WATERVILLE -- As the world's oldest instruments, drums have served to gather and connect people through storytelling, healing and celebration. That's the motivation behind Drums Along the Kennebec, a festival new to Waterville this year, said Faye Nicholson, director of Revitalize the Energy in ME, the nonprofit organizing the event.
Located at Head Of Falls from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the festival will feature drumming performances, workshops, an art installation and food.
"Everybody has rhythm," said Jordan Benissan, who will showcase drumming rhythms from West Africa. "It's alive in some people. In other people it needs to be awakened."
At 10 a.m., an American Indian elder and others will open the festival by performing a water ceremony to bless the Kennebec River. Benissan and American Indian drummer Ellie Symonevich will provide music specially composed for the dedication.
There will be a community drum circle at 2 p.m. Festival organizers will invite all performers and the public to use drums of any kind, such as trash cans, oatmeal boxes, shakers or clapping hands.
Festival organizers are also inviting attendees to bring organic or biodegradable objects from home or garden to weave into a six-foot dream catcher. Objects could include shells, feathers, straw, stones, wood, leaves or flowers, said Waterville artist Shirleyanne Leaman, who is constructing the dream catcher.
"Everyone should bring a dream," she said.
Drummers and drumming groups, from various backgrounds, will perform throughout the day. Performers include:
* Red Hawk Medicine Drum, an all women American Indian drum group from Waterville, will perform in order to "honor those who came before us and those here today who live, work and visit along the Kennebec," said the group's drum keeper Ellie Symonevich.
* The Different Drummers Drum Circle, a freestyle drum group led by Rick Cormier of Yarmouth, will deliver improvised and emotive rhythms.
* Master Drummer Jordan Benissan, originally of Togo, and his students will demonstrate West African percussion.
* Ferg N'Sons, a trio from Unity, led by Kathy Van Deventer, will play traditional Scottish music on pipe band side drums, rope tension drums and a Celtic bodhran drum.
* Local artists Phil Whitehawk, Connie Bellet, Big Bear and others will present the Native American teaching drum.
* "Experience the Gong," a workshop and performance by Todd Glacy of Saco will introduce the history of gongs and demonstrate "the truly awesome sonic properties they possess," he said.
* Acoustic drum player Mark Merrill of Waterville will perform and give lessons on the snare, tom-toms and bass.
People will have the opportunity to make their own drums, learn the history behind the various types of drumming and watch a "drum-walk" across the Two Cent Bridge. Muffins and coffee will be for sale for breakfast, with chili and cornbread for lunch.
The event is organized by REM, a nonprofit that supports a network of volunteers in Central Maine.
"REM is all about building community, so this is an attempt to show the diversity of our heritage through the drumming," Nicholson said. "Eventually we hope to make this a yearly thing and an international one."
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for musicians and the community to convene downtown, and with any luck the businesses will benefit as well," said Kimberly Lindlof, president of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.
"It sounds like an event that will draw people not just from Waterville and local colleges but from other communities," said Shannon Haines, executive director of Waterville Main Street.
Benissan commented, "You can use the different rhythms you hear from around the world to integrate a community."
He described drumming as something both functional and sacred. It is functional as a tool to preserve history, tell stories and communicate across long distances.
Drumming is sacred when it is used for healing. "This music is designed to reactivate the physical being of a human being during illness, to wake up," Benissan said.
Admission is free, but donations will be accepted to support the festival and a fund to one day build an amphitheater on the riverfront.
Nicholson advised festival-goers to bring a chair, a natural item to add to the dream catcher and a drum or materials to make a drum. The festival's rain date is Sunday.
BY ERIN RHODA