Midwest Rhythm Summit: Grassroots and Beautiful

I recently had the pleasure of attending the first ever Midwest Rhythm Summit, hosted by Terra State Community College in Fremont, Ohio.

After a late night playing with Flexadecibel, I got up at the crack of dawn, scooped my buddy Kameron in Lansing, and high-tailed it to Ohio to catch the 2nd day of events. We made it just in time to get settled and start going to clinics.

Before I get into the specifics, I want to reiterate the importance of these types of events. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that the drumming community is vast, that we never stop learning, and that human beings all over the world can be brought together simply through the love of music.

So, back to MRS – The event was organized by Terra faculty to bring bassists and drummers together for clinics, performances, classes, etc. While it seemed more tailored toward bass players (Bass Gear Magazine was a primary sponsor, I believe), I most ceratinly went for the drumming.

Since we could only be there one day, I saw three clinics: Dom Famularo, Mike Dawson, and Dr. John Wooton. We also stayed for the evening concert featuring Cody Wright, Chuck Rainey & John Anthony Martinez, and Oskar Cartaya and the Riccannection.

Dom Famularo

If you know much of anything about the druming industry and community, you’ve probably heard of Dom Famularo… He’s a firecracker of a human, an old school educator who has been around the world bringing drums, information, and motivation to people of all ages and walks of like – and the guy just exudes enthusiasm.

Dubbed “Drumming’s Global Ambassador,” Dom’s clinic was mostly about history. He spoke about the lineage of George Lawrence Stone, Billy Gladstone, and Sanford Moeller, through the years to some of the other legendary names in early drumming/education (Jim Chapin, Ted Reed, and so on).

The point was partly to get those in attendance to recognize that everything we play today can more or less be traced back to the godfathers, that the original teachings of some of these guys are just as important today as they were then, and ultimately, to admire and appreciate the long history of this truly American art form.

Of course, every step of the way, he was cracking jokes and getting us fired up with his own natural energy. He had us participate in a goofy looking (but wildly effective) exercise for strengthening finger control… He showed us books… He told us stories…

Being in his presence makes people excited about drumming, and more importantly, excited about LIFE! He had so many little nuggets of wisdom to offer, and made me all the more ecstatic to chase this thing as far as I can.

One huge takeaway about the importance of relaxation and working on technique:

“Tension is the enemy of movement.” 

Mike Dawson

I’ll come right out and say it – I’m a HUGE fan of Mike Dawson. I am a dedicated listener of the Modern Drummer Podcast, I love the playing I see on his Instagram, and as a self professed nerd about many things, I appreciate the detail – and nearly bottomless knowledge – he brings to drumming. We heard about the event through the podcast, and Mike’s clinic was the primary reason we decided to go!

The clinic itself focused on technology – triggers, making loops, sample pad, etc. – in practical ways for both gigging and practice. This topic is fascinating to me because it’s a pretty undeniable portion of modern music, and because the tech just keeps getting better (and easier to use). He showed us some of the ways he uses the SPDSX in live situations, talked about why he chooses to trigger his bass drum sometimes, and my favorite part, showed us how he used the Korg Wavedrum to create loops for practicing.

I left inspired to explore my own SPDSX more, to continue messing around with my Micro Korg’s arpeggiator, and to further develop my own interest in all this technological… stuff.

He also gave us a little tip on finding unique rhythms by way of Morse code… Something I’d never even considered as a musical device. Mind blown…

Beyond the inspiration and education, though, it was a chance to re-meet and talk with someone I truly look up to, both as a player and as an intellectual.

Dr. John Wooton

Known mostly as a rudimental and marching type drummer, Dr. Wooton‘s clinic was fun and informative in a very technical, practice pad kind of way (though he certainly played some kit too). He showcased some of the exercises from his book, Dr. Throwdown’s Rudimental Remedies, and gave us a crash course on some of the ways he applies rudimental ideas to music.

Not only was it a great refresher on some sticking parts and stroke types, it was also a reminder of the importance of simply getting your hands in order – and how that translates directly to making music on the drum set.

My main takeaways here were: the amount of focus that can be put into relatively simple sticking concepts, that paying attention to more than just rights and lefts is critical, and that the rabbit hole of rudiments is just as deep as all the others.

Evening Concert

After dinner at an awesome Mexican restaurant, Kam and I headed back to campus for the evening concert. I didn’t know what to expect, or really much about the acts playing. I know of Chuck Rainey by name – he’s a legendary player with a resumé a mile long – but most of the others I didn’t know anything about.

Cody Wright started off the evening with some awesome looped bass playing. He was a guitarist originally, and it shows in his ability to play leads. His performance blew me away, especially when he invited another bass clinician, the mighty Doug Johns, on stage for an incredible, improvised bass duet.

Next, Chuck Rainey and John Anthony Martinez played along with a range of tracks from their band. It was cool to see a legend on stage, and John’s drumming was fantastic! They spoke some about the messages behind the songs as well, which is always an extra treat unique to these types of settings.

The closer, Oskar Cartaya and the Riccanection, was just wonderful! I’ll use a loose, catch-all term like “Latin” to describe the music because I don’t know enough about the varying styles to identify them – with plenty of “fusion” elements too.

The vibe was fun, dancy, and littered with excellent musicianship. I was mesmerized by the guy playing kit and blown away by the phrasing of the keyboard player. Perhaps my favorite moment of the show – Oskar playing bass, playing the clave with his right foot on a jam block/pedal, and singing the horn line in a demonstration of independence that made my head spin.

All in all, the concert was quite enjoyable, and a great way to round out the day!

A Grassroots Feel

This year was the very first Midwest Rhythm Summit. Attendance was okay, but noticeably not great – and that’s just fine! The effort is really what counts here, taking the plunge to put on an event for the benefit of the community (locally, and the larger context of musicians from… wherever).

Every performer and clinician took the time to thank the people who came, to acknowledge pretty head on that it was an intimate setting, operated by volunteers and Terra faculty. The overall feeling was one of love and connection, that it didn’t matter if there were 5 people in a clinic or 500, that the people who showed up were there for a great reason. They’ve got something special brewing, and I can only hope that it continues to grow. I know I’ll go back!

Again, these kinds of events serve as both inspiration and education. It’s a reason to go somewhere new, to connect with new people who share common interests, and to support the efforts of those striving to pass on the love of these rhythm section instruments.

It was a beautiful experience all around. I got to meet the incredible Dom Famularo, I got to watch John Wooton’s technique up close, I got to chat and reconnect with Mike Dawson… I got to hear new music. I got to meet Mike Czeczele, the drum instructor and faculty member in charge of the percussive side of things. I got to take a road trip and spend some quality time with my friend…

All of this speaks to the value of what we do as musicians, and how a fundamental interest in the craft brings people together from different places, from different age groups, from different backgrounds. It’s a reminder that in the face of technical difficulties, packed house or small crowd, in a concert hall or a basement studio, this music thing – this drumming thing – is amazing, and as deep as deep can go.

Thanks for the great time, Midwest Rhythm Summit!

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3 thoughts on “Midwest Rhythm Summit: Grassroots and Beautiful”

  1. All I can say is thank you! Your descriptions summarize my thoughts exactly. I’m glad that you could take advantage of this event, and that you took away so many good things. Again thanks for your kind words!

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