Fallbrook drum circle moves following ‘pay-to-play’ dispute

A loose-knit musical group has abandoned the Fallbrook Village Square amid a long-running pay-to-play dispute.

The decision by the Fallbrook Drum Circle is the second of its kind by a musical group that does not charge dues to its participants or fees to its listeners. The disputes center on a small parcel that many area residents incorrectly assume is a San Diego County pocket park.

“The misconception is that is a public square,” said John Maus, whose group of bluegrass pickers and performers was the first to run afoul of the Fallbrook Village Association. “It didn’t work out real well. It just surprised us that we weren’t welcome there.”

Faced with a similar showdown, drum circle organizers gathered at the square in April for what might have been the last time. That event attracted about 25 drummers playing a range of percussion instruments, six dancers, two flute players, one guitarist and a Fallbrook resident who blurted shrill tones out of an Irish tin whistle. About 15 passersby drifted in and out while the event unfolded.

The group shifted to a less visible, but more hospitable location for their May 26 gathering. The drummers have scheduled two more sessions outside that nearby sculpture studio – June 23 and June 29 – and they hope that fledgling relationship with the studio prevents them from skipping a beat. The June 23 event will be the group’s regular gathering for the month. The June 29 gathering is planned to augment a public “iron pour” event at the California Sculpture Academy, which is located at 300 E. Alvarado Avenue.

“Rather than focus on the down side, I’m trying to give a flair to it,” said Tom Rondeau, who launched the eclectic, monthly event about a dozen years ago. “I like to say that the town’s drumbeat and heartbeat is moving three blocks.”

On the flip side, representatives of the Fallbrook Village Association say they have tried to work patiently with the drummers with little success. They say all regular users of the square are required to offset its maintenance and operating costs. They note that a lack of controls could lead to disputes over the site’s availability, or business or community complaints could surface over possible inappropriate uses.

“It’s really quite simple, it’s a privately-owned park,” said Jeannie Hathaway, who serves as the secretary of the association’s board and oversees the day-to-day operations of the Village Square.

“There are a lot of nonprofits that rent the square. The only group that has a problem with it is Tom Rondeau’s group.”

She said the drum circles are not random gatherings. Organizers send email alerts telling of upcoming events, and their stools, tents, drums and other instruments take up most of the square for an entire afternoon on event days, she noted.

Hathaway said drum circle members collected donations at one time to help offset the cost of the square’s maintenance. But those contributions disappeared and the association’s patience dwindled, she said.

The association grew out of the Fallbrook Revitalization Council, which formed in 1988 after a push to form a city sputtered in the rural unincorporated community. The Internet site for the association, which is led by a board of directors, states that its mission is to: “Increase the viability of Fallbrook’s economic, civic, cultural and artistic revitalization.”

Over the years, the association acquired the Village Square and a small park that flanks a sliver of land along South Mission Road.

The current dispute took years to reach the bubbling-over point. It comes about four years after the loose-knit group of bluegrass performers, which had dubbed itself “The Village Squares,” abandoned the site that doubles as a veterans’ memorial and contains a fountain and an information kiosk surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.

The organizers of the bluegrass group unleashed a written parting shot, but efforts to keep the group intact foundered as it shifted from one location to another before members drifted off or decided to pursue other activities.

A four-paragraph letter printed by the Village News in February 2009 detailed the standoff and asked for recommendations on another place to play. That letter noted that the drum circle also used the square, and it said Fallbrook visitors enjoyed listening to the music as they ate ice cream, sipped coffee or took a break from shopping.

“Many communities encourage this type of activity as a way to bring people downtown and maybe stay a bit longer,” John and BJ Maus said in their letter. “We felt that we were an asset to the community and, in a small way, helping to do just that.”

Rondeau and several other drum circle participants feel the same way when they contemplate being asked to pay the $20 per hour rate that the association charges local nonprofit groups to use the square.

That seems excessive, they say, especially since the drum circle doesn’t charge a fee to participate or to listen. In addition, they say it attracts many spectators and the monthly gatherings help cement Fallbrook’s reputation as a vibrant arts community.

“We are already subsidizing the arts,” said Daniel Ide, who discovered the drum circle shortly after he moved to Fallbrook about 11 years ago. “We pay for our drums and our (shade) tents.”

The May 26 move to the sculpture studio, where classes are held and studio members use the equipment to create their pieces, left some of the drummers a bit downbeat.

“We can improvise,” said Rick Krotz, who lives in San Jacinto and tries to participate in all of the Fallbrook Drum Circle outings. “The other place was good. It has a higher visibility there. People would stroll by. But it sure was nice of (the sculpture studio) to loan us this space.”

Krotz said Fallbrook Drum Circle outings are far different from the “boom fests” held on beaches or at regional parks or other locations. The Fallbrook group aims for a pleasant, melodic tone despite its constantly-changing mix of new and longtime participants and beginner, intermediate and expert performers.

“It’s always different – the people and the composition of the drums,” Krotz said. “This kind of mixture is really unique. You’ve got a lot of pros and semi-pros playing here. It’s really an interesting mix of people.”

The May 26 event was no exception. Besides many new faces, the event include a pair of participants who coaxed melodic tones out of an armful of Australian didgeridoos, and a man who played a drum, pedal and string contraption that he called a “gut bucket.”

Vanessa Powers, a Newport Beach resident, made her first visit to Fallbrook when she and a friend made a point of attending the recent drum circle event. She and her friend soon found themselves thumping some of the extra drums that circle regulars usually bring to share.

She and her friend were making plans to eat dinner at one of the local restaurants as the event wound down. A drum circle onlooker asked her if she might return in the future.

“I will if (my friend) remembers to remind me,” she said. “It was fun.”

Harriet and Joe Fleisher were another pair of newcomers. Joe is 98 and lives at Regency, a Fallbrook assisted living center. Harriet said she brought her dad to the drum circle because he enjoys taking part in music-related related activities at Regency.

“I thought, let’s try it. I had to see if he likes it,” Harriet said. “Immediately he started smiling and drumming. He’s doing something new. We’ll be back. He’ll come every month.”

22 Responses to "Fallbrook drum circle moves following ‘pay-to-play’ dispute"

  1. Al Nelson   June 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Wow. The downtown park certainly is a private park so I guess the owners can charge rent or do whatever they want with it. No argument there. I seem to remember though, that the downtown merchants wanted it there so that Fallbrookians would be attracted to the area and, hopefully, patronize the local businesses. Perhaps, instead of charging for the park they could arrange for musical groups to entertain and send out invitations. The Bluegrass group and the Drummers probably would have been very entertaining. I wish I had known about them. The Library has a group every 3rd Thursday and there is usually a packed house. Also, a park is a park which it would seem is for having fun. Just a thought.

  2. Fallbrook Mom   June 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Why don’t we just meet at the library? they have an auditorium like music room.

  3. Fallbrook Mom   June 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Or the community center park? or even live oak park?

  4. Redneck Bill   June 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Al is correct in that the owners of the park may do with it as they please.

    However, if there goal is to attract more people to Main Street and downtown, I think they have shot themselves in the foot.

    I enjoyed both groups and lingered longer when they were there.

  5. annoyed neighbor   June 20, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    How sad! That was certainly a draw, which is something that downtown Fallbrook desperately needs. Shame on you and your "private park" for not letting the drum circle entertain fellow Fallbrookians and thank you to the sculpture studio for letting them gather there! These old stick in the mud people who run everything around here need to get a grip on reality or move out! We need some fresh ideas and new blood in this town! Time to get rid of the dead wood!

  6. B Barth   June 21, 2013 at 7:04 am

    I appreciate accessing the square for the same purposes one accesses a public park. (Heck, even Jackson Square has a bit of that appeal.My wife and I have used both spaces when we wished to bring music into the open. We play recorders, and have played with the drum circle as well.) It is sad to wonder if the town actually does not have a public square. Perhaps the need for maintenance, if it cannot be managed by the Association through a nominal charge (which itself is troublesome to implement), could be managed by an understanding with users that they not leave behind anything which requires cleanup, and an understanding by the Association itself that other maintenance costs (water?) are a normal part of property ownership which ultimately benefit the Association by keeping their business environment attractive.

  7. Pink   June 21, 2013 at 9:00 am

    I love the drum circle, downtown needs to have entertainment on weekends. I do understand that it is a privately owned park and that others have to pay to use it, but I would think something could be worked out in order to make it a win win situation.

  8. April Schimke   June 21, 2013 at 10:35 am

    WHAT HAPPENED to our friendly village. shame on them!!! I love hearing this drum circle and I love that its sound travels thru downtown fallbrook… its such a joy to hear while doing down town shopping. my son also loves listening to them! they handed him a drum once and let him join in (hes only 6). they are truly amazing and put such a smile on anyones face who passes by and listens if even for just a moment. fallbrook is such a close amazing town. with such great offerings. shame on them for doing this to them. what happened to this town??? and to the people????

  9. april schimke   June 21, 2013 at 10:50 am

    also…. does this mean when I want to take my son there and have a sandwich in the shade or on the stage I will need to start calling someone to rent my space?? since its a PRIVATELY owned place…. hmmmm

  10. Joseph   June 21, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Jeez! Let them make music. I will come by and "beat box" with you guys if I ever see you around!

  11. Penelope   June 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    I am the Executive Administrator of the Bonsall Chamber and one of the Belly Dancers who started doing this kind of dance BECAUSE of the Drum Circle!! I love it, now teach it… I’ve brought many out of towners and every one of them LOVED it and were totally welcomed into the circle by members!! This IS the perfect venue for this type of gathering as it ALWAYS attracts passersby on Main Street Fallbrook. The California Sculpture Academy and Bud Coale have been wonderful in offering a new home. Perhaps we should move it to Bonsall at the River Village Shopping Center and attract Bonsalians and entertain them now? It would definitely be our gain, and Fallbrook’s loss!

  12. Danny   June 22, 2013 at 6:10 am

    In the spirit of love & harmony we play our music. I play because I always leave the drumming feeling better than when I got there. Music does soothe the savage beast. Please come and find out for yourselves.
    Peace & blessings to everyone… and thank you for you kind words and support.

  13. Theresa   June 22, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Why would You charge for performers… The owners definatly aren’t making Friends… Instead they are coming off as hard noses trying to make a pointless, silent protest ! I agree nothing in life is free… not even a smile for our Fallbrook residents or hope for greedy Fallbrooks business owners? Lets think… How could this harm our community other than getting in the way, of business”, Fallbrook will not become like Venice Beach because of Drum Circles. What has happened to Our Friendly Village?

  14. brooktown local   June 22, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Sounds like they built a park as a money making scheme to pillage the community …..

  15. april   June 22, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Anyone with this kind of personality and attitude shouldn’t own such a precious part of fallbrook land

  16. Maker of Natural Gardens   June 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I have watched the downtown associations (many over years), try various aspects of bringing folks down to the ‘friendly village" as the entrance sign to Fallbrook says.
    I have been on many groups and the early revitalization board back in the 80’s hopefully to try and brings fresh components to this streetscape of Fallbrook.
    I originally came up with the beautification program through my Master Treescape Plan in the early 90’s for the Village area and it has proven to be one of the positive features for Main St, Fallbrook.
    We got off to a grand start with the plantings of hundreds of ornamental trees to enhance and clean up the downtown area with hundreds of volunteers over the years and created a creative and friendly atmosphere through tree plantings.
    An adoption of the trees and seating benches was started and a stewardship program for the trees followed and that was a good thing.
    After the old hardware store burnt down and the beginning of the lovely pocket park began I had hopes for the revitalization of the downtown area.
    Yes certain happens occur here through push and pull, but the little park is a true gem and should be used for public usage with no fee.
    The drum circle group is a wonderful expression of community pride, culture, the arts,enjoyment and should be used FREE OF CHARGE
    If the slogan was Shop Fallbrook….. you have to live Fallbrook, be Fallbrook, engage in Fallbrook and support goods things in Fallbrook ……right?…..right!
    You want to see a local and progressive Main St America…..just go to Old Town Temecula Ca any day of the week.
    And we certainly do not need another study group addressing Main St, Fallbrook

  17. Lee   June 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Art is the expression of one human being to another, "I love you."

    How do you stop love? You can’t.

  18. Sergiko   June 22, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I have been traveling to attend the Fallbrook Drum circle from Carlsbad for the last 7 years. It is an expression of art which is provided at no charge to the city. Many of us drummers will shop in Fallbrook and utilize public facilities. People come from Palm Desert and we all enjoy the creative fellowship of each other. Charging this informal group to play one afternoon a month seems to be a bit much. I enjoy the new location and at the same time miss the open space of the park.

  19. snobbyparkowners   June 23, 2013 at 12:15 am

    Wow and these business owners/associations -wonder why nobody “shops Fallbrook.”
    Twenty bucks an hour is ridiculous for (anyone/non profits) to have to pay. Sure the association owns it, but the folks running it must be rich snobs. If they were
    smart, they would look at the big picture. Hmmm….. running off non profits and musicians because of outrageous fees….causing less people shopping the businesses…..not very bright…. Good grief Fallbrook needs some younger, more intelligent people to be on these boards…. I am sick of these snobby, sticks-in the mud running everything.

  20. Just wondering   June 24, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Another example of why….why yesterday..Sunday..one could hardly find a parking space in old town Temecula.And they wonder why there are so many businesses leaving Fallbrook..each time there is an event in the village Square there are businesses in town that benefit…it’s pure and simple

  21. Vietnam Vetern   June 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    A large portion of the park is a Veterans memorial and a number of us Veterans are in the drum circle. A Veterans Memorial park which prohibits veterans from using the facility with friends without a service charge!!!! We have already paid our dues….

    ….Very Strange Tribute to Vets…

  22. Monica   July 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Pathetic!!! I used to think Fallbrook was a cool place. Seems to be a common theme throughout Riverside County: No Community spaces. Music is a good thing. Lifts the spirits, welcoming, encourages a sense of oneness and belonging. Take note of Olympia, WA, where community is done right: Beautiful public spaces abound and people are encouraged to gather for a myriad of reasons, including making music. Hopefully the Village people will come to their senses and realize the gift they are throwing away. Invite the drum circle back and STOP charging people to use the space. You should be ashamed of yourselves.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.