Out of the Blue: Drum circle needed to get its beat back

I try not to use this column to advance a personal agenda, but since this is about a large monthly gathering that involves pagan rituals on a beach, I'll make an exception.

Against my better judgment. I've always feared that full disclosure would ruin it, either because of the yahoo principle that anything good eventually brings a bunch of drunks who destroy it, or because the glare of the media would bring the inevitable jealous saboteurs who would resent not being at the party and bring the full force of the nanny state of Laguna upon us. Either way spelled doom.

I'm talking, of course, about the sublime monthly tradition of drumming and dancing like savages under the moon to release every endorphin in the body, the celebration known as the Aliso Beach Full Moon Drum Circle.

It's been going on for a dozen years now, with nary a hiccup. It's just about the only local festival that is absolutely free and devoid of commercialism. It is an organism that has grown and morphed and spread through word of mouth and is now a famous brand in Orange County more broadly referred to as the Laguna Beach Full Moon Drum Circle. That should make us proud.

Nothing reinforces the magic of this place like drumming around a bonfire with the ocean beyond and the stars above. You lock into a cosmic groove, everyone on the same beat, dancers undulating in the middle, fire dancers reflecting off the water as the tide rolls under them.

It is a collective euphoric ritual that can best be described as, well, a religious experience. The kind where everyone is connected and nature is divine. It's been my church for 12 years, but sadly, like the Crystal Cathedral, it may have run its course.

Here's the thing: Drumming heals. It gets into your nervous system and sends happy signals to your face. The Aliso Beach drum circle has always been a healing space. What started as a small, tight collection of hand drummers and percussionists spawned dancers who were lit magnificently by the fire.

This brought more people, which begat more drummers. Then the gallery arrived with blankets and picnics, people who just wanted to settle in for a night of mystical entertainment.

More recently the hula dancers arrived with brightly lit LED hoops. And then the most alchemical convergence of all, the fire spinners came and created the most brilliant visual extravaganza. Who knew we had a region so full of talented fire spinners and dancers? Where else could you witness their majesty and power? It was worthy of Steve Wynn, except entirely user-generated. And free.

I said from the get-go that something this good would eventually go bad. Then in June it started. Some yahoo shot some rather large fireworks into the sea, which rightly brought the fire marshall, who then banned the fire dancers. Rather than contest it and demonstrate their stringent safety protocol, the spinners decamped, and we lost a vital organ.

And then the drumming itself broke down. Too crowded, too agro, too discordant. The groove descended into cacophonous grate, because no one could hear the mother beat. People argued, cursed and threatened. The drumming elders were alarmed. We lost the magic.

They cried for us to shut it down before something bad happened. Or at least recuse ourselves to avoid blame. This was no longer a drum circle we wanted to be associated with.

So we met for lunch a couple Saturdays ago. We were divided. Emotions ran high. This was a cherished ritual for all of us. We were at an impasse.

So we went to Main Beach and drummed it out until drumming was the only thing that made sense. And we decided that our congregation must stand tall and face the marauders who would defile our alter.

We drafted the Principles of the Drum Circle, with a nod to the Principles of Burning Man, which was heavy on self-reliance. We emailed it out. We thought last Thursday's drum would see the usual diminished crowds following the summer surge — and a newly chastened group.

But with a full page story in the Orange County Register a few weeks before, extolling the virtues of the circle in full color, there was yet another overflow crowd. Nothing bad happened. And we are determined to make sure nothing bad ever will happen.

We don't want or need police intervention. We are mostly your friends and neighbors, children and parents. Former City Manager Ken Frank drums here. We have worked in lockstep with the Laguna Beach Police Department all this time because we have been without incident. When police arrive at 10 p.m. to shut us down, we clean up, leave peacefully, thank them for being cool and invite them to drum next time.

We have never gotten a complaint from the Roberts family, the only ones who must endure our high-decibel pageantry once a month. Any single homeowner could have shut us down years ago. Thank God for the Robertses.

We have seen a perfect storm of positivity, and we would like to keep it that way. With any luck we may even be able to bring back the fire dancers.

Here then are the Principles of the Full Moon Drum Circle, as drafted by the founders. We need every member of the drum community to read it, internalize it and help continue our grand tradition by enforcing it. Thank you.

P.S. I now have a radio show at 9 p.m. Thursdays on KX93.5. It's called "Party on the Cosmic Planet." It's a lively mix of global music and local talk. Next Thursday I'll have Councilman Bob Whalen on to discuss the Village Entrance Project. You don't want to miss it.

BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and member of the board of Transition Laguna. He can be reached at billy@lavidalaguna.com.

10 Principles of the Full Moon Burn

This is a Love Community

Anyone may be a part of the Full Moon Burn so long as you are here to support the beat. Bring positivity and inclusivity.

Play to the Mother Beat

The lifeblood of a circle is the organic whole — everyone playing off the same beat. Find it. Join it. If you lose it, find it again.

No Drum Kits

Drum kits are simply too loud and can disrupt and confuse a circle.

Keep the Circle Open for Dancers

Leave a 10-foot space between the fire and drummers. No loitering in the middle.

No Illegal Activity

No consumption of alcohol or drugs. No fireworks. We make enough of our own.

Fire Dance Responsibly

Fire must be used with the utmost vigilance for public safety.

Civic and Community Responsibility

All participants should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate the Full Moon Drum principles to others.

Respect Law Enforcement

They have been good to us and rarely intrude until the park closes. Thank them on your way out. They wish they were playing too.

Leave No Trace

Our community respects the environment. We clean up after ourselves and leave the beach in a better state than when we found it.

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