There’s no denying the African drummers carry Dandelion Day’s Parade of Species. An intoxicating wall of sound comes at you, reverberating off historic buildings, whirling, lifting, falling with the spring air and bluebird skies — it’s nearly impossible not to be swept up. And then, of course, there are the African dancers, a mesmerizing spectacle; dancers young and old, moving in ways that most of us don’t.
“It’s a cultural thing of drumming and dance,” says Eric Baumheier. “They just go together. You hardly do one without the other. It’s about a relationship that’s formed between the drummers and the dancers. It’s an unspoken relationship and there’s an intimacy in that that goes beyond an audience listening to a band.”
Baumheier is a locally cherished musician with lifelong roots in music. “I had been drumming on tables and what-not for ages, growing up,” he explains.
His mother studied piano at Juilliard, where she earned her master’s, and eventually became a renowned opera singer.
“Being a pretty rebellious young person, I totally veered away from all that, and anything she tried to make me do. So, there was music in my family — I just wanted nothing to do with it.”
Thankfully, he couldn’t escape his fate. Music is universal, afterall, and rhythmic beats, specifically, have a primal pull.
“I remember first recognizing rhythm at my early high school dances. These African American young girls would pull me out on the dance floor and teach me the MC Hammer! I felt like, ‘Oh. I can do this. That feels cool!’ That was my first introduction to the rhythmic universe and the fundamental African-ness of rhythm, and their mastery of polyrhythm.”
A few years later, Baumheier’s brother-in-law “dragged” him to Denver to buy a drum because he wanted a buddy for classes at an African cultural center in the Mile High City. And now? These days, Baumheier plays djembe, congas, cajon, marimba and several other small African drums.
“It’s such an important part of my life. It’s just — it’s a feeling. I feel — I feel at home when I’m playing,” he says.
“Drums challenge me. They provide me a way to become self aware. It’s like a meditation; I have to remember to breathe if I’m doing something really challenging, or working on tricky parts. Remember to smile, to look around and interact with other people in the room. And eventually, once you put in the time and remember to do all those things, there is certainly a trance-like state that one can go into with those African rhythms. I go into a place of ‘no thought.’ No thinking, just acting; spontaneous creation going on, and my body being a full part of it.” He pauses.
“Ultimately, what I go for is a somatic experience — I mean a full body-mind-soul experience, so that my whole body is embodying that rhythm. And that’s when you can really let go, take it all to a different level, take it to a higher place, and at that same time, be in touch with all that’s around you.”
Baumheier’s parents moved to Carbondale, originally, and he quickly discovered an African drumming community. He has played with them for decades now. They, too, are intrinsic to Dandelion Days — and the famously epic drum circle that opens Mountain Fair each year, conducted by the Mother of Mountain Fair and notorious drummer herself, Laurie Loeb.
“We all support each other,” Baumheier says. “It’s really about community. This sort of drumming is not about ‘loner’ drumming, it’s about drumming with other musicians, and particularly other drummers, because you can drum alone, but it can only take you so high. When you drum with other people and everyone’s locked in, there’s a certain sort of synchronicity… that’s when magic really starts to happen.”
The Parade of Species is one of Carbondale’s more “magically” festive parades, and launches what locals affectionately call “Dandy Days,” our community’s spring renewal celebration. Expect a party and some eye candy with all sorts of “species” strutting down Main Street at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 14.
“It’s great to be out there leading the parade,” Baumheier concludes. “It’s an honor that people like to have the energy, and build the energy, with the drumming. It’s a perfect fit, with this festival being dedicated to the Earth, the more natural way of living.”