The City of Vancouver is grappling with how to handle a weekly summer tradition at a popular beach that’s grown to become a headache for some.
At issue is a Tuesday evening drum circle, known as ‘Bram’s Tams,’ that’s taken place for 14 years, and has grown exponentially since its inception.
The Vancouver Park Board says on one Tuesday in June, attendance at the Third Beach event hit the 4,000-person mark.
The crowds have come with problems for the city: public urination, crowds blocking the seawall, drinking and smoking.
According to the park board, one night last month saw 500 liquor pour outs and 280 demands for smokers to butt out. There was one arrest at an event in June.
Drum circle founder Brahm Olszynko, who now lives in Toronto, started the circle in 2005, inspired by a similar event in Montreal.
In an email, he described the event as family-friendly, and inspired by the “love of rhythm, unity, and community.”
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He said in its 14 years, the event has worked to address problems posed by its popularity and growth on several occasions — moving it from Second to Third Beach, “schooling” drummers who insisted on having fires and fending off a “coup” by a party group.
“Some don’t realize our history or that we have long-standing agreements with the authorities to follow specific rules. It often takes a while before the newbies learn all the rules,” said Olszynko.
“The difficulty and challenge is that for every 50 amazing people, there is always one jerk. When over 1,000 people show up, the jerk ratio increases. “
Sandra Stuart, a Vancouver social worker, has been attending the event for 10 years and says she goes for the music, community, shared food and sunset swimming.
But she said as the event has spread on social media, the drum circle has been flooded by newcomers and a party crowd that doesn’t seem to get the spirit of the event.
“It’s a lot of drinking and smoking on the beach, and smoking in the circle or drinking in the circle, totally getting drunk, jumping around and falling into drummers, drummers are sitting down so the smoke goes right into their faces,” she said.
The event runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., when the park closes, but Stuart said some of the new attendees also want to stay later or have fires, prompting potential conflicts with authorities.
Vancouver Park Board director of parks Howard Normann said the city is trying to work with drummers to keep the event safe and fun, but said there are challenges because the event is not formally organized and has no leader.
He said the city has added six porta-potties and has park rangers and Vancouver police officers on scene to enforce bylaws and keep the peace.
He added the city is trying to contact core members of the drum circle to try and rein in some of the problems and is meeting to discuss other strategies.
“It was two years ago when I first got involved with this. There was probably, on a peak night, maybe a thousand — and that was a big night. So to see it ballooned to 4,000 is a bit alarming for us,” he said.
Vancouver police Sgt. Jason Robillard said the department has dedicated extra resources to the area, though has focused on education (butt outs and pour outs) over ticketing.
However, he said police are prepared to scale up their response if necessary.
“If you don’t get the message you could get a ticket. If you don’t get the message and you’re unable to care for yourself or causing a disturbance you could get arrested,” he said.
“So it works its way up, but it’s up to each officer’s individual discretion as to which way they go.”
Both Stuart and Olszynko say they support the VPD’s presence and its efforts to crack down on trouble makers. But Stuart said long-time attendees remain concerned the party atmosphere of the event could ruin what she said are good relations with the city.
She said drummers are trying to educate newcomers, and are working on their own signage about etiquette and the park’s no-smoking bylaw.
“We’re nervous about it being shut down because I’m sure there’s going to be a capacity thing,” she said.