Thursday, January 29, 2009
A dozen years ago, I went camping with some friends on the beaches of Assateague, MD. Someone at one of the other the campsites was playing music- the same CD over & over, all weekend long. It wasn't a band I was familiar with, but I really liked it and I asked one of my friends what it was. The band was Rusted Root, the CD "When I Woke." To this day, it's still one of my favorite albums.
A Pittsburgh based band, Rusted Root gained popularity at a time after MTV had stopped regularly playing videos and way before MP3 downloads and file sharing was possible. They became popular through their dedicated local fan base, and ultimately through extensive touring with acts such as Santana, The Grateful Dead, Sheryl Crow, Page & Plant and the Allman Brothers. "Send me on My Way" (#72 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995) was their most recognizable song, and the album "When I Woke" went on to sell over 2 million copies.
I saw Rusted Root perform at the Horde Festival in 1996 and I was instantly taken in by their heavy use of percussion and groovy beats. They were even BETTER live than I thought possible. It was a unique mix of rock/bluegrass/world music that most people were hard pressed to categorize and what ultimately made them stand apart from other bands at the time.
Jim Donovan was one of the founding members of the band, having met bandmates Liz Berlin and Mike Glabicki while at college at the University of Pittsburgh. He played drum set and was the funky beat behind the music I loved so much. He played with Rusted Root from 1990-2005.
In 2000, he developed a series of drumming workshops that he still teaches today. (He was just named 2008 Drum Circle Facilitator of the year by the readers of Drum! Magazine.) In fact, it was his love of teaching that led to his decision to leave Rusted Root and become a full time instructor of music at St. Francis University in Loretto, PA.
I took my first workshop with Jim in 2005. I quickly found that there was much more to his teachings than simply learning traditional African rhythms. He teaches about how drumming can be used to focus on being in the moment - a vital concept in personal development. He teaches about the importance of connecting your breath to your instrument, and I literally have him to thank for teaching me how to breathe. I mean REALLY breathe. I became so connected to his teachings that over the last few years, I've been working with him on a number of projects because I wanted more people to be able to share in what I came to experience as "the really good stuf." I would even go so far as to call some of what I have learned as being life-changing.
Not only is Jim a talented musician and an inspiring teacher, he's truly a wonderful human being. Just ask anynone that's been to one of his workshops, or to his multi-day drumming retreat called "The Rhythm Renewal"