Macworld|iWorld Drum Circle Brings the Tribe Together

Throughout last week’s Macworld|iWorld event in San Francisco, there was something that tickling the back of my mind. I wrote a little bit about it on Thursday with an editorial titled, “Day One of Macworld|iWorld: It’s Not CES,” but it didn’t really crystallize for me until the final moments of the show on Saturday.

It was 3:00 PM, meaning there was just one hour left of the show. People were still streaming in for their last chance to look at all the cool stuff and buy some last minute deals, and the vendors all had visions of not having to stand in their booths dancing in their eyes.

Jeff Gamet and I were walking over to say goodbye to a couple of those vendors when we heard a thump booming down from the second level of Moscone West, a thump that then escalated into the drawn out booming of drums being played. Jeff and I looked at each other and decided we could say goodbye to our friends after we figured out what in the heck was going on.

So we took the escalator up to the second level and were amazed by booming and thumping, by the beats that were echoing throughout the building—there was shouting, too. Someone was yelling at all these drummers—is this some kind of Brazilian drum group performing?

As the escalator brought us up and the sounds got louder and louder, we could feel the energy in the area rising palpably. Something cool was happening and we couldn’t wait to find out what it was.

Imagine our surprise when got up onto the second level of the building and looking out across the wide expanse of the foyer we saw, not a bunch of bronze skinned and half naked Brazilians or even a martial drum corps of some sort, but rather a huge circle of Macworld attendees (and vendors playing hooky) gathered around one crazy looking dude. And they were all banging away on a variety of drums and other percussion instruments.

Drum Circle

The drum circle from above
(All photos by Jeff Gamet)

It was a drum circle! But rather than the scents of patchouli and pot wafting towards us from a park or a camp site, this one was taking place in the second level of Moscone West in the middle of a tech festival and it was being manned by a bunch of techies. It was a huge crowd—some 500 people as it swelled to overflow the circle of chairs that had been put there for the event, and they were being led by this crazy dude in the photo below.

Drum Circle Leader

Here’s the awesomely crazy guy leading the drum circle

It turns out his name is Arthur Hull of Village Music Circles. He is a sort of professional drum circle guy hired by IDG to lead this event. The crowd also included about 30 members of his own drum circle strategically placed throughout the circle to help keep things on track. The drums were provided by Remo (they make drum heads), and there were people walking around shoving them into the hands of those few who weren’t taking part in the fun.

People were banging away enthusiastically—sometimes even spastically—and there was so much energy in the air that the floor was literally bouncing and shaking in time to the music. It was awesome.

I can’t tell you how much fun it was and how many huge smiles we saw on people’s faces, though the photo below will give you a tiny taste of that. I also can’t tell you how incredible the leader was. He was able to direct this crowd of strangers—the vast majority of whom had never touched a drum, let alone taken part in a drum circle—and was keeping them together, adding in specific rhythms, and generally bringing the tribe together.


Some of the smiles in the crowd

That’s when it hit me. This could never have happened at the old Macworld Expo, especially the one Apple was a part of. It could DEFINITELY not happen at CES. It couldn’t even happen at SxSW simply because there are too many musicians at that event, and musicians are typically way too cool to let loose with a bunch of non-musicians there to make it all sloppy, which this most certainly was.

No, this was an expression of tribe—a primeval expression at that—and that tribe is the Mac community. Oh sure, there were iOS users there, too, but I think it’s the Mac community that has the strongest feeling of tribe, and it was being manifested directly in front of me.

The drum circle went on for more than an hour, and it was still going strong after the Macworld|iWorld show floor closed at 4:00 PM. The crowds continued to swell as people left the show floor and wandered up to the second level just like Jeff and I had done, and it was totally fantastic.

Dave Hamilton & Paul Kent

The Mac Observer’s own Dave Hamilton and IDG’s Paul Kent - two musicians not too cool to have fun!

The whole thing was wonderful in a way that is hard to convey, and I’ve tried to do so several times in the two days since. Everyone that was there understood what I tried so hard to say, and hopefully I got enough practice on those other folks that I did a better job in this piece.

The bottom line, though, is that Macworld|iWorld is all about the community—the tribe—and that’s something no other show or gathering can claim. CES has its place, and great regional shows like MCE and the developer-oriented conferences being put on by MacTech magazine are great for what they do. Apple’s own WWDC is indispensable to developers, too, though it needs to be bigger or more frequent.

But none of those shows can take the place of Macworld|iWorld for the Mac and iOS tribes, for those of us who have found that we love using Apple products, and IDG found the this literal expression of why and how that’s the case with this drum circle.

The company told me in the middle of it that they had no idea how big a deal the drum circle would be. For me, the fact that IDG was willing to experiment with something so potentially chaotic, something that had so much potential for FAIL, sums up why I love the new direction Macworld|iWorld has taken.

It’s a show for us, for the community of users and vendors alike who don’t own a fleet of retail stores where we can meet up once a year to see what’s going on.

Now, pass the patchouli oil. I want to get ready for the drum circle of Macworld 2013.