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Drumming up the sun: Crowd rings in winter solstice at Red Rocks

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By Deborah Swearingen

A fiery sunrise blanketed the towering monoliths at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in a warm bath of light on Friday morning.

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But prior to the rising of the sun, a crowd gathered in the pitch black to celebrate the winter solstice and welcome in the light that starts the shortest day of the year. As the sun made its slow ascent, the sound of drum music and joyful chants and cheers echoed through the amphitheater. People danced, embraced and shared in the bliss of the sun.

Winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon that marks the day with the shortest period of daylight and the first day of winter. This year, it happened at 3:23 p.m., MST. The winter solstice has been celebrated for thousands and thousands of years, particularly by those whose survival depended on the seasons. Various cultures and people throughout time have honored the day as a symbol of the returning light and of new beginnings.

For example, a crowd has gathered at Stonehenge in England for thousands of years to observe the winter solstice with music, dance and other rituals.

The annual event at Red Rocks is a tradition for many, and people played just about every drum imaginable. Some played a djembe; others a bodhran; and one participant even drummed enthusiastically on a cardboard box.

Genie Hobbs and J.P. Poloway of Denver played beautiful drums decorated with faces of wild cats. The drums were hand-painted for each by a friend. Last Friday was the pair’s first time at the winter solstice event, and both agreed it was a magical time.

“You have to drum up the sun sometimes,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs and Poloway drum frequently and are part of a shamanic drumming community in Denver.

Abby Musler and Eva Munro are currently in college but said they’re back in Denver for winter break. It was their first time attending the “Drumming Up the Sun” event. While both have been to Red Rocks for concerts, witnessing a sunrise on the Rocks is a much different experience.

“It’s beautiful,” Musler said, noting the change in the surroundings as the sky morphs from a star-laden black to a color melt, painted with shades of orange, blue, pink and purple.

“It happened so fast,” she added.

A drummer, who goes by the name “Mr. Amazing,” played at the top of the amphitheater alongside various members of the Boulder Drum Circle. “Drumming Up the Sun” is a tradition for “Mr. Amazing,” and he enjoys it every year. There’s just something special about playing music while experiencing a sunrise on the Rocks.

“(It) always feels great, always feels healing,” he said.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.