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Drum circle founder ready to pass the baton

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Laurie Loeb has been called the “mother” of the annual Carbondale Mountain Fair, which returns to town this weekend for the 44th time, and for years she has been the “facilitator” for what most agree is the spiritual opening event of the Fair, the Friday afternoon drum circle in Sopris Park.

At the age of 75, Loeb has decided it is time to do something different and let someone else lead the 400 or so drummers who each year join the circle.

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“My mom lived to almost 102, and my dad made it to 94,” she told The Sopris Sun this week. “So I may be around for a long time. But I don’t have to be in this position.”

Loeb has served on the town’s board of trustees, she’s been a long-time teacher in different subjects and has lived in Carbondale since moving from Aspen in 1970.

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For the past 16 years (with one break) she has been the main organizer of the drum circle, which this year is to begin at 4 p.m. on Friday.

And though she said she is determined that this year is her last at the helm of the drum circle, she noted that she tried once to hand the role over to someone else.

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“I did pass the baton three years ago,” said Loeb, sitting at the same dining room table from which she once ran the Fair’s operations. “But it didn’t take.”

That was the year, 2012, when fellow drumming enthusiast and Carbondale resident Kip Hubbard agreed to take over the volunteer work of organizing and leading the drum circle.

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But for various reasons, Loeb said, Hubbard actually only did the job for one year, 2013, a year when Loeb could not have done it herself due to health issues.

Other things got in the way of Hubbard’s continued leadership, Loeb took back the task in 2014, and this year Hubbard is working as a summer-camp director in Missouri while Loeb searches for another successor to what has been a labor of love for her since 1999.

Drum circle roots

The drum circle actually got its start back when Loeb was 16 years old, and came to the Aspen Music Festival & School as the youngest student there and one of the few female percussionists around.

At the time, she said, she was “on track to be a symphonic percussionist,” concentrating on the timpani as her instrument of choice for two years, 1957-58.

But her inner party deity got the better of her, she said, explaining that “I was kicked out at 17 because I wasn’t in for my bed check. I was out with the townies, having fun.”

By then, however, she had been bitten by the Aspen bug.

“I threw my career to the wind and I became a ski bum, much to my parents’ displeasure,” she said, moving to Aspen in 1961 and never looking back.

By 1969, disenchanted with how Aspen was changing, she bought property in Carbondale (from Wally DeBeque, one-time owner of the Dinkel Building), which included three dilapidated old houses on Garfield Avenue that were in various stages of abandonment and disuse.

After fixing up one of them and moving into it in 1970, she continued with her renovation work and started renting out two of the houses to supplement her lifestyle. She still lives in one, at the corner of Garfield and 3rd Street, and still rents out the one next door. She sold the third in the mid-1970s to Chris and Terry Chacos, founders of The Village Smithy restaurant around the corner on 3rd Street.

In 1972 she was thrown into the task of organizing a local iteration of a traveling Chautauqua, sponsored by the Colorado Council for the Arts and Humanities, when the original organizer was injured in an automobile accident and Loeb stepped in a mere two weeks before the event date.

That Chautauqua soon morphed into the Mountain Fair, which in turn led to creation of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH), which Loeb ran for seven years.

“It was small and the office was this table,” she said, placing her hand on the wooden surface, “and it was totally a volunteer job.”

Today, CCAH is a major artistic and economic driver in the middle section of the Roaring Fork Valley, with offices at The Launchpad (formerly the Gordon Cooper Library on 4th Street) and a paid staff.

Loeb holds a graduate degree in psychology and counseling, which indirectly lead to her interest in drumming as therapy. That interest blossomed when her aging mom moved into the Heritage Park care facility at the north end of town in the late 1990s.

She put together a therapeutic drumming class for the elderly residents at Heritage Park, and soon began getting calls from a variety of valley organizations interested in hiring her to do the same for them. That, in turn, led her to make a sort-of business out of it called Rhythms Of The Heart.

And in 1999, after a week-long training session in Hawaii on how to facilitate a drumming circle, she brought a few of her personal drums to Sopris Park, gathered a group of some 80 enthusiasts, and the drumming circle was born.

Over the intervening years the circle has grown exponentially, getting to 500 or so participants in five concentric circles at its height about six years ago.

Today, she said, the circle typically numbers “in the 400s.”

She evinces a mixture of eagerness and sorrow at the thought of giving up the baton, but the eagerness wins out quickly as she talks.

Emphasizing “I won’t be idle, that’s for sure,” merely because she is no longer the drum majorette for the Fair, Loeb noted that her age is slowing her down more than she likes to admit.

She still bicycles and practices yoga regularly, though not as frequently or as intensively as she once did, and the huge garden outside her kitchen window is now managed by a family that rents the house next door and keeps her supplied with fresh produce.

And she still teaches a regular exercise class, Silver Sneakers, but just once a week instead of three times per week, as she did up until about two years ago, when she found herself exhausted and suffering from some serious maladies.

“And that’s when I started to slow down,” she said with a grin, remarking that it was time to admit “my body is a hell of a lot older than my mind feels.”

Handing off

Looking for her own replacement to lead the drum circle is more difficult than might be imagined, she declared, because, “It’s not about being a drummer. It’s about being a facilitator.”

That means being trained to be constantly aware of what’s going on around the circle, and being ready to step in if the rhythm slows, or if a drummer gets off-beat and needs to be helped back into the stream of sound.

Quoting her trainer and mentor, Arthur Hull of Santa Cruz, California, Loeb said, “You have to have three-point radar on all the time. You have to work in the round, you have to face everybody. If you have your back to people, they can’t see the gestures of, well, of conducting.”

Having been built up over more than a decade and a half, Loeb said, “This drum circle here is pretty well seasoned, pretty well trained.”

But it needs a conductor, a facilitator, to keep it on track and prevent things from unraveling, she said, explaining “every participant is a thread in the fabric of the event.”

She is talking to one prospect, she said, and she has sold off the dozens of drums she once owned, mostly to participants in the circle “if they promised to bring them back the next year, back to the circle. Which they did.”

So everything is ready for her to hand off the baton, if she can only find the right person, she concluded.

Published in The Sopris Sun on July 23, 2015. 

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