My First Festival: MotherDrum '94

My very first festival, and the one that got me interested in drumming, was a Summer Solstice gathering I found advertised in (I think) Green Egg, called MotherDrum II: Drumming Inside Mother Earth. It was only a couple of hours away, so I sent in our reservations.

The location was inside Great Saltpeter Cave, Mt. Vernon, Ky. This cave was discovered early in this country's history, and was mined as a source for saltpeter used for making gunpowder during the Revolutionary War. Artifacts from this mining/production were still inside, consisting mostly of remnants
of the huge cauldrons where water, trickled through the rock and soil dug from the cave to dissolve the potassium nitrate, was boiled away over fires, leaving behind the saltpeter crystals. Graffiti on some of the cave walls also dated back to that period, although some of it also came from the 1920's, when the main chamber of the cave saw use as a "speakeasy" during prohibition, and later from tourists just wandering through before access to the cave was regulated.

The cave itself begins about 40' up the hillside overlooking the grassy meadow where we camped next to a crystal-clear stream where we cooled off during the heat of the Solstice day. The mouth of the cave, and the approximately 1000 foot-long main corridor leading to the main chamber are large enough to drive a car inside. The main chamber is roughly circular and domed, large enough to play full-court basketball, with a man-made "stage" carved out at one end where the Roaring 20's bands provided the beat that kept the Flapper dresses moving below.

On the Saturday of the festival, the ghosts of the saltpeter miners and the flappers, if any, settled back and watched quietly while the chaotic energies of their times were absorbed back into the Earth, making way for a central altar formed by a circle of quartz crystal points arranged around an upright, central crystal that must have been about 18" tall. Recording equipment sat unobtrusively off in the shadows, the faint blue and red LED level monitors giving off an eerie glow in the darkness. The drum circle formed around the crystal altar, and the entire chamber was enclosed in a circle of votive candles kept lit during the entire day-long session.

After a brief tour and history of the cave, everybody took their places, the drummers with their djembes and ashikos in the middle, and spectators sitting around the edge of the sacred space on blankets. Then the heartbeat of the Mother was heard, slowly and softly at first, "da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum..."

I bought a tape made at the Winter Solstice celebration the previous year, and as a festival participant I also received a copy of the tape made that day. Both are good, and do a pretty good job of capturing the deep acoustics of the cave. Although I've been unable to pick out my Bohdran anywhere on the Summer '94 tape, there is a quiet passage where I'm pretty sure I can hear my kids, then 3 1/2 and 5, squawking in the background.

There was a third MotherDrum festival, but we didn't go. For whatever reason they decided that there was just too much competition from other Solstice gatherings, and held MD3 the next Spring - During Beltane! Big mistake; Hardly anybody showed up, and unfortunately, to my knowledge they never tried again.

Now, the good part: The URL I found is for The All-Night Production Room, the studio that recorded, mastered, and produced the tapes from both festivals. If you go to their page, you can download the entire results from both festivals in Mp3 format:

Just wanted to share... enjoy!

Oakdancer 8/28/00

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