The stormy skies cleared on Monday afternoon in time for the crowds to gather once more at Sagg Main beach. As dark clouds hung harmlessly on the horizon, drum circles providing Brazilian and African beats pounded away over the sound of the ocean surf.
The previous week, the drumming enthusiasts, who numbered over 1500 by some estimates, were asked to disperse by Southampton Town police because of the overwhelming number of parked cars. Vehicles were reportedly parked on Sagg Road all the way back to the fork at Bridge Lane, which, according to officials, was a major safety issue had there been an emergency on the beach.
Whether it was the fear of another downpour, the threat of police intervention, or the nationwide broadcast of Olympic beach volleyball that kept people at home, this Monday’s crowd was considerably smaller. Merely hundreds were drawn to the shore to partake in the timeless rhythmic ritual.
“It’s age old, you know? We have that in our cellular memory,” said Susan Bailey, a South African native who teaches African dance locally and whose son, Dan Bailey, leads the African drumming circle. “It’s all about community healing.”
Last Thursday she made a trip to Southampton to meet with superintendent of parks and recreation Allyn Jackson. Jackson, who apparently was clueless as to who the drummers were, was relieved to discover that it was a local group.
“He’s very enthusiastic about it in actual fact,” said Bailey, who explained that the activities on the beach were not illegal, and that she had been told no permit was needed for drumming. “We just have to follow the rules.”
The rules are simple. Permits would be required to have bonfires, of which there were several last week, or to set up a bar. Also, as Sagg Main is a town beach and closes at nine, the crowds (and their cars) must depart at that time.
On Monday night Fire Marshall John Rankin and two officers watched from afar, standing near the beach entrance to ensure everything was under control. Rankin had been one of the officers called the previous week to help disperse the masses. He noted that everyone was very cooperative and inquisitive, and that “nobody was nasty.”
Bailey insisted that the “good vibes” are in large part due to the nature of the festivities. “We worked a lot of conflict out with drumming,”she said.
Another policeman was stationed at the entrance to the parking lot this week, asking incoming cars to turn around once the lot had filled.
These gatherings actually began four years ago, when on the first warm nights in June percussionist Richie Siegler would bring his samba school to Sagaponack to bring his Brazilian beats out of doors. Siegler, a professional musician from Manhattan since age 12, runs a free samba drumming workshop out of the Hayground School in the winter.
“I spoke to the sergeant in Southampton town on Monday afternoon and gave her the whole rundown,” said Siegler. “I told her we’re going to play there, and if one of the officers comes down and tells me to stop playing, I don’t think I’m going to stop playing.”
Siegler continued, “We’re just a bunch of people playing on our beach. We’re not putting on a show.” He added, “What are they going to do, arrest me? Should I bring my toothbrush?”
Siegler also explained that the crowds always grow this time of the summer, but any additional swell may be due to Dan Bailey’s African drumming circle, who’ve joined them at Sagg Main for the first year.
Another attraction may be Ghanaian master drummer and dancer Okoe Adifyo, who has joined the Baileys this summer. Both the samba and African circles are considering moving to different beaches in the coming weeks.
The drumming was discussed the same night at the Sagaponack Village Board work session. The village has no jurisdiction over the beach or the parking lot.
“That was a mess last Monday”Â said Mayor Don Louchheim.
“The only thing that can be said is those people were having an awful good time,”said deputy mayor Lee Foster.
“Not the people waiting to get in and waiting to get out,” said Louchheim. “It was gridlock at 7:30.”
He said they would look into restricting the parking on Sagg Main near the beach. Currently parking is allowed on the sides of the road up until 6 p.m. Louchheim said “if they keep it up”Â he would consider banning parking altogether along the southern end of the road.
Additional reporting by John Bayles.