By Phil Hood
Have you ever stood 50 feet under a military helicopter without earphones or other hearing protection? That’s my description of the decibel level on the last day of PASIC (the Percussive Arts Society International Convention) when a couple of thousand high school and college percussionists descend on the convention floor and all start letting their freak out on whatever drum kit, snare or mallet instrument is handy.
But I’m exaggerating. It’s probably no louder than standing too near a dragster or an erupting volcano. I’m thinking of this because the 42nd PASIC event kicks off Wednesday in Indianapolis and I’ve got my earplugs ready. If PASIC is not on your itinerary, then it should be on your drumming bucket list to go once in your life. Each year several thousand drummers, mostly from the US but also dozens of other countries, gather for four days of marching and drum corp events, classical percussion concerts, drum circles, panel discussions, clinics, and masterclasses in everything from djembe to double-bass drum set, and, of course, the aforementioned convention filled with exhibits from many of the world’s leading drum and percussion companies. The diversity of activities and styles that attendees will be busy from early morning drum corp competitions to late night jazz jam sessions in the hotels around the convention center. Just check out the schedule to get an idea to of the scale and size of the event.
This year’s show features a ton of great can’t miss performances and classes with lots to interest drum set players including a trio of giants — Steve Smith, Johnny Vidacovich, and Bernie Dresel — playing jazz with the Airmen of Note, the US Air Force’s jazz band. Other clinicians include Matt Greiner Eric Moore, Hannah Welton, Adam Deitch, Peter Erskine, and, well, there’s too many to name really. And, did I mention Blue Man Group?
The Behind The Scenes Story
Like most great things PASIC started small and depended on the unacknowledged efforts of many dedicated passionate people to succeed. According to “The Evolution Of Pasic” by Gary Cook, in the 1950s a group of school music directors began gathering to discuss percussion issues at the annual Midwest Band Clinic held at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. This evolved into the Percussive Arts Society in 1960. It wasn’t until 1969 that a full-blown convention with a musical schedule was proposed. That first full “Day Of Percussion” was held December 18, 1971 at DePaul University, featuring a combination of individual and group performances mainly representing university ensembles. In 1972 a full day of music was held featuring performances with luminaries such as Roy Burns and Gary Burton. The first national conference was held in 1974 in Anaheim and the first International Conference (which put the “I” in PASIC) was held at the Eastman School in Rochester in 1976. Noted percussionist and timpanist John H. Beck was the host.
The great thing about the early events was the chance for percussionists and like-minded musicians of all types to come together to talk, collaborate, and share ideas. That’s the spirit that still drives the convention, and the able staff behind it, today. It’s simply the greatest drummers’ hang in the world and that’s the reason you should go.
Here are just a few of the things not to miss at PASIC. Left to right: Jonathan Scales, called the “Bela Fleck of steel drum,” performs with his group; Elisa Montin won the Hit Like A Girl Contest with her somewhat radical drum set concept; Chad Wackerman is legendary for his work with Frank Zappa and Alan Holdsworth; Eric Moore is the ace clinician who has played with Suicidal Tendencies and others; the So Percussion Group has been adventuring in new compositions for decades; Daru Jones of Jack White and other bands; and Hannah Welton, most recently drummer for Prince’s 3rdEyeGirl.
Winners! We’ve got winners. We had so many people suggest their favorite drum inventions that I’ve chosen two at random: Mat Wilders and Jason Lewis. They’ll be the recipients of products from KBrakes. Comment on this month’s columns to be in the running for your very own Batter Badge from Slug Percussion.
Till next time.