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Healing rhythms: DrumStrong 

Drum event goes global, continues efforts to beat cancer

On Sunday, May 20, more feelings will be poured into a brief moment of silence than most people experience in a lifetime. After 30 hours of nonstop drumming, the sixth annual DrumStrong event will come to an abrupt close before cheers and tears are unleashed in a "we did it" outpouring of emotion. Those few seconds are what Scott Swimmer cherishes the most.

"People laugh, celebrate and cry," says Swimmer, founder of DrumStrong, the longest continuous rhythm event on the planet. "Last year, a facilitator asked cancer survivors to continue to play and asked everyone else to stop and appreciate those who were playing. It was the kind of thing that offered the realization of why people are there — they're dealing with cancer or they're supporting it."

Six years ago, Swimmer knew his idea for DrumStrong could become a global event, but he wasn't sure it would have the reach it does today — and it's still expanding. Since starting in 2007, the group has raised nearly $600,000 in its efforts to beat cancer. This year's charity event, held on May 19-20, will also feature performances by Keller Williams, George Porter Jr., Jeff Sipe & Friends, Sol Driven Train, Eyes of the Elders, Bubonik Funk, Sci Fi and more.

What started, and continues, on the Misty Meadows Farm in Weddington has developed into an event that draws thousands from around the country, and raises money for a variety of cancer charities. Not everyone can walk or run in a charity race, but most people can beat on a drum. While people are gathering on the grasslands south of Charlotte, hundreds of people will also be gathering at similar events around the world, all under the DrumStrong name.

"We know that you're drumming and holding someone in your heart or doing it for your own strength, and there are thousands in Weddington and thousands more around the world who are all doing the same thing with you," Swimmer says. "People say they don't drum, but they have a heartbeat. There are survivors, people dealing with it and people sympathetic to it — it's a way to support themselves and the community."

It seems that hardly a day goes by when someone isn't directly affected by cancer — personally, through a family member, or collectively, via a celebrity such as Levon Helm and Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, both of whom died recently of the disease.

Last year, people in 54 cities in 15 countries held simultaneous events on the DrumStrong weekend. While the event has grown increasingly longer each year — this year's goal is 30 hours — Swimmer says the focus will likely change to add more cities and countries during future events.

"Regardless of what is going on in the circle, we have a grandmother drum that's made out of a Biltmore wine barrel that never stops for the entire weekend," Swimmer says. "One drummer is a performance, two is a bit of conversation, a circle is a larger dynamic. There's never silence in 30 hours. People make a difference and make a joyful noise."

Aside from this main event, held on the third weekend in May each year, DrumStrong also participates in activities around the world whenever there is a unifying catalyst, such as the tsunami in Japan, or a camp or hospital that uses drumming as a way for kids to relate to each other.

"Turnouts in other countries have been surprisingly enthusiastic," Swimmer says. "Last year, we had 3,000 people here for the weekend. I'm hoping we can get 6,000 this year." He ponders the unlikeliness of the event's birthplace. "Who would have thought that Weddington would be the center of the DrumStrong universe?"

DrumStrong

$30 per person/$50 per family. May 19 & 20. Starts at noon. Misty Meadows Farm, Weddington. www.drumstrong.org

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