By Liz Tracy
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By David Rolland
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Of course, every call made to the Bandwidth TipLine has the potential to become a monumentally important story. But sometimes, what appears to be a breathless plea for help or evidence of some heinous injustice just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.
For example: A man calls, frantic. It seems a happy, peaceful, native musical gathering is being threatened by the long arm of Johnny Law. For the past two years, an impromptu drum circle has sprouted up during the teardown following Thursday's Clematis at Night performances in downtown West Palm Beach. The participants would set up camp just east of the fountain in Centennial Square and bang the next few hours away to their heart's content.
"Nonrowdy, very mellow, and hippieish like the beatnik days," reports Bob Bier, who owns a local recording studio and who compares the gathering to "something I'd read about that happened back in 1968 in California."
Since there's not much love here for the virtues of that time and place, it shouldn't have come as a shock to Bier and his buddies on Thursday, April 4, when police showed up around 11 p.m. and told the drumming circle to (hee hee) beat it.
"Look at all the money that [West Palm Beach] spent so people would go down there and have fun," Bier groused during his initial call. "And now people are going down there and having fun, and they want to stop them. Now they gather in the back of the bus, so to speak, on the east side of the library, where no one can see 'em and no one can hear 'em."
Rhythmically challenged white guys with dreadlocks may or may not be a public eyesore, but there is no law on the books designed to keep them hidden -- not yet, anyway.
Actually, the cops moved the circle's participants and spectators a couple of hundred yards away to the grass behind the library -- and away from a row of newly occupied apartments that had just opened on the other side of the square.
"I sympathize with them [the residents of the apartments]," says participant Mike Dennis, "when there's a bunch of people down there beating bongos and congas and djembes and whatnot!"
In the town that gives a hard time to Bible thumpers pushing hot dogs on the homeless and where the mayor wishes Lights Out and Quiet Study Time would commence at sundown every weeknight, a primal/communal ritual like a drum circle is lucky not to be labeled a pagan-wiccan nuisance and shut down entirely.
"The mayor doesn't like Clematis at Night, let alone the drum circle," charges Bier, who doesn't want to see Clematis slide into the bourgeoisie slime pit of CityPlace, or "SnobbyPlace," as he calls it. The circle remains unbroken, but when Dennis looked into getting a special-events permit that would allow the gathering to continue back at Centennial Plaza, he ran into problems and didn't even complete the application. He says that Mat Forrest, events supervisor for the mayor's office, told him that in all likelihood, the drum circle has almost no chance of seeing a permit approved.
Why not? "Because they couldn't provide a contact person, they didn't know a specified time, they didn't have insurance, and nobody wanted to be liable for anything," explains Forrest. "To have a permit to hold an event, you have to have some kind of governing body or some organization."
Bier dismisses these concerns as mere quibbles.
"It's been going on for two years without a permit," he claims, while agreeing that no one is willing to speak for the circle. "The reality is, there is no one person in charge. There is no contact person. This is not an organization, so there's no reason there should be a special-events permit required." He's mounted a petition campaign, collecting signatures in support of moving the gathering back to its more-visible location.
That location, Forrest adds, is problematic for the city in the first place, permit or not. "It's outgrown the area it was in," he accuses. "It provides a lot of problems with the breakdown of Clematis at Night -- we're trying to get chairs picked up and tables put away, and there's still people coming on down."
For now, the post-Clematis at Night drum circle can be found behind the library. Just follow the call of the djembe. Or, like the wind, it will find you.