated steel. They are played by rhythmically tapping its sides to create an airy, musical sound, he said.

Stone, who has played percussion instruments for about 15 years, said he was happy to participate in a large drum circle with someone like Hart.

"Once everyone starts going, you'll hear a solid beat," he said. "It's much easier to mess up when there's not that many people."

Although most of the crowd was made up of individual drummers, music therapy service Note-Able of Reno brought several of its music therapy patients to the event.

People with physical and mental disabilities can benefit from music therapy, which uses music to achieve non-musical goals such as improved communication, music therapist Sara Rosenow said.

Note-able executive director Manal Toppozada said that Hart has long been a supporter of music therapy, and testified to Congress in 1991 to secure funding for music therapy research.

Toppozada said drum circles can help disabled people by requiring them to communicate and find the same rhythm as everyone else.

"You get the whole group going together…and they all become in-sync," she said. "It brings people together."

"Drummer" Dan Lindstrom, who brought a traditional Native American frame drum to the circle, said he has participated in many drum circles throughout his life. Although he was excited to play with Hart, Lindstrom stressed that people shouldn't need an excuse to join a circle.

"A moment will come when people are synchronized – It's kind of magical," said Lindstrom, who was in the audience. "Everybody should drum; it's good for the soul."

By – Riley Snyder