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Sagaponack's Popular Drum Circle To Tour Other Beaches As Well

Originally Posted: August 13, 2008

Kelly Carroll

Local enthusiasts including County Legislator Jay Schniederman (drumming second from left) had nothing to fear Monday night as the loyal players still brought their drums, and the crowds still showed, without a hitch. Photos by Kelly Carroll

What started out as a "hippy-dippy" event, according to attendee Neil Wolfson, has
now attracted an eclectic group of artists, teenagers, surfers and local families.

Sagaponack - On Aug. 4, the future of the popular East End weekly "Drum Circle" event at Sagg Main Beach hung in the balance when large crowds and unsafe parking methods forced police to challenge the right of the group to be playing on the public beach. According to reports, cars overflowed the relatively small parking lot and spilled into the narrow roadway, where there are no spaces to park. Many faithful attendees worried that the next Drum Circle, just this passed Monday, would be moved or canceled, the event's life on the sandy shores over for good.

But the local enthusiasts had nothing to fear Monday night as the loyal players still brought their drums, and the crowds still showed, without a hitch.

"I was ready to get arrested last night," said Drum Circle creator Richard Siegler in an interview Tuesday morning. "This was a cause worth getting arrested for."

Siegler spent a lot of the day Monday wondering what the Southampton Town police were going to do in response to the heavy crowds the week before. He even went as far as to call the Southampton Town Police during the day to get an idea of what they intended to do. At 6 p.m. on Monday, a Southampton Town police officer was already stationed inside the Sagg Main Beach parking lot. By 7 p.m., the Southampton Town Fire Marshal had arrived and cars were being turned away. Nothing flared up, however, and no police action was needed, proving the beat could still go on peacefully, and orderly.

"It was perfect," Siegler said. "The police were happy. The crowd was happy. I was happy."

While Siegler encouraged the police to enforce the parking rules in the beach's small lot, the police, likewise, did not wish to hamper the good time of those participating in the Drum Circle gathering. An officer stationed at the entrance of the parking lot even went as far as to say it was a shame the parking lot was not big enough.

A casual yet random combination of musicians gather weekly at the site to play the drums and other rhythm section instruments, in a collaboration that is intended to grow organically.


Beachfront Jam Sessions
Hamptons beaches in the summertime usually evoke images of surfboards, sunscreen and bikinis. At Sagg Main, however, samba drums and beach dancing take center stage and the dunes and waves make for a perfect backdrop to the local sensation.

"This is one of the best experiences on the East End," according to John Monteleone, an avid Drum Circle fan and sometime participant from Sag Harbor. "It's a spiritual community. It's peaceful."

A casual yet random combination of musicians gather weekly at the site to play the drums and other rhythm section instruments, in a collaboration that is intended to grow organically. While many people come to barbecue, picnic and simply listen to the music, the circle itself is meant to be a kind of ad-hoc lesson, teaching eager participants the call and response cues and rhythms, taking their lead from Siegler.

"It's free therapy, free drugs," he said, referring to the reasons for the circle's growing popularity.

The way Siegler tells it, he has been a drummer his whole life, starting at only four-years-old and beginning to play professionally at the age of 12. "We were always playing drums in my house," he recounted.

It took Siegler about two years by his calculations to get the lessons off the ground, however. After months and months of putting signs all over the East End, he said, one day it just "kicked in."


Years later Siegler immersed himself in Brazilian, Cuban and Puerto Rican drumming while living in Greenwich Village. Later, when he started coming out to the East End to play at private parties, he would bring a fleet of fellow drummers from New York City. It was then that Siegler decided to offer sessions designed to turn interested East Enders into drummers themselves.

"I never thought this many people would like to hear us," echoed
County Legislator Jay Scheiderman.

It took Siegler about two years by his calculations to get the lessons off the ground, however. After months and months of putting signs all over the East End, he said, one day it just "kicked in."

About five years ago, the drum ensemble began playing in Siegler's living room. After six months, the group moved to a local health club, and when the warm spring weather finally came, the ensemble moved out to the beach. "This music is meant to be outside," Siegler prophesied.

By the end of that first summer Siegler estimates as much as a couple of hundred enthusiasts turned out to listen to his group's music on the beach. Drum and music lovers encourage the gatherings still as they join in every Monday at Sagg Main Beach. Non-drummers are also among the many attendees and for Siegler it is that precise moment when novices understand the call and response cadence of the drumming that he loves.

"I like to teach people how to play," he offered. "I see it as a challenge. I love it. All of a sudden, they get it. They're eyes light up. It's like when a surfer catches his first wave."

Yet no person can really put their finger on why the Drum Circle has grown to the size it now is, an estimated 500 or more like-minded enthusiasts congregating on the beach every Monday evening to either play or listen. What started out as a "hippy-dippy" event, according to attendee Neil Wolfson, has now attracted an eclectic group of artists, teenagers, surfers and local families.

"We've always come to the beach," posed drummer D. Curtis DeForest, Jr., who said he's been around since the beginning of the Drum Circle. "I don't know. Maybe at the beginning we didn't sound so good."

"I never thought this many people would like to hear us," echoed County Legislator Jay Scheiderman, a musician and strong supporter of the group. He attributed the growth of the Drum Circle audience to the warm summer weather, "but it's had an exponential growth spurt," he added. "It became the place to be."

Yet, despite the fact that the Drum Circle is still alive and well at Sagg Main Beach, Siegler has decided to take his act on the road, creating a Drum Circle at Ditch Plains in Montauk and on Shelter Island in the coming weeks, as a way to thank all his drummers who come all the way to Sagaponack every Monday to join him. Yet, he doesn't deny that this East End tour will "let the air out of the balloon" in terms of calming down the tension that may still be left at Sagg Main regarding crowd control. In any case, Siegler doesn't see the move as dampening the Drum Circle's appeal.

No one can really put their finger on why the Drum Circle has grown to the size it now is, an estimated 500 or more like-minded enthusiasts congregate on the beach every Monday evening to either play or listen.


"Every time it's always better," he offered. "It always gets better."

As Siegler looks to the future, his ultimate goal is to eventually have 100 people playing together in his Drum Circle. And, as the summer ends and autumn approaches, the event is most likely to be moved indoors to the Hayground School in Bridgehampton.

"That's when it gets really intense," said Siegler, adding that the cold months mean "turning up the flame really high."

Yet it's hard to believe that certain scenes will have the same meaning if they happen without the crashing waves and setting sun as their backdrop.

"We just like to get together and drum," said Schneiderman, who began drumming as soon as he got to the beach Monday night and didn't stop until the Drum Circle was over. "If no one came, we'd still be drumming."

At 6 p.m. on Monday, a Southampton Town police officer was already stationed inside the Sagg Main Beach parking lot. By 7 p.m., the Southampton Town Fire Marshal had arrived and cars were being turned away. Nothing flared up, however, and no police action was needed, proving the beat could still go on peacefully, and orderly.






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