Sometimes a Drum Circle Isn’t Just a Drum Circle

As I ate dinner at Trios and watched the people passing by on a steamy Friday night, I noticed a couple carrying a drum. Then another couple walked past with a didgeridoo. Then I saw more with drums and realized we were building toward a drum circle – or maybe semi-circle as it sometimes is in Knoxville. Some cosmic forces designated a spot among the trees on the south side of the square as the place where drum circles shall happen and this is where the group settled.

To appreciate the excitement I felt, you need to know that Knoxville has not long been cool enough for a drum circle. A Grateful Dead concert venue, we are not. Asheville has had a drum circle for at least several years that regularly gathers on their downtown square, but only recently has anyone implied we might be almost as cool as Asheville. Suddenly, maybe last fall or early spring, on First Friday’s, Knoxville’s very own drum circle emerged. It grew from a few drummers to a semi-circle to a large, intact orb. I’ve been delighted, though some of the buskers complain that when the drummers are drumming, as they are inclined to do, it limits their capacity to earn a living by softly strumming a guitar at table side anywhere nearby.This particular Friday night was not a First Friday and I practically gasped at the possibility our coolness quotient had increased by another leap (or bound, since we had already leaped).

I got my camera and started taking pictures only to notice a couple of oddities about the pictures: One, the drummers did not look particularly celebratory. They looked sombre at the least, if not downright sad. Second, I noticed there was a person there with a much bigger camera than mine. He was filming the circle for a local television channel. It was from him that I learned what was happening. Here is the story they posted later.

The gathering was a memorial for Michele Rivera who was a local “healer,” according to those gathered. She was also in an abusive relationship, got out of it, arranged for an order of protection from her ex-husband who found her anyway and killed her.

The ceremony began with a song played softly on didgeridoo and flute. Some of the circle engaged in cleansing breaths.

The mourners played drums, then lighted candles.

A woman walked around the circle leading everyone as they chanted, “Michelle.”
Silence then engulfed the group and tears began to flow. After some minutes, the candles were arranged in the center of the circle and the group held hands and one woman began by raising her hand and the hand of the person beside her and saying Michele’s name, again. This passed around the circle, with most people looking upward as they said her name.
Hugs were exchanged and a much more spirited, celebratory drum contingent pounded joy and pain into the night. The candles were rearranged a final time and pictures were taken as friends and loved ones drifted away into the dusk.