What is the sound of 100 drummers drumming?
This Saturday, Sept. 9, London drum instructor, Renato Belusic is hoping to answer that question.
This year marks the 11th annual Drum Fest – an outdoor gathering of drummers in Dan Patterson Conservation Area in St. Thomas.
It’s not your typical drum circle, he says. While there may be the odd djembe show up, the focus is on drum kits. The majority are acoustic, but some players do bring out electric kits and amplifiers.
The event is free – a labour of love for Renato. He covers the cost of everything himself, and only asks one thing of attendees…
“The price of admission is you’ve got to bring your kit,” Renato says. “The idea is – the more kits, the better.”
DrumFest features a ring of kits, all facing inward. Drummers play along to a song that is pumped out through a PA. It’s one big outdoor jam – a format Renato says will never change.
“All you see are drums and nature,” he says. “Drums were meant to be played outdoors.”
Having so many drummers play in time all at once is no easy feat – especially outside.
Factors like distance and wind can affect how the sound carries. When the music comes from one direction, lag time becomes a factor.
For those drummers in the back, it can put them a half step behind.
Renato has a solution though. DrumFest’s setup features a circle of speakers on the inside of the ring facing the drummers. Everybody gets the same music from the same distance.
The event has been gaining in popularity year over year, and with the goal of 100 drummers this year, DrumFest hopes to set a new record. It’s a loft goal – last year’s attendance was 48 drummers.
However, word has spread throughout the region and drummers from across southern Ontario are expected to show up. It’s a rare opportunity for them to jam their instrument together.
“Drummers don’t often get to play with other drummers,” Renato says. “It’s really cool to be able to do that.”
The very first DrumFest was a far smaller affair than this year’s is gearing up to be. In 2007, Renato says Gil Sopoco came up with the idea of a drum jam and barbecue at his place in Fingal.
That year, seven drummers came out to jam.
The next year, it was 14.
By year three, it had nearly doubled again.
Teacher and student
Renato himself has been teaching drums in London since 1990. Inside The Drum Studio on Adelaide Street, the walls are covered with photos of his students. Some shots are from their very first lesson. Others show them years later, still at the same kit in his studio.
It’s a cozy place, with two separate teaching studios consisting of two drum kits in each. He loves what he does, and is incredibly supportive of his students. Interspersed among the photographs are albums of local bands, students of his that have gone on to pursue their mutual passion.
In some instances, he has also gotten the chance to make music with them on stage.
In 2015, Renato played percussion with Ivory Hours at the London Music Hall – an experience he says was an honour. Drummer Thomas Perquin was a student of his, and Renato can point out pictures of Perquin as a youngster behind the kit. Being able to be onstage and backstage with his student was a tremendous experience.
“I thought, how cool is this?” he says. “To be live on stage with Thomas…
“It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Many of Renato’s students will be showing up to DrumFest this weekend, eager to reconnect with their teacher, other drummers and to rock to the beat of a hundred drums.
The beats get going at 11 a.m. at Dan Patterson Conservation Area in St. Thomas.
Feature photo by Gerard Creces